Today, dear 1.5 readers, I am going to write about something that may bore a number of you to death, but I want to write about it anyway because it is something I don’t ever want to forget about. I have thought and thought about how to express in a sensitive way my grief, outrage, pain, disgust and pity (yes, pity) concerning this issue, but I know I will not get it quite right because there are layers upon layers to this problem, many of which I have not explored. So with this caveat and an invitation to anyone out there who reads this to set me straight on anything I write here, I begin:
When I was a baby, my parents had me baptized. Because my mother was raised Catholic by her very Irish Catholic mother (and her father was probably Catholic, too, but he died when she was a baby), I was baptized Catholic. I never knew this, because later, when I was still quite little, she decided to begin attending another church, and the first christening I really remember, that of my second brother, Dave, was in a Presbyterian church in Connecticut – I think. Anyhow, my family were not regular church goers. My mother’s extended family was still Catholic and I remember being fascinated with the trappings of Catholicism. I even attended Mass with my mother’s cousin’s family and their children – my second cousins who were more like real first cousins to me – and was bored out of my mind. The Latin Mass was still in full swing in the summer of 1962 and the only thing I could even understand was the sermon – or homily as they called it.
Around this time, I started reading Bible stories and something about the stories about Jesus and loving one’s enemies and His death and resurrection really really got to me. I started, in my own way, to believe. Oh sure, I believed like many kids believe in Santa Claus. But the reaction to these stories stirred something in me that was more than just the usual magical thinking. There was something almost physical in my reaction that to this day I cannot describe.
About a year later, our mom, the only adult believer in our family, registered us for Sunday School at an Episcopal church near the house they were (finally) buying in Woodbury, Long Island. It was an amazingly beautiful place called St. John’s Episcopal Church in Cold Spring Harbor. I remember the pond in front and the tall trees surrounding the church. But our mom was not to attend that church with us. A few short months later, she died (ironically on the first day of the Second Vatican Council) – killed in an automobile accident that was tragic enough to make the New York papers. I suppose when you’re the wife of an up-and-coming rock and roll DJ and you leave behind five young children, that’s enough human interest to warrant a couple of short articles. My Dad dealt with his enormous grief by remarrying too soon my mom’s friend whose husband had died a few months earlier. The marriage was a bit of a disaster, but I leave that story to another day.
For some reason I will never fathom but for which I will always be grateful, my father and new stepmother decided to send us kids to St. John’s for Sunday School. I remember the dear sweet lady who was our teacher – her name was Constance Barrows – and to this day I don’t know what her marital status was. I learned a lot in Ms. Barrows’ class: the basic prayers of Christianity, the concept of liturgy and the seasons of the church calendar. And we attended a child’s service that always began with the invitatory: “I was glad when they said unto me/We will go into the house of the Lord.” I remember hearing the older girls singing in four part harmony that old hymn, “Fling out the banner,” but cannot for the life of me remember any of the other words, LOL. Ms. Barrows had a lovely picnic at the end of the year during which we gamboled about her lovely yard and received our very own Books of Common Prayer. I have kept it to this day. What I also remember is a kindness and an openness about that church. That memory would come back to me later. But that was my last year of religious instruction while I lived at home. We never attended any church after that.
A few years later, after we were well ensconced in Oyster Bay, our folks sold a couple of acres of land to a builder. The builder did what builders do: he constructed a home on that 2-acre lot into which a family moved. Funny how decisions that on the surface are just business-like in nature can be life altering. The family who moved into that home was Catholic. Very Catholic. So Catholic, in fact, that their oldest daughter was a Dominican nun, with the big white pre-Vatican II habit, with wimple and veil, and Rosary around the waist and a flap of fabric hanging in front with which to hid one’s hands, and wire-rimmed glasses, which in 1966 were considered to be very old-fashioned.
