Sunday, 28 April 2013

Ray & Anne Higgins

Santa Barbara, California

Parents of a survivor from St. Anthony’s School, Capuchin junior seminary – grades 9-12

Anne Higgins

My first contact with the abuse was two to three years before my son, Michael, came and told us.  I met another mother at an afternoon retreat. She was sitting alone and I walked over and asked, “May I join you?” She blurted out she had just learned both of her sons were molested by someone they had trusted and invited into their home.  All I could say was “I’m so sorry. What can I do to help you?”

She said, “The question is not what can you do to help me, but what can you do to help your son because I think he is one of the victims.”

Every Friday I would stop by and we would have our half hour where I would bring Mike some goodies and pick up his laundry. He looked forward to those times. Toward the end of his sophomore year, I began asking Michael what was going on and he said, “Nothing.”   

Michael’s behaviour became worse when he came home the summer between his sophomore and junior year.  He became a black character, wearing chains and black clothes, acting very solemn. He slept with a baseball bat under his bed.  I disposed of three switch blades. He carried one on him constantly and later I learned the reason for this.  He would wake up between two and four o’clock in the morning and go for a walk.  He would walk the dog during those hours and come back home to sleep.  His sleep patterns were erratic.  Things continued to get worse. In his sophomore year his friend transferred to another school and Michael wanted to leave as well. Ray was emphatic about him staying and finishing his year.  We have guilt feelings about not allowing him to change schools. 

After Michael finished his year he came home and finally transferred to another school. I said, “Maybe you should never have been at that seminary.” 
Michael said to me, “You are never to think any of this is your fault.” 
In the fall he graduated, I retired from nursing and began traveling with Ray.  We went  to Omaha to visit family which was when I learned Michael had just attempted suicide.  His sponsor in A.A. called the police who came and took all the guns out of our house and brought Michael to a facility called New House.

We got a scribbled note saying, “I am at New House -- call this number.”  All sorts of emotions went through me at the time: fear, anger.  I walked into the conference room at New House and saw my son looking beaten down. 

I asked him, “What changed your mind about committing suicide?” He said, “The thought of you walking in and finding me with my head blown off.”  I thanked him for that. 
From there he moved into an alcoholic recovery place for eight weeks, and then to another place. In A.A. people would say to Mike, “You have been sexually abused,” and he would respond, “That could not be.” Around this same time the other mother called and asked me, “How is Mike doing?” I told her. She said, “Anne, both my sons and the Larson’s say Mike was one of the boys being abused by Fr. Van Handle and possibly one other priest.” 

It had been a couple of years since this woman first spoke to me about the abuse.
She called Mike and said, “Okay Mike, it’s time to tell your folks.”   We heard later that Mike took the call, then went outside, threw himself on the ground, and started kicking like a child, screaming and crying: “You son of a bitch.” But he still didn’t call us. Instead he got a job working at a gas station.  He told a friend about the abuse and she said, “If you do not tell your parents, I will.” 

Then something happened at his job and Mike was fired. Ray and I knew something was wrong with Mike, and finally he came and told me about the abuse. My only question was why it took him so long. He said he felt it was too obscene and it was so pervasive at the seminary. Each boy thought he was the only one until they made contact and told one another.  I asked him if he had told Ray and he said, “I don’t think Dad believes me.” 

I said, “Mike, I’m sure he does.”  Ray was taken aback and did not know what to say at first.  We decided on therapy. Mike was already a member of A.A. and another support group for abuse.  I encouraged him to go to a professional. Years earlier, Mike had been in therapy because of his erratic behaviour at the seminary.  The Friars had had him going to the therapist of his abuser.  The therapy was probably a good thing but it got to the point he could not deal with the therapist because she reminded him of his perpetrator.  This time it was a different therapist. 

Mike was doing okay; he was pulling things together, holding down a job, going to school, transferring from college to university in pre-law for a law enforcement degree. One Saturday morning between 5 and 5:30 a.m., I heard the door click and Mike came in. I went to see what he wanted and he was white and shaking, I said, “Mike are you alright?” 

He said, “No I’m not alright everything is shit.”  Around that time two other victims had attempted suicide with cars. He had been out that night with a friend who left the seminary in his junior year. His friend was in bad shape and they had gone to the grounds of the seminary to visit the scene of the crime.  One of the Friars came out and told them to leave immediately. This Friar knew they had both been talking to the Board of Inquiry. 

Mike told me, “We went to the seminary and a memory flooded back.” He suddenly remembered a second perpetrator. He remembered going into his office and the door being locked behind him. He said, “It’s too awful -- I can’t tell you.” 

I went and got paper and a pen and told him to write it. He wrote very fast.  I said, “Do you want an envelope?”  I gave him an envelope and he put the message in it and sealed the envelope. Then he put down his keys, lay down and went into a deep sleep. I called the therapist who was on the Board of Inquiry. She told me, “It’s going to be alright.”

