Saturday, 27 April 2013

Horace and Janet Patterson

Conway Springs, Kansas

Parents of Eric Patterson

Janet Patterson

I’m the mother of a clergy abuse suicide victim.  Our son Eric revealed to us on his second psychiatric hospitalization, when he was twenty eight years old, he was twelve years old when he was sexually abused by our parish priest.  Eric committed suicide five months later.  Our lives changed on October 29th, 1999.  We have life ‘before Eric died’ and ‘after Eric died.’ 

We were horrified when we found out from a therapist the effects of sexual abuse and secondly the effects of clergy sexual abuse.  We began to understand our son’s reactions to people, places and things.  We discovered the church officials in our diocese knew they had placed a pedophile priest in our parish.  This was the point we broke down, sobbed and cried; we kept saying, “They knew.”  This was a horrible feeling of betrayal because the people we thought we could count on were the ones who had thrown our son to the wolves and our family as well.

After beginning to talk about this and taking any opportunity to share Eric’s and our family’s story I began questioning, Why Eric? Why our family? Why us?  Finally it hit me why not Eric?  Why not our family? Is there any child that deserves to be abused? Is there any family that deserves to have abuse never come near them?  Every child is in danger of being abused and every family is in danger of having abuse.  When I began to look at it from this point of view I began to sense there was purpose.  God did not want Eric to be abused.  God did not want him to die, but we could take the pain and do something to honour Eric’s memory and this is what our family has done.  It has opened a new world to us in many ways.  It was like we walked outside one day and could not go back into the old world.  It will never be the same church, activities, the fabric of trust has been ripped apart.  I have new community it is the survivor community.  I think anytime there is a moral movement, it has arisen out of tragedy and pain.  People are compelled to rise to the occasion.  They are either crushed by it or they use it to offer themselves to be a tool by God or a higher power. 

We have had countless times that we are reassured Eric is very much alive in the survivor movement.  I received a letter from a student I taught, both her brother and she had been close friends of Eric, she shared with me she was an incest survivor.  Her father had raped her and she had recently found out he had done the same thing to her sister.  She was devastated.  This was about a year after Eric’s death and she decided to commit suicide.  She had four children and she sat down to write a letter and was planning on how she was going to kill herself.  She was worried about what was going to happen to her children.  She went to bed and in her sleep Eric came to her in a dream and said, “I read your letter I do not want you to act on this.”  He told her the colour blue had a special significance.  She woke up the next morning and wrote me a letter and she told me she felt better because of the message from Eric.  She did not know what blue meant and neither did I.  When I was in Chicago with Barbara Blaine from S.N.A.P., Survivors Network of Abuse by Priests, she told me, “Don’t you know the colour blue is for sexual abuse survivors?”  I did not know this.

I received an email from a woman who had talked about what had been going on with her.  She was having horrific memories and did not know if they were real, they centered on the church and abuse.  The memories were bizarre and she could not put it in place.  She was talking with a friend at an A.A. meeting about this, she told her she had been corresponding with a woman in Kansas and she said, “Her son had committed suicide and she was finding comfort talking to her.”  Finally her friend turned to her you are talking about my aunt Janet and my cousin Eric.  She later emailed about how she went through a crisis of the soul during the night, she felt lost and abandoned, she did not know if she could tolerate being alive any longer.  She struggled and kept saying, “God please help me, and please help me.”  She was in agony, the agony of the night and finally she said, “Eric please help me,” and she said, “I saw his face.”  She said, “I knew it was him, he was not smiling this would not be appropriate but the look of compassion came from his eyes.”  She said, “I experienced a sense of relief.”  That day she got up and her husband and two boys started talking, the boys disclosed of their sexual abuse by their best friends and neighbours.  All of this pain and abuse was hushed up, nobody wanted to say anything.  She said, “We have more laughing in our house today than we had in years because we feel free, we can talk about things now.”

When I was trying to find out the priest who had abused our son, I had been told by a contact in Brooklyn New York a priest, to contact a woman in Dallas who knew about the Rudy Cos trial, another pedophile priest.  I called her and we were just talking about things and finally she said, “What diocese are you from?”  I told her, “The diocese of Wichita,” and she said, “Oh that is where my sister is from and her boys were abused in that diocese.”   I said, “You are kidding,” and she told me the name of the priest.  I said, “I know who that is and asked do you think if she would mind if I called her.” I called her sister in Wichita and I told her this priest had abused others, and she said, “Who was the priest that abused your son?” I told her Father Larson and she said, “We had a Vietnamese foster son who lived with Fr. Larson for a while and we took him in.”  She called her foster son and Fr. Larson had come in and violated him every night.