This was a close-knit family. They had just lost their father to a heart attack. I instantly liked them. Two of the girls were around my sisters’ and my ages, so we hit it off right away. There were nine children in all in this family. The oldest, the nun I just mentioned, the next daughter married and living obviously with her husband, the next two boys in their late teens/early twenties: one working as an undertaker and living at home and the other in seminary (THAT was soon to change, LOL!) The five youngest in the family were the ones I saw all the time. There was John, almost 16, Holli, 13, Lori, almost 12, Avery 9 and little Katie was only 3. Their mom managed to continue to be a SAHM probably due to decent life insurance. I was 12 and certainly was not thinking about boys yet. But John was really funny. He had this bizarre sense of humor and, what can I say? I like that in a man.
Over the next few years, I started growing up. And fell in love with John – and he with me.
We dated through junior high (for me), high school and college. There really was no one else. In fact, I’m married to him now as I write this 41 years later. But again, that’s another story and yes, it’s a weird one and yes, no one does that anymore. OK I get it. But later.
What really fascinated me about this family (other than Holli and Lori as friends and, yes, John) was the fact that they integrated their faith life so thoroughly into their day-to-day lives. I could see why there would be religious vocations growing out of such an environment. For me, my childish, faltering faith was something I kept to myself at home and tried to live in private. My parental units were unwavering in their rejection of organized religion and I felt like some kind of religious nut. But here was a family that actually prayed. Now, granted they were very conservative in a lot of ways that I disagreed with and still do. But they were and still are some of the kindest, most loving people I have known. So there had to be something to this. In time, I started attending Mass with John and when they had folk masses – and could have them at home and outdoors and, well you get the picture. This sixties kid was hooked.
John went away to upstate New York to go to his first two years of college at Paul Smith’s College where he studied Hotel Administration. He then worked odd jobs for his brother-in-law and flipped burgers. He even looked into voluntarily joining the Army in that Vietnam era. But when the draft lottery started, his number was high. He was not getting drafted. So he continued his education and got his bachelor’s at C.W.Post College – part of Long Island University.
I also went away to college – to Middlebury in Vermont – and it was there that I explored the heretofore verboten topics of theology and faith and how I identified myself. I read just about every C.S. Lewis book I could lay my hands on. I read the autobiographies of Sts. Augustine and Theresa of Avila, Juan de la Cruz’s Dark Night of the Soul, Thomas Merton’s Seven-Storey Mountain and Conjectures of a Guilty Bystander. I even read Pope Paul VI’s encyclical Humanae Vitae. I debated issues of faith. The late Chaplin of the college, Rev. Charles Scott, an Episcopal priest, taught a number of those classes and presided over many a college chapel service (at which I was lucky to sing as a member of the choir). Rev. Scott introduced me to the ideas of Rheinhold Niebuhr, Dietrich Bonhoeffer and when Rev. Scott was on sabbatical the second half of my freshman year I was fortunate to make the acquaintance of the late Rev. (and Mrs.) Herbert Gezork from Andover Seminary in Massachusetts. Herr Dr. Gezork had the distinction of having his books burned in his German homeland by the Nazis. He was a man of incredible faith – and humor:)
I was “conditionally baptized” in the Catholic Church (the church in which I had been baptized as an infant was destroyed in a fire, along with my baptismal records. The church was re-built, but the records were not.) And this took place while I made my way through a double major of music and German (go figure).
The priest who conditionally baptized me and gave me first Communion was a man named Robert Huneke. Father Huneke – or Father Bob as we called him – was a very personable individual with a rogueish sense of humor and a way of making you feel very grown up when you spoke with him. He had been a very loving and consistent, faithful presence in our lives when John’s sister Lori had sustained devastating injuries in a car accident that all but took her life. (Ultimately 25 years of parenteral nutrition, little physical activity and brain damage caused by this accident did take her life, but we were blessed to know her indomitable spirit and wicked sense of humor in the interim!) Father Bob was the “cool priest” the kids felt they could talk to.
He was also molesting a large number of young boys – in fact one of them was John Salveson, one of the young fellows playing guitar at my baptism. This is another John – not the man I later married.
Of course, we didn’t know it.
