Go Charlie Go

First email to Charlie

 

A year ago today, I sent this anonymous email to Charlie Specht – an investigative reporter I hadn’t known existed mere weeks earlier. As the clerical abuse scandal erupted in our diocese last March, I began watching Charlie’s coverage of the scandal. His sincerity and tenacity made an immediate impression on me. Increasingly frustrated by what survivors were experiencing when they called the “hotline,” I wanted Charlie to know what was going on behind the scenes. I had a hunch that he was already in touch with survivors and hoped this insider info would confirm what they were likely telling him about lengthy wait times and delayed responses.

Throughout April, May, June and early July, Charlie and I kept in sporadic contact via my anonymous email account. Those email exchanges confirmed my first impression – this guy was sincere and tenacious in equal measure. I started watching his reporting the way people watch their favorite shows: I never missed a Charlie episode. I was continuously impressed by the questions he asked during press conferences or at other opportunities. A few times, Charlie asked the specific question I was hoping would be posed to Bishop Malone. Throughout the summer months, he was the only television reporter who stayed with the story by broadcasting regular reports and providing a platform for survivors to share their stories.

“Go Charlie Go” became a chant of mine whenever a story of Charlie’s would air or an email from him would prompt appropriate action from Bishop Malone and his staff. In early July, that chant reached a crescendo when a query from Charlie about Father Bob Yetter resulted in Father finally being sent to an assessment he was supposed to have undergone 11 months prior. Bishop Malone’s canon lawyer, Review Board, Senior Staff and Executive Assistant had all pushed for Father Yetter to be removed from ministry or at least sent for an assessment. Yet the Bishop had done absolutely nothing for nearly a year! But when Charlie Specht emailed the Diocese to learn more about allegations against Fr. Yetter, the priest was sent off to Southdown with startling alacrity.

Wow! I remember thinking… Charlie just accomplished something in minutes that we were trying to achieve for months. “Go Charlie Go,” indeed.

In mid-July, Charlie wrote a memorable piece about the impact his reporting had on him as a Catholic. I was deeply moved by his words and his witness as a faithful Catholic grappling with the scandal while regularly reporting on it.

By late July, I was ready to introduce myself to him.

As it turned out, Charlie beat me to it. Three days after I gave my three weeks’ notice to Bishop Malone, Charlie followed me when I left work and introduced himself. That very afternoon, I had finalized the “reveal email” that I intended to send to Charlie. His timing (and God’s) was perfect as I couldn’t have been readier to speak with him directly.

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Well do I recall the first time I heard the motto of the E. W. Scripps broadcasting company: “Give light and the people will find their own way.” Charlie and I were walking into his office at his station, WKBW-TV, which is owned by Scripps. It was late August by now and I was in full whistle blower mode. As Charlie recited their motto, I couldn’t believe how appropriate it was for the work he was doing. My reaction was immediate: “That’s exactly what you’ve been doing with all of your stories!” There couldn’t be a better motto for this man.

Since last October, I’ve fielded a variety of questions about my words, actions and motives. Some of these queries require a detailed response, but there’s one that I can answer very easily: “Why did you go to the lowest-rated TV station in town? Why didn’t you leak the documents to the highest-rated station?”

My very simple response:

I didn’t give the documents to a station. I gave them to a person.

And not for a nanosecond have I reconsidered or regretted that decision.

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[For what it’s worth, I’ve come to appreciate the staff and management of WKBW/Channel 7 for their underdog resiliency, genuine friendliness, down-to-earth demeanor, and the increasingly high caliber and creativity of their broadcasts. But last summer I truly could not have cared less about stations, networks or ratings.]

Some have said that Charlie received the documents “on a silver platter” and merely regurgitated that information during his bombshell 3-part reports. Nothing could be further from the truth!! When I gave the documents to the 60 Minutes producers, the information was chronologically arranged and very well-organized. The lead producer still said it felt like “drinking from a fire hose” due to the volume of material. If that’s the case, then Charlie was drinking from a hydraulic power washer stuck on the highest possible setting!

Charlie received an album’s worth of cell phone photos, multiple manila envelopes filled with documents that had hastily scribbled post-it notes sticking out at all angles, and a bunch of random email threads. He had to sift through and review so many pages in order to create a comprehensive yet comprehensible narrative for the public. His background in newspaper journalism shone through his well-crafted reports. Charlie worked tirelessly with his stellar videographer, Jeff Wick, to turn text-heavy outlines into compelling televisual reports.

I handed Charlie the truth. He told its story.

Although I was one of his sources, Charlie actually became a source for me: of prudent counsel, compassionate concern and much-needed good humor. (Yes, he does smile! People often ask me if he’s stoic and serious all the time, but that is just his on-camera demeanor, which is appropriate given the distressing nature of his reports.) I am particularly grateful for Charlie’s wisdom, generosity and humility. That last virtue might well be his greatest attribute. He never focuses on himself, his career or what’s in it for him. He is solely focused on seeking out and shining a light on the truth – for the sake of the survivors, our diocese, our community and our Church.

