Decades-old rumors about priest, pedophilia were ‘credible’

Yet another Catholic priest has been added to the list of alleged pedophile predators, and this time the sordid tale hits close to home.

The priest who was the principal of the high school I attended in the 1970s has been stripped of his privileges as a member of the clergy.

It’s alleged that in the late 1980s, he raped an altar boy more than a dozen times after being “reassigned” to another parish. The altar boy came forward more than 20 years later with accusations that the local diocese and the Vatican deemed credible.

As awful as that is, here’s what makes it worse:

There were rumors about this priest around the time I graduated from high school, almost 40 years ago.

We were naive Catholic high school kids and didn’t know what to make of it all — but if teenagers were hearing rumors, then some parents and other adults must have been talking about it as they looked the other way.

The sad and evil story of thousands of predatory priests in the Catholic Church has become commonplace in recent years. Our local diocese is considering joining others that have identified priests in the credible-evidence category, and might provide up to nine names.

Whatever the number, it’s too high.

And the church’s response is too little, way too late.

The priests who violated altar boys and other young parishioners, and the superiors who moved these pedophiles around for damage control, are criminals. They should do time, as some have. (The Vatican has ordered my former principal — now in his 80s — to a life of prayer and penance, according to a published report. A statute of limitations prevents criminal prosecution.)

The Catholic Church has lost some of its flock because of the rampant abuse and enabling behavior, and I am in that “lapsed” category.

Despite all the good that individual members of the church continue to do, I cannot get past the sick crimes and willful coverups. Nor do I feel I should even try.

I was an altar boy for two years, and a student for 13 years in schools run by priests and nuns. It’s sheer dumb luck that I wasn’t sexually abused. I also find it sadly ironic that we were terrified of the nuns and thought some priests were “cool.”

To my knowledge, none of my buddies growing up were ever abused. But who knows? In those days, many Catholics didn’t even talk openly about cancer — it was seen as a punishment from God, or some such nonsense.

Given the recent revelations about my former principal, it wouldn’t surprise me if someone from my high school surfaces with additional credible evidence against him or others. Sadly, there is strength in numbers now, and the climate is such that pedophile priests are no longer considered just “sinners.”

So, is it too late for the Catholic Church to save itself?

I want to say I hope so, but I’m not sure I even care. I don’t pay much attention to the church anymore, although I hear the new pope is progressive and popular. If he can keep any more altar boys from being raped, that’s more than just good public relations.

(As a footnote, the Vatican recently discovered hundreds of millions of euros it somehow didn’t know it had. Perhaps some of that loot can pay for counseling — and I don’t mean for the priests.)

Posted in crime, Irish Investigations, religion | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 14 Comments

Photo project helps refugees know ‘their voice matters’

A photo taken by a participant in Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson's PhotoVoice exhibit with refugees in Syracuse, NY.

A photo taken by a participant in Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson’s PhotoVoice project with refugees in Syracuse, NY.

Thanks to a research project conducted by a public health graduate student, eight refugees living in Syracuse, NY, will show off their photography skills at an exhibition next month.

But Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson’s project is about much more than photography.

Rozlynn is following the PhotoVoice project model, designed to build skills and empower people in disadvantaged and marginalized populations and to influence policy makers to address the needs of those communities.

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson, who conducted a PhotoVoice research project with refugees in Syracuse.

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson, who conducted a PhotoVoice research project with refugees in Syracuse.

“Their perception matters. Their voice matters,” she said. “Not just to me, but to the larger community.”

Rozlynn, a student in the Master of Public Health program housed at Upstate Medical University in Syracuse, has taught English as a Second Language to adults since 2009. The participants in the PhotoVoice project are her students, and represent six different countries and native languages.

Of the eight refugees, or “New Americans,” only one had used a camera before.

The PhotoVoice project is an extension of the bonds created in the classroom, Rozlynn said. Her students, ranging from their 20s to their 50s, worked with each other, and spoke in English because they don’t know each other’s native languages. They come from Nepal, Ethiopia, Iraq, Central African Republic, Rwanda and Bhutan.

This fall, Rozlynn purchased point-and-shoot digital cameras online and met twice a week with the students to discuss the project and give them a crash course in photography.

The students spent a week taking photos, with the idea of capturing representations of three elements of social cohesion – Community, Connection and Belonging. The students were told not to photograph faces, but to look for representative images.

The students then had to choose five of their photos and assign each image to either Community, Connection or Belonging. Rozlynn then tape-recorded the students explaining each photo. She transcribed their responses for the text accompanying the photos when they are on display Jan. 8.