In fact, we didn’t find out until 1989 – more than fifteen years later. You might wonder why I would print John Salveson’s name here. John’s story was all over the papers in 2002 – his battle with the Archdiocese of New York, their relative lack of concern with the victims and greater concern with saving face and sweeping it all under the rug. After years of dealing with the pain of abuse, John wrote to the Archdiocese. They wrote back, basically stating that Huneke admitted the abuse, but was in therapy, would not do it again, it was an isolated incident that would not recur, etc. etc. John was not satisfied with this answer. By this time he was either already or was well on his way to becoming a psychologist and he knew that pedophilia was not something one did once, and got over. Not usually. He kept the letters from the Archdiocese, which turned out to be a very smart thing to do. Unfortunately, as often is with most abuse victims, he did not take legal action until it was too late. His disgust over the Archdiocese’s attitude led him to do the unthinkable – he staged a protest in front of the church where Father Huneke was then working; he and his family handed out pamphlets outlining not only Father Huneke’s abuse of John, but also the abuse of other boys where the priest had been transfered to in Florida. One of those poor souls had even taken his own life.
Well, that got the attention of the Archdiocese. And they summoned him to a meeting at which their anger was apparent, I’m sure. Eventually, Father Huneke stopped being a priest. I don’t know how this happened, but it did. He married a nun from the high school John used to attend and they disappeared into the woodwork.
Until 2000. Enter me and my internet obsession. In 2000 I finally figured out that I could look up old friends on the internet. In fact, just two years earlier, a bunch of my friends from high school and I discovered that not only had we found each other, but that we all – a bunch of native New Yawkas – were living within an hour’s drive of each other in the Md/Va/DC area. Well, one afternoon, just for “shits and giggles” as my daughter, S often says, I decided to see if I could find anything about “Robert Huneke.” Sure enough a website from a parochial high school in Marietta Georgia (or thereabouts) came up, showing – you guessed it – a Robert Huneke and his wife Regina in the guidance department. I thought about it for a day, wondering what, if anything I should do. I finally decided to look up another old friend – John Salveson – on the internet and thank God, I was able to. He not only looked at the website, but he called the school immediately and informed them about what had happened to him at the hands of Mr. Huneke. John also provided copies of the letters the Archdiocese had sent him back in the 80s to confirm that he was not just some crackpot calling them. The school, to their great credit, immediately fired Huneke – and his wife who had a duty to inform them as the director of guidance (!!!!) – and sent a letter out to the parents informing them of this problem.
By this time, John’s story made it to Newsday – a Long Island newspaper – and a bunch of other publications as the biggest story to hit the Catholic Church since Vatican II hit the news. In the midst of all this, Robert Huneke died of cancer.
John often spoke of the different people in Huneke – and I can relate to that. I remember the caring kind man who had a vocation to help. And it’s so hard to reconcile it to the monster who preyed on adolescent boys, destroying their sense of dignity, of identity, in some cases destroying their very lives. And this continued because of an institution that refuses to look at the reality of human existence, that women really are the equals of men, that psychology and the other sciences have something worthwhile and moral to tell us if we will only listen.
And it is for that reason – not the sins of individuals (for that is everywhere and who am I to judge anyone’s sins) – but the institutional ignorance and my own personal changes mandating disagreement with so much of what it stands for – that I no longer identify myself as Catholic. I can really feel the grief and pain and sadness for that severance that Martin Luther must have felt when he tacked his theses to the Worms Cathedral door and said, “I can do no other.”
This change does not come from anger or rage or hatred. I love the Mass, I love God three-in-one. And I love Catholics – am even married to one! But I needed to find an open and loving community. And I have found it where I am now, ironically in another Episcopal Church with the name of St. John. Maybe I should have stayed and fought for change – and I know others who are doing that, may God eternally bless them! – but for me this is where I must go.
John Salveson? Last I heard, he still owned an employment firm and was Executive Director of SNAP (the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests) in Philadelphia. He is one of my heroes. Who knows how many lives he’s saved? By the way, the one thing he never heard from the Church during his travails he finally did get – in the person of the Rev. Theodore M. Hesburgh – past President of Notre Dame University where John attended college. They happened by chance to ride on the train together and John told Father Hesburgh his story. Father Hesburgh’s face grew more angry and stony as John told him what had happened to him. The response: “For what it’s worth, I am so sorry.”
Finally. An apology.