Thank you, Charlie, for giving us the light by which to find our way.

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The Silent Ones

Today is the Feast of Saint Joseph, the foster father of Jesus. It is also Bishop Malone’s birthday- his middle initial “J” stands for Joseph. While I still struggle with Bishop Malone’s leadership (or lack thereof), I am praying for him on his birthday. The bishop is fortunate to have St. Joseph as one of his special patrons. This great saint is also the patron of our Diocese and of the Universal Church.

For being such a crucial figure within the life of Christ, St. Joseph is a surprisingly silent one. Not once in the four Gospels is St. Joseph recorded as saying anything. He is perhaps the greatest example of that old adage: actions speak louder than words. This “righteous man,” as Matthew’s Gospel describes him, did everything that God asked of him including taking a pregnant Mary as his wife and making a perilous escape to Egypt. No matter what the Holy Family was facing, St. Joseph was there to provide for and protect them.

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As much as we would treasure a few quotations from St. Joseph, it makes sense that he is a silent figure in the Gospel story. After all, Mary doesn’t have that many quotations in Scripture either. Just as Mary “kept all these things, pondering them in her heart,” so to did Joseph have a lot to ponder. The Angel of the Lord appeared to him several times during dreams in order to convey divine directions. Such dreams must have been startling to say the least! Within a relatively short period of time, St. Joseph lovingly accepted a pregnant wife, traveled to Bethlehem and sought shelter in a stable when no other lodging could be found, made a hasty and hazardous trek with his family to Egypt, and later he and Mary lost their divine Son for three days. That’s a whole lot to ponder!

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The Anxiety of Saint Joseph, James Tissot (French, 1836-1902)

St. Joseph offers us a beautiful example of one who listens more than he speaks and contemplates more than he communicates. St. Joseph was a man of silent strength – a valuable combination that our world so greatly needs. In his book The Power of Silence: Against the Dictatorship of Noise, Cardinal Sarah beautifully notes that “there is no place on earth where God is more present than in the human heart. This heart truly is God’s abode, the temple of silence.” St. Joseph seems to have lovingly cultivated the presence of God in his “temple of silence.”

Reflecting on St. Joseph’s silence led me to consider silence of a different nature. So many victims I’ve encountered or learned of are still suffering in silence. For many, they are not at a point in their journey where they are able to speak about the abuse they endured. Still others can speak no more – their lives were ended by drug overdoses or suicide when the pain was too great to bear.

Silence is not golden

There are other silent victims we rarely hear about: the parents, siblings and spouses of victims. It is hard to fathom the grief that these parents experience. Can you imagine entrusting your beloved child to the care of a priest only to discover years or decades later that this “man of God” raped your son or daughter? What anguish they must experience! I’ve spoken to many parents who are racked by a guilt they struggle to escape. I think of the single mother who was overjoyed when the smiley young priest took an interest in her son – the only boy among several sisters. When she found out what the priest did to her son, she tried to warn the parents at the new parish the abuser was sent to. She couldn’t believe he was assigned to another parish with a school! She is consumed by guilt over her son’s abuse as well as the fear that other children suffered a similar fate.

What if your sibling was abused by a priest? Perhaps they’ve just told you this recently. This news explains some of the challenges your sibling experienced… how they changed at a certain age and never returned to their “usual self.” You wish there was something you could do to help, but your sibling is tangled in a web of addiction and rejects every helpful attempt from you. Other people have experienced even greater trauma when their abused sibling became their abuser. This tragic occurrence happens more often than we would like to think. The cycle of abuse is indeed vicious and so many innocent souls can become caught up in it.

Then there’s the spouse of a victim, who suffers along with their husband or wife as they struggle to free themselves from the trauma of their past. A spouse is there when another nightmare leaves their loved one weeping at 2 am. Or when a memory temporarily renders them immobilized by pain. How their hearts must break to watch their loved one suffering and not be able to stop the pain entirely. Hopefully they know how much their loving presence means to their spouse. Many survivors have told me that they would not have survived various traumatic episodes or experiences without the support of their spouse of other loved one.

So this St. Joseph’s Day, I am thinking of and praying for all victims of clerical sexual abuse – those who have identified as such and those who may always suffer in silence. I hope that they all know how many people support them and pray for them.

I especially love the closing lines of a prayer to St. Joseph, which was composed by Pope Leo XIII:

As once you rescued the Child Jesus from deadly peril,
so now protect God’s Holy Church
from the snares of the enemy and from all adversity;
shield, too, each one of us by your constant protection,
so that, supported by your example and your aid,
we may be able to live piously, to die in holiness,
and to obtain eternal happiness in heaven. Amen.

God’s Holy Church is currently ensnared by a great deal of evil. May St. Joseph, patron of our Universal Church, intercede for us in a profound way right now. And may he who knew silence so well be present to all those who suffer in silence.

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