A Time to Speak — Survivor of abuse offers support for church leaders

Shannon Shaugnessy Age

By Shannon Shaughnessy Age

The recent headlines across the country and the world about clergy abuse have once again opened up wounds for many, myself included. My sister and I were both abused by a priest who worked in the Archdiocese of Louisville. His abuse continues to affect my life and our families’ lives to this day. Our abuse was brutal, with the rapes starting when I was four and my sister was six, and going on for six long years. Due to the nature of the abuse, Sissy and I were awarded the top amount allowed by the judge in the lawsuits. Unfortunately, Sissy never overcame those horrible years, and she died a very bitter and broken woman in 2015 at the age of 56.

Recently, I have read articles in the local paper and have seen stories on television I feel were very unfairly critical of Archbishop Joseph Kurtz and Dr. Brian Reynolds. Keep in mind that back in the dark days of 2002 through 2007 or so, I was a member of a number of survivors’ groups with the people in these stories. And they are good people. They helped me to start on the road to healing. They protected me. They helped me to begin to trust men again.

But, I also know Dr. Brian Reynolds very well. In the early years of 2002-2004, I felt he was my arch enemy. In 2005, that all changed. Dr. Reynolds, or as I now call my dear friend, Brian, called my pastor to arrange a meeting between us. Brian wanted to know what he could do to help me to heal, starting by addressing the great anger I had against him. Brian decided to make himself vulnerable to whatever I could throw at him. He decided that my healing was more important than his comfort level.

And so, on that August day in 2005, Brian, my husband, and Father Scott Wimsett met. Brian very humbly listened for hours. He offered no reasons, excuses, or comments, unless I asked him a specific question. A new type of healing started for me that day. Because, as Father Scott later told me, those moments were holy. What happened there was holy.

In 2011, my husband and I decided, after much prayer and soul searching, that he would enter an application to the archdiocese to become a deacon. That’s right. My husband wanted to become one of “them,” the clergy. He was accepted into the program. With amazing support from many, especially our classmates, Steve was ordained in 2016. I will never again doubt the power of prayer!

And so, over five years of formation through St. Meinrad Seminary and the Archdiocese of Louisville, we found out from the clergy’s point of view just how serious Archbishop Kurtz and chancellor Dr. Brian Reynolds are in their jobs.

The rules and regulations put in force since 2002 are strictly enforced. The Safe Environment program is a mandatory program for anyone who wants to work with any child or youth within our archdiocese. Our victim assistance office and Martine Siegel personally have been of great help to me as I have needed assistance with aspects of living with the aftermath of my abuse. And the head of the abuse board, Judge John Laun, is a dear friend who has walked my journey with me in such a quiet, loving way.

Archbishop Kurtz has personally walked with my husband, Deacon Steve, and me. Archbishop Kurtz and I have had numerous conversations through the years and even now, we are continuing to search for different ways to address the needs of survivors and their families.

What many may not understand is the level of pain this crisis brings to the good and faithful priests, deacons, and especially bishops. I know Archbishop Kurtz feels my pain at what was done to me, but I can also feel his own pain from his feelings of betrayal by the clergy who caused this horrific crisis. He has been deeply affected, and it weighs heavily upon him.

For those who feel Dr. Reynolds should have been let go because of his tenure under Archbishop Kelly, and therefore his work with dealing with abuse reports before 2002, I totally disagree. If he had refused to change programs, if he had refused to have the archdiocese audited for the last 16 years and if we had a long list of current abuse ongoing, you would have all the ammunition you need for your case. But those things did not happen. When you hear of any problem now, it’s because the archdiocese has called the local police to request their involvement, as is required.

Dr. Brian Reynolds has led our archdiocese and archdioceses all over the country in showing how to get things done following the Dallas Charter of 2002. I am confident he will continue to do everything in his power to do that until the day he wishes to retire.

I humbly ask for your continued prayers for survivors of clergy abuse, for those who did not survive, for our good and faithful clergy, and for those who continue to protect us all.

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