Mike left and took the envelope away with him.  No one has ever told me the content of the envelope but I know this incident was behind his need to carry a switchblade in case he was ever called back into that office. Mike has opened these issues and he has closed them. He told me recently he is keeping them closed. He finished his work at the University and moved to Colorado.  He bought a piece of property and lived in the back woods.  He dug his own trenches for his electrical, plumbing, septic tank and finished off a bachelor cabin.  Developing this property was the most therapeutic thing he ever did.  Ray went to help him and this was the beginning of their bonding. He has gone in and out of therapy, worked both as a probation officer and police officer in Colorado.  

One of the best things that happened to Mike is his wife Amy. She supports him through the rough times.  Mike is one of the bravest men I know, a spiritual and caring person while he works with some of the roughest and toughest individuals.  Because of his own suffering he knows how to deal with them.

We kept going to church at the seminary for almost two years. Ray felt the need to continue to work within the structure of the church. It became physically draining and made me ill. For a long time I could not walk on the grounds of seminary without feeling a deep chill.  Now I can go into church without any ill feelings but I had to stop going to mass because of feelings I had about the consecration. I would wonder where those hands had been.

It was time to get out.  I had good support from my brothers and we all said thank God Dad is not here to see this. He was the Catholic strength in the family.  Ray and I are cradle Catholics, Catholic educated, Jesuit university graduates.  It was a difficult decision to leave the church but it was a relief, to be out from under the bonds of that control system.  It makes me wonder why I stayed with it so long.

We put up a united front.  If it had not been a mutual decision our marriage would not have survived. These decisions and the stress of what we went through can destroy health and families. Immediately Ray and I went into therapy and stayed there, at the expense of the Franciscans. We had an excellent therapist who understood the abuse issues, because she was also a victim.  Our health was not so affected as some of the others. One mother got cancer, and others put on weight which caused heart and orthopedic problems. We were fortunate in that we supported and encouraged each other, until we felt our problems and issues were clear, and we had enough coping mechanisms to deal with all the triggers.

Spirituality is more natural now. I would make a wonderful traditional Navajo   Others have invited me into their church but I have set my boundaries and I tell them I am not interested in pursuing another organized religion. They are all alike.  This has offended some people but you have to take care of yourself. 

Spirituality is not based on an organized religion. I know there is a greater being; I know there are blessings in my environment, there are things that man cannot possibly provide for me. Just being a good person, doing what I can for my fellow man, I think this is being a spiritual person. Feeding my family and my grandchildren are important to me.  My relationship with every individual is a spiritual relationship.

To violate another’s trust is a great wrong.   We sent our bright young boy away to high school at a Catholic seminary and got back a very angry, alcoholic, violent, streetwise young man.    

Ray Higgins

In 1992 we found out our son Mike had been raped and sodomized by a Franciscan priest, Father Robert Van Handle, at a high school seminary in Santa Barbara, California.  Mike had been acting out through alcohol and drugs; he was not brought up this way. 

There were a number of other victims who had been abused at the seminary.   The priests involved had formed a choir in order to have access to the kids.  One couple of parents were negotiating with the Franciscans, trying to get them to send out a letter asking all parents to talk to the children to see if others had been molested. With added pressure by the parents, the Franciscans started to think it would be better to be part of this procedure but when they tried to oversee the letter to the parents, the lawyers got involved. These parents were well educated, influential people from good Catholic backgrounds. The Franciscans agreed to send the letter and have a meeting of the boy’s choir to talk to them about the abuse; they also arranged to have a psychologist and therapist attend the meeting. 

Other members who went to mass at the seminary asked if they could go to the meeting, and the Franciscans agreed.  This was their fatal mistake.   At the meeting the parents spoke up as to what happened to their children and this put pressure on the Franciscans. They decided to have another meeting a month later. By this time it had grown into a full investigation. The head of the Franciscans said, “This is a surprise to us. If we had known we would have done something.”  

A former rector of the seminary attended the next meeting and said the Provincial had sent a message, that he would come back in December and present a plan for an investigation. I said, “That is not soon enough.”  What we wanted was for the Provincial to come and we would tell him what to do. We wanted some control over the situation. We had around twenty people come to the meetings and we drafted some plans. We had an outline of what we thought they should do. The result was an investigation by the Independent Board of Inquiry of St. Anthony’s Seminary. We presented this at the second meeting and the Franciscans took it back to the Provincial. The Provincial came to the third meeting and presented his plan which incorporated most of our demands. An investigation started in January 1993. The members of the Board of Inquiry were chosen jointly by the Franciscans and the greater community. The Board consisted of me -- a person from the greater community and a parent of a victim -- plus a lawyer, three therapists and a Franciscan from St. Louis, Missouri.  

We first started meeting once a month on Saturday and Sunday but this was not enough, so we met from Friday to Sunday.  We sent out letters to all the members of the former students of St. Anthony’s Seminary. Under pressure the Franciscans agreed to supply us with names of a couple hundred former students.  We knew there were many more.  They were not willing to assist us in getting more names, so we insisted on having access to their files. I went to their office and the files had disappeared -- they were hidden in a small store room.  I went through the files and I was able to get over nine hundred names from the agreed time period.  We were to go back to 1963 since this was the first year of reported abuse.  