“I’m humbled and grateful,” Rozlynn said. “I’m in a different capacity, almost like a role reversal of teacher and student. It’s wonderful to be part of a creative endeavor like this. … It’s gratifying to know what I’m providing to them gives them an opportunity to shine. They’re so excited, and I’m so excited for them.”

Rozlynn Jakes-Johnson’s PhotoVoice Project

PhotoVoice exhibit featuring photography by Syracuse refugees from Nepal, Ethiopia, Iraq, Central African Republic, Rwanda, Bhutan.

Thursday, Jan. 8, 2015

6 to 7:30 p.m.

Northside CYO, 527 N. Salina St., Syracuse

The event is free, open to the public and will feature refreshments and music.

Posted in art, communication, Irish Investigations, language, photography, refugees, war | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Refuse to accept ‘No’ from corporate giants — it can work

Happy endings are hard to come by in dealing with big business, but here’s one to share. It didn’t come easily, but it was worth it — to the tune of hundreds, perhaps thousands of dollars.

Target1I had been fully prepared to blast Target in this space if it wouldn’t send me a simple one-paragraph letter on company letterhead. But someone at corporate headquarters saw the light and did the right thing.

Target had initially refused to send me a letter verifying that on a certain date I added my domestic partner as an authorized user on my credit card. We needed this as a proof of status to add Michelle to my health insurance policy. Target’s refusal would have delayed this and forced her to continue paying monthly premiums on another policy.

Several weeks of phone calls and e-mails finally resulted in a letter granting my request. I was pleasantly surprised, to say the least. I even had Michelle open the letter, because I didn’t want to read any bad news myself.

So instead of bashing or boycotting Target, I will give credit where it’s due and continue to shop there.

The lesson here, though, is not that Big Bad Corporations Have a Heart. It’s that consumers have to advocate for themselves, sometimes relentlessly. Don’t take “No” for an answer, even if it takes time and saps your energy.

And if you do find yourself in this kind of battle, be firm but not nasty. You catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, my parents always said. Appeal to the company’s sense of humanity, or at least their grasp of public relations — most are well aware that social media can create nightmares for bad actors.

As a holiday bonus, I can also report a positive resolution to another confounding situation with a large corporate-like entity, the U.S. Postal Service. A birthday package I had sent via two-day Priority Mail to my son in Seattle was “lost” for almost two weeks.

The box finally arrived in one piece, its contents intact. A postal clerk in my hometown was relentless in his pursuit of finding out why the package kept bouncing from state to state on the West Coast before it was delivered. He was apologetic, and insisted I come in for a refund. You can bet I did.

The clerk was very gracious, and the experience left me even more confident in the Postal Service — even though no one knows why the package earned so many frequent flier miles. But a happy ending is a happy ending.

Posted in communication, Irish Investigations, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

A tale of two shoes in four short paragraphs

A man I don’t know walked past me, carrying a pair of my shoes. He went out the door, but I didn’t try to stop him.

The long white laces were tied together, and the shoes were draped over his right forearm. He stopped at an overstuffed trash can and dumped the rest of what he was carrying, the remains of a meal on a cafeteria tray. He did not look up.

The line at the soup kitchen for Thanksgiving was dozens deep, the guests at the tables sitting elbow-to-elbow. It was hard to see from one end of the dining room to the other; harder still to avoid seeing things with unerring clarity.

A man I don’t know walked past me, carrying a pair of my shoes. He went out the door, but I didn’t try to stop him.

Posted in Homeless, hunger, Irish Investigations, poverty, running | Tagged , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A lesson in self-preservation — take it from the trees

Why did these leaves wait until there was snow on the ground to fall?

It’s never too late to learn a lesson you snoozed through in high school biology.

Especially when it provides a metaphor that smacks you upside the head.

The science: When trees shed their leaves in autumn, there’s more going on than cold temperatures and wind wreaking havoc. Deciduous trees are wired for “abscission,” an active process of willful shedding that keeps them alive so they can bloom again in spring.

Last Saturday morning, as I looked out my kitchen window and listened to the coffee maker gurgle, a strong breeze whipped the leaves off the trees by the hundreds. They darted every which way before settling onto the snow-covered ground.

It’s dangerous to think too much before coffee, as it can lead to mixed metaphors. So be it. Here goes:

A prevailing mindset is that outside forces take things from us, harm us, leave us less than whole. This is true, certainly, when others steal from us, hurt us physically or harm a loved one.

