Rehearsing the victim 

Almost 17 years

Almost 17 years ago, I met a priest at the Athletic Club in downtown Indianapolis. He’d just given a talk on sex and morality to a local parish. It would be our most contentious meeting, the last of our two years in which he was my “spiritual advisor.” I’d come to him as a Notre Dame junior, confused about a lot of things. The talks with him went well. He became my most trusted friend. At the end of our first year, he was the first person I ever came out to. He took the information well, though he thought it was a “phase.” At some point over the next year, when we saw each other less because he was frequently away from campus, he told me that he was going to begin what he called “Lessons in Intimacy.” He told me that in intimate relationships, someone always takes the first risk. He brought that lesson home by kissing me on the lips at the end of the hour-long therapy session. The event shocked me. At first, I thought about it only in terms of his being a man whom I trusted, who cared about me and who I cared about. After a while, the fact he was a priest intruded. It bothered me a lot. We discussed it and he made it clear that if I was uncomfortable it would stop. In the two or three meetings after that (by this time I had graduated from Notre Dame), he offered a massage. And in a third encounter like this, we spent the night together in a hotel. I suppose you could say we made out. I still thought of it as an extension of the “Lessons in Intimacy.” I was inexperienced: He was only the second person I had ever kissed, yet the first man; the first man who ever bridged the theoretical idea of being gay to the physical side of touching another man. I was confused, excited, scared and, at times, happy. On what would be our fourth intimate encounter, I had called him in a desperate state of mind. I felt suicidal. I called Father Burtchaell and nearly begged to see him. He was staying in a house in Michigan, a summer retreat owned by the family whose daughter he had just married off. I drove up to see him. He made lunch and we chitchatted, catching up. Finally, we got down to business. I was sitting on a couch, with a view of Lake Michigan stretched out before me. He was in a wing-backed chair. I began to talk. “I don’t feel comfortable,” he said. “Can I sit next to you?” “Yes,” I replied. He moved to the couch. I continued. “I still don’t feel close to you. Can we go upstairs?” I was dumbfounded, distraught. I believed the only person in the world who could help me out of my dead-end was him. I said yes. I still have no easily accessible memory of what happened after the bedroom door closed. What I remember is nearly throwing up on the side of the road some time later. I drove out of the gravel driveway, pulled over and got out of the car. But I couldn’t even throw up. We spoke little after that point until he let me know he was going to be in Indianapolis. It was 1988. When I arrived in his room at the Athletic Club, I could feel the sexual tension rising in him. By this time I had come out as gay. I said, “We need to talk about a few things.” I told him I’d come out. He was surprised. I asked him if he thought what we were doing was gay. He said, “No.” I said I thought it was and that I believed he had traded advice for sex. He exploded in denial. “Well, then we don’t have anything else to talk about,” I said and I left. Burtchaell is revered because amidst the things he did to me, he also did some good. To most people who read his books, or had him perform their marriage ceremonies, or, indeed, who had them give them marriage counseling, that is what they know of him. To me, and the at least two dozen others whom he made sexual advances in the context of “spiritual advice,” it’s a more complicated story. When Notre Dame finally investigated him in 1991, even though they knew of others, they officially stopped their work at two victims. I knew through firsthand interviews that university officials had known of Burtchaell’s problems since 1970. Over the last year, I’ve learned of six other sexual abusers who were either clerics on Notre Dame’s staff or members of the Congregation of Holy Cross, which runs Notre Dame. The latest was fired in mid-May 2003. So, I’ve had to trot out this painful story, again. I call the process “rehearsing the victim,” because in speaking about it, I have to relive a moment of my life when I was victimized. I hate it. I don’t like thinking of myself as a victim. I now say I’m a witness to abuse of power within the Catholic Church, and within me. Why me? Because the legacy of anger which a victim feels means that I have abused others with my anger. There is only one solution to the crisis in the Catholic Church and to my reservoir of anger: a spiritual one. I don’t mind repeating my story if it helps all of us see the larger loss, the devastation to the souls who were abused physically, and the damage to the rest of those who need faith in their lives.

Tags: ,

Readers also liked…

Around the Web


Subscribe to this thread:

Add a comment

This Week's Flyers

About The Author

John Michael Vore

More by John Michael Vore

Today's Best Bets | All of today's events

Around the Web

All contents copyright © 2016 NUVO Inc.
3951 N. Meridian St., Suite 200, Indianapolis, IN 46208
Website powered by Foundation