We sent out over nine hundred letters and as a result thirty-four students came forward saying they had been molested by eleven priests. This represented twenty-five percent of all the priests that had been assigned during this twenty-three year period from 1963 to 1987.  The seminary had opened around the turn of the century and they closed it in 1987.

One abuse victim who didn’t come forward -- his wife did -- had submitted to an examination of his testicles in 1936.  The Franciscans had examined his testicles to find out if they had dropped so he could be in the choir.  This was a common trick of perpetrators: to examine the children’s testicles. Another person we sent a letter to had been terribly abused and was dying of AIDS.  There were so many people that had their lives trashed, it was a horrible situation. 

We thought we were bringing our son up in a very sheltered life. Instead we found ourselves involved in this mess.  My feeling is the closer you are to the Catholic Church the more jeopardy you are placing your children in.  Most of the victims were children of devout Catholics.  This is how they got access to our children, by the priests being good friends to the parents and the parents thinking this is wonderful, and that the priest was setting an example to their son or daughter.   
Richard Sipe has said clergy molestation or sexual abuse of children is a recurring mechanism.  They molest the child and then it is twisted so the child thinks the only way to function is to become a priest, a recurring mechanism.  They twist it around so the victim becomes dependent.    They get entwined in this web with alcohol and drugs.

The Board of Inquiry was scheduled to release the report in October 1993, but the Franciscans would not release it because they felt it was not confidential enough.  They claimed people could figure out who the participants and molesters were.  They delayed the release of the report for a month and we had to redo it.  Once they ran out of excuses and we had answered all their concerns, we kept the pressure on them to release the report.  

The Franciscans agreed from the beginning they would not influence the report other than asking for confidentiality. This was the only condition they could hold up the release of the report. The Board insisted the report and the investigation be made public. I was able to get publicity about the delay because of their objection.  

In November of 1993 we did release the report, at the same time the Grand Jury in Santa Barbara was deliberating an indictment against Michael Jackson.  All the media from around the world, the TV stations, radio, newspapers were camped at the court house in Santa Barbara waiting for that indictment to come down.  When they were informed the Board of Inquiry report was going to be released, they moved over and followed our story.  We would have never have gotten the publicity we did if not for Michael Jackson. The Franciscans were furious. We made headline news around the world.  The Provincial of the Franciscans told one of the other board members that if he was to do it over again he would not have Ray Higgins on the board and he would have become more personally involved.

I’ve always been a fighter. When something is not right then I try to right it.  My original thought when I found out about the abuse was that I wanted to catch their attention so they would take care of things. I felt I was helping them. Then I found out I was not helping them and that they did not want any help.  

Anne and I received therapy for a long time. If the victims hired a lawyer in order to receive a settlement the Franciscans ended the therapy.  We were one of the few couples where this did not happen. They were afraid of us, because we got so much publicity. We stayed Catholic and went to church for about a year. Finally I came to the conclusion we were all brainwashed.  I believe all Catholics are brainwashed from the cradle.  The last time Anne and I went to mass was on Christmas Day in San Antonio, Texas. It turned out the pastor of this parish was a child molester. 

There is a big feeling of freedom when come to the realization you no longer are under their influence. You break their program of mind control.  I was no longer Catholic and I no longer wanted to be. Anne and I have changed California laws by lobbying in Sacramento to strengthen the child abuse laws.  We joined an organization called the Legislation Coalition to Prevent Child Abuse.  We were surprised the Clergy did not have mandatory reporting of child abuse like doctors, nurses, teachers, therapist and everybody else.  We got someone to sponsor a bill to make the clergy mandatory reporters.  We did not get any opposition to it except from the Catholic Church.  They did not support the law because it did not protect the seal of confession: information from a confession could not be reported.

In around 2000 I became a consultant for an attorney in Santa Barbara who had a case against the Franciscans. They were being snowed by the use of terminology, Canon Law.  The law firm representing the Franciscans were making everything mysterious and hierarchal, using terminology to confuse them as to what the church structure of the church was. I was hired as a consultant for the other side. There was a statute of limitations stating that none of the perpetrators could be prosecuted. The lawsuit I consulted with was for a victim who was a younger man. I was able to assist the attorneys in cutting through the mysterious terminology and restrictions based on Canon Law. The client agreed to settle for 1.7 million dollars. 

California law opened a one-year window of opportunity for child sexual abuse lawsuits by victims who were outside the statute of limitations. This ended up in a number of attorneys contacting me to act as a consultant for their firms. Part of my fee as a consultant was donated to an organization called LINKUP representing survivors of clergy abuse.  

Realizing how important therapy was to our family, eventually Anne and I decided to set up a trust fund -- The Therapy Trust for Victims of Clergy Sex Abuse.  Anne and I paid for the administration and legal fees, with 100% of the trust fund going to provide therapy.   

Parents need to support and believe their children.  It is beyond me when parents do not support their children. If the child had an injury or disease they would support them but when it comes to a child that has been raped and sodomized by a priest, many parents cannot deal with it because of their own Catholic mind control. 

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