But I’m referring to toxic people or situations that cause us emotional harm, or make us feel mistreated or abused. Too often we allow these outside forces to strip us of our happiness, leaving us less than healthy. We’re weaker, damaged, barren. We appear more vulnerable, and in some ways we are.

What may help deal with those negative forces (which could include your job, your neighborhood, bad actors in your life) is to tell yourself, “Wait! Let’s try abscission!”

It’s not anyone else or anything else taking anything from you. Rather, you’re the one deciding what to get rid of and when. So shed what you don’t need. All the negativity, the toxic stuff, all of it is in those leaves falling to the ground.

You’re wired for survival, and you made that happen. You may look more vulnerable for a while, but that’s part of the deal.

And here’s the coolest thing about abscission: After the tree sheds a leaf, it seals off the section of the branch where the stem was attached. This prevents any other outside forces from getting in and doing harm.

And then, in spring, the tree decides when it’s ready to bloom again.

Posted in crime, Irish Investigations, peace | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

‘The Last Waltz’ and other Thanksgiving rituals snuck up on me

It’s scary sometimes how the mind works. Mine, anyway.

When Michelle came home from work the other night carrying cameras, backpacks and other tools of the photography trade, I greeted her at the door with, “Take a load off!”

It’s not a phrase I use often, and the words surprised me. My brain immediately:

* fired up the chorus of  “The Weight” by The Band.

* sent up a flare that Thanksgiving’s a week away. I associate The Band with the holiday, because its farewell concert, “The Last Waltz,” took place Thanksgiving night 1976 in San Francisco.

* flipped my heart to the nostalgic/melancholy setting. I grew up listening to The Band, and sang “The Weight” to my three boys at bedtime two decades ago. We try to watch “The Last Waltz” documentary every Thanksgiving, but my middle son won’t be home until Christmas.

* conjured images of The Band’s Levon Helm, who died in 2012. Levon had a successful second act, an artistic resurgence after bankruptcy, throat cancer and other hard knocks. My oldest son caught Levon and his band at a small club in Silver Spring, Md., shortly before Levon became too ill to play anymore.

I’m convinced I uttered “Take a load off!” the other night because my subconscious or unconscious mind has been hard at work. My synapses have been processing the coming of Thanksgiving, the falling leaves and snow, and impending family rituals (including my sons’ annual Reunion Bowl football game with their high school buddies).

I haven’t been listening to Levon or The Band lately, but that’s going to change. I have the high-tech wonders of YouTube on my screen and the low-tech awesomeness of the turntable in my basement.

Take a load off? I do believe it’s time.

My sons' Reunion Bowl football game is a Thanksgiving weekend ritual

My sons’ Reunion Bowl football game is a Thanksgiving weekend ritual. This is Reunion Bowl VI in 2011.

Posted in cancer, Children, family, Irish Investigations, music, Travel | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments

A confrontation that was worth it — for one of us, anyway

Central New York winters are hard enough on runners. We don't need people yelling at us from vehicles for no reason.

Frigid Central New York winters are hard enough on runners. We don’t need idiots trying to make it worse.

In more than 30 years of running the roads, I have encountered intentional bad behavior only a few times.

Once, passing teenagers spit out the window and nailed me good. A few other times, oncoming drivers have laid on the horn or veered toward me on the shoulder just for the fun of it.

On a frigid morning last winter in Central New York, it happened again. This time, I was able to do something about it.

About halfway through my daily run, I was on the left shoulder of a busy two-way road, facing traffic as I should, when I was startled by someone yelling at me from behind. It came from a vehicle heading in the same direction as I, and I didn’t see or hear it coming. It caught me off guard and scared me more than I expected.

A young man was leaning out the passenger window of a truck, yelling at the top of his voice, “Hey! What the f— are you doin’?!” or something like that. He then pulled himself back inside the truck, which went on its merry way.

Some mornings I would laugh that off. Not that morning, perhaps because of single-digit temperatures and a biting cold headwind. But I refocused on my stride and my mundane plans for the day. Not quite a mile later, as I reached the corner where I normally turn for home, I happened to look over at the convenience store across the street. There was the yeller’s truck at the fuel pump.

Decision time. Do I “let it go,” as cautious people would advise?

I crossed the street to the store, slowing to a jog and then to a walk. As I passed the truck, it appeared to be empty. Inside the store a young man stood at the counter paying for some empty calories, but there were no other customers. I asked the young man if the truck was his, and he shook his head no. I asked the clerk if she knew whose truck it was, and she said no.

