A Connecticut Yankee “Unsubstantiated”
The trial turns things around on the Lunny brothers. Older brother Brian (he of the hamburgered hands) had found peace through forgiveness and a family, abandoning his brother for years after having left St. Vincent’s himself. Defense attorneys turned the klieg lights on younger brother Steven’s history on welfare, his criminal record as a drug user and male prostitute, and by his learned behavior molesting younger boys at the orphanage. He dies of an overdose on the same day that Brother Glackin is convicted.
One powerful scene occurs between Chantal, Lavin’s wife who has accompanied him (against his will) back to St. John’s for her husband’s trial. Kneeling, he goes into a fugue state, agitatedly murmuring the words of the “Hail Mary” over and over and over. Her slower speech rhythms, asking him what he has done, assuring him she can forgive, begging him to stop his frenzied recitation, balance her saneness against what she will hear the next day.
What bothers me about the comparison between this fictionalized version of reality is the lengths to which the filmmakers go to rehabilitate Brother Lavin, just barely insinuating through the therapy that his own fear of sex and the chastity of the Church drove his behavior. Not his fault. It’s all about his rages, his pathetic back history, his therapy sessions, his sensible understanding wife and healthy family. None of the victimized boys is so carefully drawn. None of the emotionally tortured police officers, friends, and family members gain more than a glance of understanding for witnessing something they could not stop. But the abuser?
I began to wonder if some exceedingly clever casuist from the CDF might not have made this film. Because if they can convince us that some talk therapy, prayer, and repentance can cure these guys, turning them into productive citizens, it’s much more likely that fewer criminal complaints would be made by loyal Catholics and their support systems (self-editing: I really meant co-conspirators).
It seemed a betrayal to the victims to suggest that Lavin had gotten his life together (nice wife, nice job, nice house, nice kids) and here come these forgotten boys all these years later to tear his life apart. The film subtly urged me to feel sorry for him and I resent and reject that manipulation. That is no part of the truth of a story the filmmakers represented so well in so many ways.
One of those ways concerns the depiction of women. Women have a much greater role in this film than in either Mea Maxima Culpa or David Harris’ account, and it works. Lavin’s wife Chantal becomes the Greek chorus, finally witnessing what she had gradually come to suspect. Kevin is indisputably authentic as a witness: quiet, understated, telling of horrifying acts with an almost catatonic calm, his words etch pain into Chantal’s decent face.
She speaks for all of us as her husband, the father of her two young boys, calmly denies that his actions were wrong, claiming for himself the status of victim for having befriended a boy in need. Brushing aside his attempt at repudiating Kevin’s sincerity, she demands “do you feel no shame?!” and in response to his declaration that he loved Kevin: “That is not loving, that’s hurting!”
Our words, our outrage is expressed through Chantal, the mother of Lavin’s children. The film ends with her firm declaration “they are no longer your children” as she slams out of the room and he remains quiet for a moment and them moving in nanoseconds from 0–60 in rage units, viciously bangs his fist on a table. A unaccompanied oboe gently accompanies the ending credits.
I was telling a dear friend — who, with me, braved the return to school as a mature woman among the twentysomethings — that I thought I was nearing the end of a piece about the Catholic Church, the Church in which she was raised, and that it seemed like I was getting closer to a book-length exploration of multiple artistic media than the essay-review on one documentary I had originally planned.
We chatted in a desultory fashion about the Church’s response to the situation and the role of women, or severe lack thereof in the decision-making hierarchy, when I mentioned that one of my brother-in-law’s priests in his Philly childhood had been accused and transferred, and she mentioned in passing that a priest from near her, a Father Jeremiah Murasso, had recently been accused, as well, for alleged abuses committed when he was in New Haven.
What?! A female friend of hers who lives right there in Waterbury CT, near New Haven, has no trouble believing it but, no surprise, I discovered that elderly male parishioner, Pasquale Musco, immediately spoke up in behalf of Father Murasso, saying: “And the person I know, I . . . I don’t think it could be true,” and further adding, “But like I say, a priest is guilty until they’re found innocent.”
