Posted here too because the survivor stories are locked from comments.This is an article, written after an interview I agreed to just before Easter 2019. It was published on the largest Catholic news portal in Lithuania July 1st and repeated again on Sept 11th. She did a remarkable job at compiling everything, having listened to me for 4 hours, and sifting through 2-3 additional LONG emails. It's a rather revealing thing, especially since the original article has my picture on it. There's no specifics about the abuse itself, nor the intense psychological and emotional tortured endured even up till recently. But this is essentially me and my story. Sorry it's a bit long. But again, I didn't write it nor translate the original. I did however proofread and approve both. The quoted material is certainly what I said.
A burden too heavy to bear alone: Br. David, a Benedictine monk, shares his story of having been sexually abused as a child.
"I smile and laugh in order not to cry," said Brother David Minot during one of our interviews. David, an American who is a monk at St. Benedict’s Abbey in Palendriai, Lithuania will soon be making his perpetual solemn vows. The road which led him to this community was not an easy one, but it was even more difficult for him to enter into himself. During his childhood, David was a victim traumatized by sexual abuse. This crime was committed by a religious brother in whom he and his family had placed unconditional confidence. “I realized that I have gotten myself into some very bad situations and made some unwise decisions concerning my life because of that horrible childhood experience. It wreaked havoc on my mind. Only God protected me from suicide.”
“He asked me not to tell anyone”
David, a “cradle Catholic” as they say in America, lived with his family in the state of Rhode Island. His mom noticed that her small child imitated the gestures of the priest during Mass, and as soon as he was old enough she suggested that he become an altar boy. David recalls that there was a moment when he began to imagine that he would one day become a priest. “From childhood, faith was always an integral part of my life. My brother and sister would sometimes not want to go to Mass on Sundays, and I would scold them for that. I like it.”
“Our family moved a few times when I was growing up.” After one of these moves into another town, six year old David felt especially lonely, without any friends either at school or in the parish. His mother became acquainted with the brothers of the Congregation of the Sacred Heart of Jesus. Later she began working for them as a cook. One of the brothers, Paul, proposed that David become a lector at Mass as well as to help out in the sacristy. “I spent a great deal of time with him. He was really my only friend, and when he was transferred to another convent, it was like the end of the world for me.”
In the summer, a few months after his transfer to a convent in the state of Connecticut, the brother invited David to spend a week with him in an old farm building which he had turned into a retreat house for teens in difficulty, for example, those who were victims of violence in their families, or who had become addicted to drugs or alcohol. David was overjoyed at the invitation, but that week was to change his entire existence in a negative way. The person in whom he had place unlimited confidence, ended up sexually abusing him. And in the course of the week, this happened more than once. Although his mother had told him to call if anything went wrong, he refrained from doing so. He remained silent about the whole affair even after returning home.
“He asked me to say nothing, because this could cause him trouble due to the fact that he was older. I kept quiet because I was only a child, and he was my friend. Over the years, he repeated several times that friends often do such things among themselves. Also, I was afraid of causing him any problems. Looking back, I see that my fear of telling the truth was absurd. But as a child I could neither grasp what was going on, nor express it to a grownup. Paul took advantage of the confidence which we had earlier placed in him.
I didn’t like what he did with me, I felt confused. I even recall how he once tried to entice me into taking a shower with him. I refused, thinking to myself, that he was planning to do more of the things that made me uncomfortable. Later on that day, he reminded my of my refusal. We were driving by along the highway where there was a landfill. As the putrid odor of decomposing garbage began to enter the car, he said : “Is it you who stinks like that? You would have done better to let me wash those places.” Blaming me for the unpleasant odor was his way of trying to get me let him wash me up, only probably much more than simply wash.
Br. David recalls how, before that ill-fated week, Paul had more than once told him strange stories. For example how he had seen two boys masturbating each other, or how he himself had behaved indecently with other boys during his childhood. David especially remembers a trip made together with the brother to Montreal, Canada during which Paul told him many such stories. “There’s a phrase that sticks in my mind: ‘They almost caught us with our pants down!’ I was incapable of understanding what he meant by that.”
