Thursday, September 27


The testimony of Christine Blasey Ford before the US Senate Judicial Committee by is liberating, if not for her then for the millions of women and men who have suffered similar sexual assaults, harassment and humiliation.

She wrote a note to her congressman in July describing an incident from 36 years ago. After a day at the country club, she joined a small gathering of teens at a Washington DC suburb. She had one beer and went upstairs to use the bathroom. Once upstairs, someone pushed her from behind into a bedroom. Two intoxicated young men entered the room with her, Mark Judge and Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh. She describes how Kavanaugh pushed her to the bed, placed his body on top of hers and held his hand over her mouth when she tried to scream. Perhaps they thought this was roughhousing or tom-foolery, but she described terror.

The psychologist in her testimony is credible in so many ways - providing specific and vivid details along with names of others who could corroborate her report. Specifically, she recalled running into Mark Judge shortly after the evening of the assault at his place of his work - the Potomac Safeway.

Yet Republicans declined to reopen an FBI investigation or invite potential corroborating witness to testify.

Most importantly, she explained the rationale behind her hesitation in reporting and motivation for coming forward as citizen. She tried to sound a warning before the candidate was selected from a short list. She understood that the president had a list of candidates, equally qualified, and she thought the president and the senators - not necessarily the general public - should know about her experience before making a decision. She did not want to destroy Brett Kavanaugh.

But now, senators may quietly wonder if Kavanaugh should remain on the federal appeals court. If he had been truthful about these experiences and extended a sincere apology, if he did not have a background that includes other descriptions of his intoxication and belligerence, then many Americans might understand and forgive, especially if he could provide evidence of an ability to curtail his drinking.

Ford endured a polygraph exam. Could Kavanaugh do the same?

Absent an investigation that includes questioning of Mark Judge and an apology from Mark Kavanaugh about inappropriate behaviors including intoxication, the nomination should be withdrawn. Kavanaugh should expect to answer more questions about whether he should remain in his position with the US Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia Circuit.

Tuesday, August 21

No surprise

A pedophile scandal in Massachusetts - and more importantly, the response from church leaders - prompted me to abandon Catholicism in 1992. A decade later, I wrote about my decision in an essay entitled "The Church Must Change" for The Hartford Courant.

The decision was one of the toughest, but also best that I have ever made. I described growing up in a devout Catholic family in a Pittsburgh suburb, first in Ingram and Crafton, Pennsylvania, and later moving to another neighborhood that surrounded Our Lady of Grace Church in 1969. We attended church for about six months but soon afterward, my father, brothers, sisters and I started volunteering in a nearby county nursing home, Kane Hospital, assisting patients in wheelchairs to and from the Masses. The priest was one of the most compassionate men I have ever met - and in the essay, I described his tolerance and kindness. "We trusted and admired him completely and he never took advantage of that trust," I wrote, adding that many young Catholics had been less fortunate.

So I have only the vaguest memories of the parish priests assigned to Our Lady of Grace parish. The 900-page grand jury report released by the Pennsylvania state attorney general references Leo Burchianti at the church from June 1968 to May 1973: "Burchianti was alleged to have had inappropriate contact with at least eight young boys," reports the Grand Jury report, page 600. "These allegations included but were not limited to Burchianti: having anal or oral sex with them; inappropriately touching them; making suggestive comments to them; providing alcohol to them; allowing them to use drugs in the rectory; and inviting some to stay overnight to sleep in his bed with him."

Because of our volunteer work at the nursing home, I did not know Burchianti other than to watch him preside over a few Masses. I heard no stories of abuse. I had already come to view religion as more a practical means of reaching out to help others and less for personal introspection and prayer. 

I left the church years later while living in the suburbs of Boston. In 1992, the former Catholic priest James Porter was accused of molesting more than 100 children in Massachusetts New Mexico and Minnesota. Church leaders in the area did not respond well to criticism that they hid the actions of a pedophile by transferring him to new locales. In May of that year, Boston's then Cardinal Bernard Law lashed out not at Porter, but at the journalists covering the priest's crimes: "By all means, we call down God's power on the media."

That was the moment I lost all trust in the Roman Catholic Church. The leaders sought to protect an institution rather than little children. As a parent, I was immensely grateful for the media reports.

My essay for the Courant was published a decade later, March 24, 2002, when the entire nation and church reckoned with another more far-reaching scandal. I wrote about how religion, like everything else in the United States, must compete under the free-market system: "In this country, we have the privilege of free thought and speech, and we can decide which 'moral" rules imposed by religious leaders, mere mortals, should be kept and which are meant to be broken."

At the time, I was confident the Catholic Church would change: "I have no doubt that within this century, priests will be free to marry and women be encouraged to value life by using birth control." I also concluded that "if the Church waits very long, it will only be a shadow, a minor religion in this country, as it loses credibility and more Catholics discover that other religions can offer both spirituality and truth."

Ultimately, my books about religion, women and life in rural Afghanistan, Fear of Beauty and Allure of Deceit, were based on my own experiences with Catholicism and religious controls.

Once again, the church must change.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.