We had been trying to find a Vietnamese connection, because this community was silent about Larson’s abuse.  I called Brooklyn, who passes me to Dallas, I talk to Dallas, and she provides me a name in Wichita, who happens to have her children abused who takes in a Vietnamese foster son who was abused by Eric’s perpetrator, Father Larson. My daughter, Catherine was working for AmeriCorps in Wichita; she was paired with a gentleman from Ecuador.  He wanted to go back and see his family in Ecuador and he invited Catherine and another friend to go with him.   We were happy for her to get this experience and while she was down there she met man who studied English in Kansas, eventually they concluded Eric had taught him English in a small town in Kansas.

I’m telling you these stories about Eric, it reinforces his spirit is alive in this movement.  I miss him desperately; it has been over fourteen years.  When my second son turned 29, the same age Eric was when he died, I grieved in another way because I saw how young Eric was when he took his life.  People struggle to keep going, we reach out and help each other. Part of the process is realizing not one of us can do it all but all of us can do some, it is an accumulative effort.  What we are hoping this cause will become like the civil rights movement for sexual abuse survivors. 

I have over forty four years of reference books on the Catholic Clergy and where they were located.  I have people calling me from across the United States and Canada doing their detective work through these books. 

We still do not want to believe what is and has gone on in the church.  I struggle with going to Church.  Our parish priest was the only priest of the diocese who wrote a letter about how people should not be supporting the evil actions of a priest.  We had priests and nuns show up at the parole hearings of the priests saying, “We were doing wrong, we were looking for revenge and compared us to Al Qaeda,” and we had five dead kids from Father Larson.  This priest wrote a powerful letter in the Wichita Eagle about how no one should support someone’s evil actions.  This meant a lot to me because he was the first person from the diocese who did anything.

I tell people, “I haven’t left the church but the church has left me.  I am committed to truth and justice.”   We have been severely hurt but we have a chance for moral greatness.  The internet has been the downfall of the Catholic Church. 

Horace Patterson

I think of Eric every day, just as I did when he was alive.  The reaction people have once they heard about Eric’s death is awkward.  Most of them do not know what to say when a child commits suicide that has been molested.  I look at Eric’s death as a way of him moving on. 

My brother and I were abused but we were able to tell our mother immediately; she went and got a gun then looked for the two guys that abused us.  There was accountability, we saw her anger and it frightened me my entire life.  It was not as traumatic as somebody you trusted and looked up to, like God. It upsets me when people talk about how vulnerable the children are that get abused.  When I talk to survivors most of them are true believer, they believed whole heartedly in the church, the priest, just as their parents had told them.  They were taken advantage of because of their beliefs and felt they could not talk against the priest.  What the priest was doing must somehow be okay because they were taught from the time they could understand the church, the priests are to be trusted.  The priests continuously test the children through the confessionals, constantly putting out feelers and testing the children till they come across.  A child that does not respond properly or get a little angry the priest will immediately back away and keep pursuing other kids they can hand pick. 

I was the one who had to inform my family of Eric’s suicide.  I was abused as a child but I did not understand the abuse by a priest, and keeping it silent.  We found out shortly before his death something inappropriate went on and he had been abused.  Eric told my daughter, his sister, the night he was hospitalized that something had happened, he had been sexually abused.  We had to hospitalize Eric twice. Eric was 6’8” a handsome young man, he was a teacher, spoke three languages, he was sharp and articulate, and had a good sense of humour.   He wanted to be a priest, he went to Connecticut for a month to live with the Legionnaires of Christ, which everyone knows now is full of pedophiles.  We were all thrilled Eric wanted to be a priest.  The night he told my daughter of the abuse Eric was put on suicide watch.  The day we stopped going to church was shortly after Eric’s funeral.  We talked to a family in Wichita where the husband had been abused by Father Larson, Eric’s abuser.  Wichita diocese knew Larson was a pedophile and they kept in Conway Springs.  This is when we quit the Catholic Church.  

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