Later David learned that this process is called “grooming”. The adult slowly and subtly “prepares” his future victim, winning over his confidence as well as that of his family. Brother David emphasized that a child’s parents or guardians should be able to recognize what is going on and set up road blocks to ward off any potential acts of abuse. Although the child himself can sense that something is not right, he will not be able to find words to express it.
The Mosquito effect
Following this traumatic experience; which for a long time he didn’t understand or even tried to forget, David remained an active Catholic and seriously considered becoming a priest. Having turned sixteen, he became the sacristan of the local parish where he spent “countless hours”. Upon graduating from High School, however, he decided not to enter seminary immediately. At the time he had met a girl, and although this friendship was not really the reason for his renouncing to enter the diocesan seminary, it nonetheless severed as the justification. Although he felt drawn towards the priesthood, he hesitated fearing loneliness. David felt very close to his family in the broad sense of the term, his cousins, aunts and uncles. Conviviality was and still is a very a important element in David’s life.
Nonetheless, thoughts about a vocation never left him even during college and military service, or even working a regular civilian job. “I like to call it the ‘mosquito effect.’ Think of a hot and humid summer night, when you think that at long last you can fall asleep, you hear a buzzing noise. You can’t find the mosquito, or if you do, there’s no way of killing it. It just keeps coming back. The same holds true of a vocation – it simply is there, and you can’t shake it off.”
At age twenty-three, David entered the seminary, but community life with the seminarians proved to be complicated. David felt the need for a deeper form of spiritual life. He received a baccalaureate in philosophy and theology in the USA, and later continued graduate theology studies in Fribourg, Switzerland where he met Fr. Casimir, who was then his fellow student and who is at present the prior of the Monastery in Palendriai. It was Casimir who helped David understand what Benedictine life is about. Leaving the Fribourg seminary, where he suffered from what he perceived to be the lack of a fraternal atmosphere, David entered a Swiss monastery of Benedictine missionaries. But even there he did not feel at home, due in part to a lack of silence and contemplation.
In Switzerland, David recalls having been especially moved by the silence he experienced during a visit to Hauterive, one of the very first Cistercian monasteries. “I was filled with a very unusual feeling of profound peace and tranquility. I asked my friend who brought me there the same question that many people continually ask us today in Lithuania: ‘What do these monks do all day long?’ It seemed wonderful to me that they were able to work and the rest of the time was spent in church.”
David first visited Palendriai in 2008 in order to help Fr. Casimir bring his things home after completing his studies in Switzerland. “Here in Palendriai I experienced the same feeling of peace as in that Swiss Cistercian Abbey.” But at first the idea of entering this monastery seemed strange – a very complicated language and a different culture both of which David had nothing in common and no roots. Nonetheless he has now been living here since 2011. The Benedictines are contemplative monks. Those who enter the monastery do so in order to remain there for life. On July 26th Br. David will make his solemn eternal vows. Afterwards, if the Abbot calls him to do so, he will be able to prepare for the priesthood which he has dreamed of since childhood.
“My childhood wasn’t easy, but God helped me, it is as if he gave me life a second time. I chose to become a Benedictine because I don’t know how it would be possible otherwise for me to more intensely seek him, know him, return to him that which has given me – life itself. My hope is that in taking this road I can also help others to know the Good Lord who gives us life and love.
“I was not his only victim”
In 2002 when the scandal broke out in Boston concerning sexual abuse perpetrated by priests and its cover-up on the part of bishops, David began for the first time to consciously reflect on the childhood trauma which up until then he had forgotten. As he continually heard media reports about how priests had abused minors, he understood that he himself had been subjected to the something similar. Around ten years had passed since that summer spent with Br. Paul at the retreat house. “My first reaction was to tell myself: ‘Yeah, and? I also went through that, but it’s no big deal. I’m ok; I’m normal’. I was sincerely convinced that I would continue to be quiet about it. Because those seeking retribution reported in the news media, many were looking for money, or their lives had been devastated. But today I understand how naive I was to reason in that way.”