Their answers didn’t pass the sniff test. I took my time and followed the young man outside, and he indeed headed toward the truck. Just as he got around to the driver’s side door, it opened from the inside and another young man suddenly jumped out.

I approached the second young man, who apparently had decided to hide in the truck as he saw me cross the street. “Excuse me, do I know you?” I asked. I must have looked quite intimidating, all 6 feet and 155 pounds of me in running clothes, winter hat and mittens.

Not gloves. Mittens.

He, a chunky fellow in his early 20s, blanched and gave a nervous, “No, sorry.”

So I asked him why he yelled at me. His reply, as he opened the passenger door and climbed back in, was that he thought he knew me. A lame answer, and we both knew it.

I grabbed onto the door, leaned toward him and asked him a favor, to please not yell at runners. I was calm at first, but my anger rose as I spoke. It’s rude, I told him, and you might pick the wrong runner and the wrong day. In fact, you just might pick a crazy runner.

As he clutched what I believe to have been chips and soda at 8 a.m., he asked, “Are you crazy?”

A good question. I think I said something like, “I’m running outside in 5-degree weather. What do you think?”

Our exchange ended without incident, because the truck pulled away (much too fast, of course) with my brave new friend lobbing F-bombs out the window. I even returned one as a courtesy.

As I jogged away, I wondered … was that worth it?


Here’s why: Despite whatever failings this young man has (including his diet), maybe there’s something within him that will make our little encounter bear fruit.

I hope he looks in the mirror one day as he shaves and feels a sense of … the easy word here would be “shame.” But any shame will come every time his friend, the driver, calls him a Nancy Boy and reminds him that he once hid to avoid a confrontation with a skinny 49-year-old man wearing mittens.

Rather, I hope he realizes this: It’s not always strength that comes in numbers; that young men, in the company of other young men, sometimes do stupid things — things they wouldn’t do if they were by themselves.

I hope he understands he got off easy this time, and that he shapes up and outgrows that kind of nonsense.

Is that crazy, to want that for young men?

Note: This incident occurred in the winter of 2006-2007, and I wrote about it shortly thereafter. I’ve edited it only slightly. 

Posted in Irish Investigations, role models, running | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 15 Comments

It’s easy to bitch about the Post Office, but I refuse

A Nov. 7 screenshot showing my Priority Mail tracking. Note the expected delivery date on the top, and the number of trips to California. (A screenshot from earlier Nov. 7 showed a different departure time that morning (photo below).

A screenshot showing my Priority Mail package en route to Seattle. Note the expected delivery date on the top, and the number of trips to and from California after the package left Central New York Oct. 27. As of Nov. 10, it hadn’t been delivered.

This is not a rant about the U.S. Postal Service — even though a “Priority Mail” birthday package I sent last month is in limbo somewhere on the West Coast.

True, my son’s birthday box of presents (and cash) hasn’t arrived as I post this. But rather than gripe about what happened, I want to compliment the USPS in general, and one clerk in particular.

It’s a classic example of good customer service. I know the USPS has its share of problems, financial and otherwise, but I have to give credit where it’s due.

Here’s the deal: I sent a Priority Mail box from Central New York to my son in Seattle, with an expected delivery date one day before his birthday. I’ve sent many of these packages, and have never had a problem.

After several days tracking the package as it racked up frequent flier miles bouncing between Washington State and California, I filled out a “delayed mail report” on the USPS website. The next day I received a call from a clerk at my local post office, who has been incredibly diligent as well as apologetic.

He’s been calling the processing facilities on the West Coast, and is doing everything he can to try to find out why my package is in another dimension. He told me to come in for a refund of the $17.90 postage. “We haven’t lived up to our end of the bargain,” he said.

The package comes with $50 insurance, so I will file to at least recover some of my losses. My son is minus some birthday presents, but the clerk said there is still a chance the package will get to him or be sent back to me.

Oddly, the experience has left me with a positive feeling — all because one clerk, one employee, takes pride in what he does and knows how to treat customers. It’s a lesson that other companies and employees would do well to learn.

On that note, I am in the midst of the exact opposite experience dealing with a national retail outfit. Stay tuned here for that story.

Posted in communication, family, Irish Investigations, Technology | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 13 Comments

November arrives, bag and baggage — and then some

Nov. 1, 2014 in Central New York.

