The month of November is a blessed time of remembrance for those who have died, marked in liturgy, in prayer and in our hearts. Here in New England, with the beauty of the autumn blaze of gold, red, and orange now fading, the season itself seems to reflect this time of remembrance. We recall with aching sadness our loved ones who are no longer with us, entrusting them all to the mercy and goodness of the Lord.
Our churches display beautiful books of remembrance in places of honor, inscribed with the names of those who have died. As I wrote the names of my husband, David, and my Dad a few days ago, it was a tender moment of both longing and closeness. Each name in the book is so precious. God called us by name before we were born and speaks our name with gentle love at the time of death, as we are welcomed into our eternal home.
This November also marks the screening of the film “Spotlight.” It chronicles the story of the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalism of The Boston Globe, revealing the shameful scandal of clergy sexual abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. It is good to remember even that which is painful. From 2002 to 2012, I was privileged, along with others who worked with me at the Archdiocese’s Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach, to listen to and be guided by the needs of men and women who were sexually abused by clergy as children. During those 10 years, more than 1,000 survivors and family members, burdened with dark and terror-filled memories, humbled us by their unmerited trust. No doubt the validating power of the stories published in the Globe was the catalyst for this outpouring of immense pain.
I find myself in this month of grace-filled remembrance thinking of those men and women who died tragic deaths associated with the terrible suffering they endured in the aftermath of childhood abuse. These holy men and women are martyrs who even now are reflecting the face of God’s mercy. In the sweetness and innocence of childhood, so eager to receive the knowledge and joy of God’s friendship and love, a sacred trust was betrayed. Children were cruelly violated, leaving them isolated in fear and shame. The names of those who died are remembered and held dear: Patrick, and Jimmy, and Rick, and Richard, and Paul, and Kristine, and Kevin, and Peter, and Danny …
The Light of Epiphany revealed the Light of the World, the child Jesus in the arms of Mary, who would one day suffer betrayal unto death and the scandal of the cross. The movie “Spotlight” ends with the publication — on Epiphany Sunday in January of 2002 — of the first of 600 stories. But it is not the end of the story.
Stephen, and George, and John, and Jason, and Fred, and Leo, and Anthony, and Sean, and Martin …. These and so many others hold the rest of the story and hold hope for us all. They are remembered by their families, and by their friends, and their names are written on our hearts and will not be forgotten. Because of them we see with new eyes, and because of them, children are safer. Because of them, the shame and secrecy surrounding childhood sexual abuse at church, at home, and at school has been broken, and there is no going back. Because of them, the tyranny of fear no longer has the power to silence the truth.
Timothy, and Alexander, and Mark, and Rita, and Gerald, and Chris, and Michael, and Billy …. You bring us hope, and we will remember you with unending gratitude. Brian, and Gary, and Donald, and Joseph, and Kenneth, and Damien, and Robert, and Patrick …. These are the heroic faces of undaunted courage.
Barbara Thorp was director of the Office for Pastoral Support and Child Protection for the Archdiocese of Boston from 2002 to 2012. She also was a social worker for Catholic Charities and then led the archdiocese’s Pro-Life Office from 1985-2002.