All the same, Br. David only sought help for the first time in Lithuania in 2015, after returning from a visit to his parents in the States where he had a pleasant but strange dream, seeing himself in a familiar cemetery where no one he knew was buried. When he awoke he began thinking about the Brother who had abused him. Could it be he who was buried there? David googled his name and found on the internet not an obituary, but an article about accusations against him for allegedly abusing a minor in the 1970s. “I couldn’t believe my eyes. I though my heart would stop beating. This discovery was beyond upsetting because it meant that I was not this man’s only victim. How many more of us are there? What should I do? I felt betrayed and rejected - he had led me to believe that I was someone special. But I now understood that the events of that summer at that farmhouse were not something special for him. He had lied to me; he took advantage of me, abused me. At that moment my entire life passed in front of my eyes. The trauma renewed itself. I once again felt like I was being abused by him.” And thus began both the painful experience of reliving the trauma as well as the process of healing.
“If it were not for my faith, I don’t know where I would be. Many victims of sexual abuse end up committing suicide. They run the risk of becoming addicted to alcohol, drugs or other forms of self-destructive behavior through which they attempt to diminish a pain that they don’t know where it comes from. Sexual abuse differs from other forms of violence in that it wounds the very being of the child, alienating him from himself. What does a person have left? God alone saved me from suicide. This burden is too heavy to bear alone.”
Readers will perhaps ask themselves how someone who was abused during his childhood by a religious brother was able to keep the faith and still desire to become a priest. “I never associated this evil with the Church as such, or with the faith or the priesthood - it was the acts of a concrete bad person. Still, having been abused and endured the process of grooming, I became particularly cautious. I was often apprehensive in normal everyday life situations. I felt uncomfortable when invited as a guest or when I was alone in a room with another man. As a result I sometimes pushed away perfectly safe people, refusing to be close friends with them. But at other times, I failed to avoid people who truly posed a threat. It’s the classical problem of knowing boundaries according to the various types of personal relationships. Victims of childhood sexual abuse become confused in this area, and this confusion persists into adulthood.”
Looking for help
Having understood that he could not deal alone with so awful a set of difficulties, David began searching on the internet and discovered Mike Lew’s book “Victims No Longer: the Classic Guide for Men Recovering from Sexual Child Abuse.”
“I cried when I found the book on internet, I cried when I ordered it. I feared that once I had it downloaded, one of the other brothers might notice the title. Once I had it, it was hard for me to begin reading it, and when I finally started I cried again almost every time I picked up my tablet to read it. The book explains why it is so hard to understand the trauma one has experienced. I recognized my own experience. I realized that there was nothing unusual in my apprehensions concerning masculinity, my fear that if I told my story no one would believe me, my inability to remember precisely when it all took place. It was normal to feel this way – I was not loosing my mind. The book enabled me not only to understand what I had been through in childhood, but also what I was living through and am still experiencing as an adult as I go through the process of healing.
“In order to become a survivor and no longer remain a victim, you first have to understand that you were abused not because of something you did, said or allowed to happen. It’s when you recognize that it wasn’t your fault, you then recognize yourself as a victim. However, a ‘real man’ is not supposed to be a victim. It’s a humiliating and discomforting realization, and the principle reason why questions about masculinity arise. And then other questions come up: ‘Did I perhaps lack the strength or the wisdom to defend myself? It’s hard to remember that you were only a child, considerably weaker and more vulnerable than the abusing adult. He ought to have taken care of you and not abused you.’”
Finally, the book led the monk to the realization that he needed psychological help. “It was not an easy thing to admit. No one talks about sexual abuse in Lithuania, and men who go to psychotherapy are frowned upon because it is generally thought here that ‘a man needs to be tough’. In addition we Benedictines live in an enclosed community (cloistered), so I had to ask the abbot and the prior for permission to go regularly to therapy. I was afraid of being misunderstood, I didn’t know how they would react. But since the time I was brave enough to talk to them, I’ve been meeting regularly with a lady who is one of the best psychologists in the region.”
The book he read also made David think about the need to confront the abuser and to report the crime, because all to often things are kept silent. David wrote three letters: one to the abuser, a second one to the man’s provincial (the regional superior of his religious congregation) and a third to the diocese where the abuse took place. Paul, the abuser, wrote back. But it took a while before Br. David got up the courage to open the envelope.