Nov. 1, 2014 in Central New York.

November showed up at the front door this morning, and I had to let it in. This year it brought more crap than usual.

There’s the traditional baggage, of course — gray skies … more darkness … the furnace kicking on … post-marathon depression and Seasonal Affective Disorder … raw, rainy days and the promise of snow and slush and ice.

November 2014 not only checked those bags through, it brought a carry-on — an overstuffed box of frustration I want to return to sender. Here’s what’s in it:

Human error: I sent a 2-day priority box of birthday presents to my son on the West Coast. It was expected to arrive the day before his birthday Oct. 30. But a postal clerk here transposed the first two digits of the zip code (89 instead of 98). Somehow on Oct. 30 it was in a facility near him in Seattle, but on Oct. 31 it was at another facility in California. The bar code apparently is winning out over human eyesight. At least I can track its travels online.

Corporate bureaucracy: A national corporation — let’s call it Target — refuses to send me a letter verifying that on a certain date my girlfriend was added to my credit card. We need this as a proof to add her to my health insurance policy as my domestic partner. We have all the other proof we need that we live together, but Target’s refusal will delay this and cost her hundreds of dollars.

Technology: The company I bought virus protection software from in 2013, Avast, automatically renewed it and billed my credit card $53. I did not want this; my habit is to not do any automatic renewals. I tried to get a refund, but failed. Now I’m getting notices on my screen that my “free” protection is about to expire.

I know these are all first-world problems, and I am trying to reframe them to keep things in perspective. Stuff happens. I can forgive the postal clerk for typing too fast, and I’m confident the birthday presents will get there … eventually. The corporate intransigence and “technical difficulties,” however, are inexcusable. I will keep after them.

And now to reframe: Yesterday I had the privilege of taking part in a Halloween parade at a children’s hospital. A lot of very ill children who couldn’t go outdoors were able to go trick-or-treating inside the hospital.

I’m sure they, and their families, would love to have my “problems” instead.

Posted in cancer, Children, children's hospital, family, Irish Investigations, Volunteering | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 5 Comments

‘Silent Witnesses’ to domestic violence no more

The "Silent Witness" panel and tributes to two homicide victims at Vera House's 25th annual Report to the Community on domestic and sexual violence.

A “Silent Witness” panel flanked by tributes to two homicide victims at Vera House’s 25th annual Report to the Community on domestic and sexual violence.

Dani was in an abusive relationship for two years. One time she awoke on the floor and heard her abuser ask someone else in the room what he should do with the body.

When Dani stirred, he told her, “Baby, I thought I killed you.” And then he proceeded to beat her some more.

Dani said she found her “inner warrior” and got out. She promised herself to never be abused again, and to intervene if it was happening to someone else. “I was beaten with a beer bottle in front of 15 people, and no one said a thing,” she said. “I fought to save my life, and I won.”

Dani’s story was one of three told by survivors of domestic and sexual violence Wednesday during the 25th annual Report to the Community by Vera House, the Syracuse agency dedicated to ending domestic and sexual violence.

The statistics shared were grim and difficult to hear, but the personal stories were more compelling than any numbers. Two others, like Dani’s, ended with words of hope.

Monu, a refugee, was forced into an arranged marriage in which she said her husband and her family treated her like a slave. “It was a nightmare,” said Monu, who is deaf and told her story via sign language. She was beaten in front of her young daughter, but eventually escaped the relationship and now works with other refugees.

Jennifer was abused by a family member when she was 12 and 13. It took 25 years to tell her story without embarrassment, fear or self-loathing. “I believed it was my fault,” she said. “I carried a suitcase of guilt and shame.” Sexual abuse of a child, she said, “is a sort of death. The death of a child’s innocence, trust and voice.”

After “coping” by binge drinking and other destructive behaviors in her 20s, Jennifer said, she is now proud to call herself a professor, wife and mother. “I no longer focus on the words ‘sexual abuse.’ I focus on the word ‘survivor.'”

As strong as those women and other victims of abuse may be, a prevailing message of the annual Vera House report is that it’s up to the rest of us to do what we can to prevent domestic and sexual violence.

The 150 or so people who packed Syracuse’s Plymouth Congregational Church saw vivid reminders in front of them — photos and “Silent Witness” displays of silhouettes depicting two women killed in a domestic violence incident in 2013.

“Because these women no longer have a voice,” one display panel read, “the silhouettes are called Silent Witnesses.”

Posted in Children, crime, family, Irish Investigations | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments