A Disturbing Time

Author: Kerry Temple ’74

It’s human nature, I think, to want to put some things behind you and get on with it. Let go and leave it in the past.

For more than a year now the Catholic Church has been suffering through a crisis, and it’s been devastating. The stories of sexual abuse, the tales of Catholic priests preying upon young boys have shocked us, have left us stunned in disbelief. How could it happen so many times in so many places? By Catholic priests? If that weren’t bad enough, we’ve also had to grapple with the church’s response.

This has been a disturbing time for those of us who have, throughout our lifetimes, looked to the church for moral leadership, to set an example for others to follow.

It’s human nature, I think, to want to make some things just go away. You want the pain to be gone, the problem solved, the cancer cured. But anesthesia does not fix the disease any more than wishing to forget or starting fresh remedies the ills you want to get away from. And we’ve still got a problem here, no matter how badly a lot of us would like to put it in the past and move on.

Others realize some things need to be changed before real healing takes place. I would guess John Salveson ‘77, ’78M.A. is a person like that. John contacted me a couple of months ago to say he’d like to tell his story in Notre Dame Magazine. I told him we’d already done stories on the sex scandal in the Catholic church. And he said two things. One is that, despite all the meetings and documents and pledges, the problems haven’t been resolved. The other is that the essays we’d published had not put a human face on the crisis.

John is a victim of sexual abuse. Much of it took place on the Notre Dame campus, in Grace Hall, when he was a student here. He didn’t tell anyone about it then, but he wanted to tell his story now, and he had things to say about the church and how the crisis has been handled.

I’m sure John Salveson would like to just forget. It’d be a lot easier to put it all in the past, imagine it never happened. But sexual abuse does not work that way. It inflicts damage that lasts a lifetime; you never do get past it. And it doesn’t just haunt the person who was abused. It is an evil that cripples marriages, families, children, every relationship the victim will have. It is a violation, a crime, a sin so depraved, so outrageous and so destructive that it simply isn’t right to file it away and pretend it’s all behind us.

In this issue we have several stories that talk about freedom. John’s story is not part of that package. But in many ways it’s about freedom too.

Kerry Temple is editor of Notre Dame Magazine.