“He apologized. He said that it was only years later that he understood the seriousness of his actions. He assured me that there were no victims other than myself and the man mentioned in the press report I had read, (the person who had lodged a complaint in 2012 for his abuse as a minor in the 1970’s). I can’t remember what else he wrote. I couldn’t save the letter; I burned it. It’s good that he wrote - doing so probably helped him. But was it helpful for me? I really don't know. Maybe so. At any rate, I was able to confront him. Can I, after admitting what has happened to me, let go of the anger in my heart? It’s not easy, it varies from day to day, but thanks to faith in God, it is possible.”
The Provincial also responded - expressing understanding, apologizing. David was saddened most of all by the response he received from the diocese, which was for him an example of ecclesiastical insensitivity to victims. Although the sister who first corresponded with him, and who was responsible for the office of Safe Environment, seemed to understand the importance of the matter and responded quickly, the final and official diocesan response was rather formal. It merely informed David that in 2012, when Paul’s other victim lodged a complaint, he was suspended from parish work and transferred to another convent, where he remains under strict surveillance in order to avoid that he have any contact with minors.
“In other words, I was simply told that the diocese had done everything according to their protocol, there is nothing left for them to do and that they wished me well on my healing journey. I fully understand that I live on the other side of the world, and Brother Paul belongs to a religious community which is under the responsibility of their provincial and not the bishop. Still the diocesan response was incorrect. The Church is a huge institution and I am someone whose life has suffered severe damage at the hands of one of her representatives. Such indifferent behavior in the face of a person in my situation, an answer which refers only to protocol, - is fundamentally unChristian. Jesus often criticized the Pharisees for behaving in precisely this way. On the contrary, it is vitally important for victims to feel that their pain is being taken seriously and responded to rapidly. For most people, reactions of this kind on the part of the Church are unacceptable because they seem to indicate that they really don’t care, that the victims don’t really matter.”
“Christ is our Light”
To many Catholics, it is not only uncomfortable, but even dangerous to talk about sexual abuse in the Church. Br. David explains why it is important to overcome the instinctive desire to protect the Church. “First of all, it must be acknowledged that this problem exists. Abuse cases must be made public because silence only protects the perpetrators while imprisoning and oppressing the victims. Victims must be protected from publicity if they so wish, but abusers must be reported publicly. This does not undermine, but on the contrary, builds confidence in the Church, because it shows a determination to deal with the situation - punishing the offender, taking care of the victim. Last summer, after the famous Pennsylvania Grand Jury report came out, I read in the news a great number of apologies coming from Church leaders. These are needed, but it must be added that abuser priests only make up a very small portion of the clergy. Most priests do nothing of the kind, on the contrary, they accomplish excellent, holy and important work. It is important to repeat this and show without delay the bright side of the Church. In the current situation, positive information is desperately needed.”
Brother David recalls the fifth verse from the first chapter of the Gospel according to John: “The Light shines in the darkness, and the darkness has not overshadowed it.”
“When you leave a terrible problem like child sexual abuse in the dark, it remains unresolved. On the contrary, when you shine light on it, overcoming it becomes possible. It is our duty to accomplish this because it is we who are the Church and Christ is our light. During his visit to Lithuania in September 2018 Pope Francis, speaking to the nation’s priests and consecrated religious at the Kaunas Cathedral, emphatically urged them to “go out to the peripheries.” - that is, to those who are marginalized. There are indeed vast numbers of people on the periphery, and among those in most need of help are the victims of childhood sexual abuse. These include not only children who presently are being abused, but also the men and women who have suffered from abuse during their in childhood. These people often do not seek help due to shame, fear or other negative feelings which are incredibly strong. It is out of love and concern for them that the Church must speak about sexual abuse. At the same time we must not forget that in the vast majority of cases, children suffer abuse not from priests but from their own close relatives and family members. It is important to educate the public so that they are well informed and no longer remain apprehensive concerning this issue.”
Brother David tells his story to help other victims of sexual abuse here in Lithuania. The path of healing is long and painful, but it is important not to remain alone and seek help.