On Thursday September 30th 2016, I attended Robert Orsi’s seminar “What is Catholic about the Clergy Sexual Abuse Crisis?” at the University of Ottawa. Although the subject has been thoroughly researched in the past decade or so, what I found particularly fascinating about Orsi’s presentation was the fresh new way in which he presented the material from the point of view of the survivors, acting as a voice for them, a voice which they would otherwise not have had. Often, when we hear about sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, we hear almost exclusively about the accused in question or about the scandals of the “cover ups”. Very rarely do we hear about the survivors, how they are coping with the terrible events they had to go through and how these actions have affected their new and complicated relationship with Catholicism.
During the course of his seminar, Orsi recalled a story that a woman, victim of sexual abuse by a priest, had shared with him after they had met in a support group for survivors in Chicago. She described her new relationship with Catholicism by relating it to a scene in the movie “The Wizard of Oz”, produced by Mervyn LeRoy in 1939. Towards the end of the movie, Dorothy, the main character, and her friends Toto, Scarecrow, Cowardly Lion and Tin Man finally get to meet the Wizard of Oz. The wizard is, at first, an impressive, magical, powerful and almost mystical being to the visitors. This changes when, Toto, Dorothy’s dog, draws back a curtain in the back and the room and reveals that the wizard is no more than a man operating a machine. He is nothing more than some special effects, good lighting and a fog machine. I found this analogy particularly interesting because it gives us an insight into the mind of a survivor, and we can see how these traumatic events deeply shape a person in many ways, especially how it affects their faith. This church that was once an impressive establishment of truth, righteousness and divine spirit is now nothing more than a building run by ordinary men who sin like everyone else.
I found Orsi’s voice to be a very human one: He dedicated two years of his life not only to expose the sexual abuse cases in the Catholic Church, but also to help the survivors by listening to them and by giving them a chance to express themselves publicly. I have recently seen the movie “Spotlight”, directed by Tom McCarthy in 2015, and although I found it extremely engaging and eye opening, I thought it lacked some emphasis on the survivors of these terrible actions. Robert Orsi, on the other hand, did the opposite: He saw the men, the women and the children behind these religious scandals and he gave them a voice.