While it may be true that Father Murasso is innocent, there are a couple of facts that gave me pause after I completely dismissed Musco’s statement that “He does have full support of the Church, and a lot of people in this city.” Because, after all, where have I heard that before. Could it be . . . Newfoundland? Louisiana? Ireland? California? Wisconsin? The Vatican?
The allegations about Murasso stem from twenty years ago, which would be in the mid-nineties when the good soon-to-be-not Father Wall was beginning his crusade to help the children, when Ireland’s Father Walsh was convicted, when pope-to-be Ratzinger halted the investigation into Wisconsin’s Father Murphy, when another Wisconsonite Father MacArthur (remember the linguistic legerdemain in those documents?) was being investigated, when Louisiana’s Father Gauthe was heading to prison, when California’s Father Becker was chilling out on a cruise, and of course, when the Church was evading U.N. requests for a report on abuse within its very closed (moated and drawbridged and wagon-circled and force field-protected) ranks. Coincidence?
And then there’s the fact that the alleged abuse took place in a “residential day facility for sexually abused and emotionally disturbed kids aged 5–18.” Ah. Prime hunting grounds. Targeting the least of the “least of these,” those children of this age group who were already burdened by family or health or other problems is such a part of the pattern that the normal skepticism that might be aimed at the utterings of the “emotionally disturbed” against those having the “full support of the Church, and a lot of people in this city” has to be put in abeyance.
And there’s the timing. In the face of the typical shame the victims feel, and the need to achieve the maturity (and relative safety) of adulthood in order to face the demons of their past, the release of this charge twenty years after the fact strengthens it in my mind. The incongruity of this story perched online right next to weblinks for stories on National Underwear Day and Top Party Schools couldn’t help but have an effect.
By the way, the secular authorities allowed the Church to do an internal investigation. According to the New Haven Register, in 2015 the Archdiocese of Hartford cleared Murasso of all charges, claiming that they investigated, but “determined that the allegation was not substantiated.” Hmmm, “not substantiated.” They don’t say, “untrue” or “false” but “not substantiated,” the kind of unconvincing wiggle language we’ve heard before.
SNAP and I are on the same wavelength. Shortly after the Archdiocesan statement, then-Director David Clohessy posted an article entitled “CT: Accused Predator Priest Put Back to Work: Victims Respond.” Clohessy made a strong public statement, pointing to the well-worn pattern these findings resemble:
Hundreds of times, Catholic officials have repeated this dangerous pattern: deeming child sex abuse reports against clerics “not substantiated,” putting those clerics back into parishes, then removing them again later for the same allegations or added allegations, and having put vulnerable kids in harm’s way for years and years. It’s utterly tragic and irresponsible. It’s proof that bishops keep putting their employees above their flocks.
Sometimes size matters. A radio interview featured the government official involved in the 1989 closing of Mt. Cashel’s doors. Despite the fact that it was on a YouTube channel called vaticancrimes.com with the subtitle, “Unmasking the Great Harlot,” the interview itself was informative and by that I mean, horrifying.
In a November interview with one of the hosts of the Canadian Broadcasting Company’s As it Happens, Chris Decker, acting minister of Social Services (Is it a sign of the times that my computer’s automatic spell-correct function tried to turn the “social” of “Social Services” into “sociopaths”?), spent much more time on the benefits Mt. Cashel had wrought and the wonderful men, among them friends of his, who had been sheltered there, than he ever did on the abused ones, the ones he said were in the “very small minority.” And his point would be . . . ?
He goes on to use passive construction to mention “charges that have been laid,” in passing, while praising the ninety years of history and the “vast majority” of good, hardworking Newfoundlanders who were aided there, almost as if the abused could not be in that number of good, hardworking citizens. In an interview of nearly seven minutes he makes a point of praising the Christian Bros for “phasing down” the operation rather than just throwing the remaining boys out on the street. I mean, really. To do the decent thing for once deserves praise, while glossing over the horrors of the past? What does this Decker take us for?
He made it clear how much he liked Brother Hebden, the CB in charge of closing things down. Bear in mind that by the time the orphanage was closing down and this interview took place, Brother David Burton had already been convicted! Not just “charges laid.” In the three years following the closing, nine more Christian Brothers were convicted. Lord give me strength.