Wednesday, 30 March 2011

Launch of Survivors Voices, Europe @ Conway Hall 26th March.

I attended the launch event for Survivors Voices Europe @ Conway Hall, London on Saturday March 26th.

“Survivors Voice Europe is the European liaison of Survivors Voice USA, the non-profit organisation founded by clergy abuse survivors Bernie McDaid & GaryBergeron. 

Survivors Voice is an international community of men and women who were abused by Catholic clergy in their childhood, and despite suffering the worst betrayal of body and trust, have found that in connecting with each other and sharing their experience, strength and hope, they can soar above their abusers and find empowerment.”

I was there, got the T-Shirt, had my photo taken by Silvia Amodio  for her “Out of the shadows” project and I met the founders, Sue Cox, Ton Leerschool, Bernie McDaid & Gary Bergeron. I also met Dr Tommaso Dell’Era from Italy, a former member of Opus Dei and a survivor..... and who is a whistle blower, who has written a book on the Opus Dei. He was travelling with Ton and Sue, and is part of Survivors Voice Europe.

Also present was the one of the organisers of the Protest The Pope Rally of last September, Marco Tranchino.

There was about 35 people in attendance, whilst hundreds of thousands were distracted by a useless protest organised by the TUC who refuse to call a general strike.

I met other Survivors, and the integrity and empathy was clear.

Those who spoke, who are Survivors, made a lot of sense to me. Their experience and commitment, courage and warmth was clear from the moment I locked eyes with each.

Sue Cox opened the event, and introduced each of the speakers. She spoke of her experience since last September’s “Protest The Pope” rally. She has been working as a counsellor for many years, and it was only last year that she came out and spoke publicly of her own abuse experience. She was surprised with the attention she has received, gladdened of the support and appalled at the BBC and UK Governments support for the Pope. Sue spoke movingly of the effects of the abuse,  that for years delivered self hatred, fear, insecurity.

Sue then introduced Ton Leerschool, who is Dutch, and who has been working with Gary and Bernie and Sue over Skype for the past two years or so. Ton is a Survivor. He is the lead European co-ordinator for Survivors Voices. Unfortunately I cannot recall of his presentation, other than to  say that I was moved by his clarity and commitment.

Sue then introduced Bernie and Gary, and presented them with some commemorative glass 'awards'. Bernie spoke, and he was clear as a bell. He described his initial experiences of coming out and how he felt betrayed by the process he went through as he took the Church to court, and especially the aftermath, as he made efforts to speak to various Church and Vatican Officials.

He even journeyed to Rome, where with Sue and others, they tried to gain an audience with Vatican Officials. For days they attempted to get an audience, and each day as they would leave the Vatican buildings, the Swiss Guards would question them to see if they had met with anyone, because 'they had a bet going on it!'.

They held vigils in Rome with Survivors who are deaf and mute, who were abused by Priests in 'special schools'. They also participated in a day of witness in which these 'voiceless' people, with out sound, told their stories. Sue had also spoken of these events, and had noted that the sign language they used was graphic and clear, and profoundly shocking, and that she was deeply moved by their bravery. Many tears were shed during those days...

Bernie said it was really clear that these people - Church Officials - did not care one whit for the Survivors, for the children and that they were, and remain utterly arrogant and committed to retaining their Power and Status. Bernie noted that he did not understand WHY so few people are capable of understanding what the systemic abuse by clergy really means, and why so few are willing to confront the Church, over the abuse and the cover-ups.

Gary followed on from Bernie, and he spoke of his own experience in telling his story, to his family and to the world. He spoke of how he had, on the face of it, the 'perfect life' - good job, plenty cash, two marriages ... and than spoke of how he took a good look one day and realised that he had lived in 23 places in 22 years, that he had in fact been running away all his life. He spoke of the struggle to bring his abusers to justice, of how after he spoke out, many more Survivors came forwards.

He also found out that his 78 year old father had also been sexually abused by a priest as a child. He spoke of his desire to see that his children are saved from a similar fate. He spoke of how it came as a shock to him, to find that the man he had seen as a rock in his life had kept that terrible secret all those years, and noted that the keeping of such secrets is very much a part of what enables the abuse culture to continue.

He spoke about his commitment to the work of confronting the Church, and all Institutions and people that sexually abuse children, not for himself, but for all the children alive today and those who are yet to come to this life.

At this point we took a break.

After the break, Tomasso spoke of his experiences at the hands of Opus Die, who recruited him at age 14. He spoke of how this had been banned by the Vatican, yet Opus Die managed to 'get around' this ban, by duplicity. Tomasso described in some detail the psychological machinations employed by Opus Dei on the young people they recruit,  the pecking order of hierarchy, the 'love bombing at the beginning, the slow and steady grooming of their recruits in ever more intense levels of abuse and control and he showed examples of the tools they use for 'mortification of the flesh'. His book is in Italian, and has yet to be translated into English and other languages. He's a brave and compassionate man, and no fool. I really took to him. We recognised in each other the 'elite' training backgrounds we shared.

Next up was Peter Thatchell, and strangely his speech was to me dry, almost perfunctory. Perhaps it was the lack of people in the room .... I know as a performer that it is sometimes the case that we become used to the energy of a crowd, so much so that when that energy is not present, we are diminished. That was not he case for any of the previous speakers. Peter Thatchell is well respected for his Human Rights work, and has been on that road for over 30 years.... His words lacked the vitality of those who speak of their own experience, and were to be disappointing. He apologised for not staying for he had to leave directly after his presentation to attend the TUC protest and speak there.... 

I almost approached him to ask that he mention this gathering at the larger, but held myself in check, as the next speaker was starting his presentation.

Keith Porteus Wood is the National Secular Society's Executive Director, and he spoke of his organisations commitment to supporting Survivors, and Survivors Voices in particular. He spoke of his own long standing actions in Europe, to request that the EU Parliament deal with the fact that the Vatican is in breach of the Convention on the Rights of The Child, on six different points, an international treaty, ratified by all member states of the United Nations General Assembly, bar USA and Somalia....

He mentioned that this is important, because these breaches are criminal offences, and for which the Pope as fiduciary head of The Vatican, The Holy See and The Catholic Church is personally liable. The same principles that applied at Nuremburg apply to the Vatican and all it’s officials with regard to Crimes against Humanity.

The last person to speak was a Solicitor who specialises in Child Abuse cases, David Greenwood. I found his presentation a little dry, and he appeared to be ill-informed about the efficacy and intent of the Redress process in Ireland, for he called for similar efforts, as part of a wider judicial effort, which elicited comments from myself and from others in attendance who had actual experience of that process, which interrupted his presentation and threw him somewhat.

We who had commented spoke to him afterwards, to help him get clear about this illusion of the ‘response; by Church and State. If he works with us, he will learn. We will see.

There was no time for any Q&A session, as the event had started late – traffic in London was dreadful that day and people were still attempting to get to the event. And as the hall had to be cleared really quickly to prepare for the next use of the hall, there was precious little time to socialise.

I spoke briefly with Sue, Gary and Bernie outside as they were loading up their car to leave, in the cold bitter wind. The connection has been made, and the work will progress. In spite of the low attendance, I am glad the seed has been planted, that I attended and that I have met these fine people.

Kindest regards


Do what you love, it's Your Gift to Universe

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