Reposted from www.commonwealmagazine.org/blind-spots-1
In late 2015, a few months after it happened, I found myself on the phone with Kathleen McChesney, a retired FBI agent. She’d begun her career in the 1970s by helping catch the serial killer Ted Bundy, later rising to hold the third-most-senior position in the Bureau. In 2002, after news of clerical sex abuse and cover-up in Boston, the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops appointed her to establish and lead its Office of Child and Youth Protection. A prominent author, consultant, and expert on clerical sex abuse, McChesney had offered to listen to my story in order to help me determine the best way of moving forward.
Admittedly, in my case, her high-profile background seemed like overkill. But I did feel I needed serious professional advice. For most of 2015, I’d been a postulant with a monastic community in Italy. My novice master, a priest in his late thirties, had psychologically abused me for months before making sexual advances on me. I was twenty-nine at the time (I’m thirty-three now). While I managed to defend myself and escape, I felt the need for an institutional response to what had happened. I’d asked to speak with McChesney in order to find out what my options were.
McChesney heard me out, listening patiently as I narrated the events leading up to the abuse, beginning with my arrival at the monastery in late December 2014 and concluding with my departure in late October 2015. At the points where I thought the most awful affronts had been committed (Can you believe he did this? And that the community did nothing?), she would slow me down, asking a series of short questions that soon became a kind of refrain: Were there children present at the monastery? Or in the guesthouse? Did you ever see your novice master interacting with them? No, I would respond, before continuing with my story.
After about an hour, McChesney gently informed me that based on what I’d said, nothing illegal had occurred. It was what investigators call “adult misconduct”—harrowing and distressing behavior, to be sure, but not against the law.