As Janet Clark wrote the 2005 novel Blind Faith about rape of an altar boy and its repercussions in a family, she remembered facts about her own 1979 sex assault by a priest, and it changed the outcome of the novel as she wrote it.
“Just reading through the file on my case re McElliott, and I'm blown away again by his hatred and disdain for women. At one point, he had a loaded gun and threatened to kill the priest who reported him for having nude photos of a young girl. No wonder I was scared of him.”
Janet Clark sent that email recently. We have been talking the past a few weeks for this story at CofA, which is partly about her 2005 novel Blind Faith, and in part about the mysterious ongoing nature of recovered memory, in adults who deal decades later with child sex crimes.
Recovering traumatic memory is not a onetime thing, but an ongoing process. In hundreds of case files in lawsuits against the Catholic Church is documentation of recovered memory, in fact, similarities in the way adult victims remembered childhood crimes in clergy cases across the country have brought a new credibility to the entire concept of repressed and recovered memory.
One pattern I've seen is the ongoing nature. The victim remembers the incident over a period of time, and details of the traumatic event weave in with details in the victim’s life as the memory returns.
At the same time Janet Clark pursued justice in her own case in Iowa in 2005, she wrote Blind Faith, a fiction novel, based on research she on priest sex crimes agaist children nationwide. In her fiction, a parish priest preys on altar boys in a Midwestern town. As she wrote the novel, Janet began remembering more details about her own nonfiction interactions with a priest at a 12-step retreat in 1979.
Her book conveys the roller coaster ride young Jack goes through, first on weekly escapades with Father Delanoit, then later after he reports the Friday night sodomy sessions to his family, the chaos that results, especially when they report the assaults to the archdiocese and the priest continues to serve as if nothing happened.
Clark will be reading from Blind Faith at the People's Book Co-op in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, June 8 at 7PM.
At the time Janet began writing Blind Faith, “I had always remembered that the priest asked me graphic questions and then masturbated, but I hadn’t remembered that he actually touched me until the course of writing the book.”
In the course of writing the book, she realized he had done more than touch her.
Clark pursued a civil lawsuit against the Church in Dubuque, Iowa, after she finished writing the novel.
“Attorneys asked me questions, they sent me to psychologists, and it all together just jogged my memory.”
“I think it was a very organic process. I wasn’t thinking about the priest, I was wondering what would make a person become a monster.”
In 1979, at a 12-Step retreat, she was a young age 20, and “We’d done the Fifth step. I told him everything I’d ever done but he zeroed in on my little sexual sins, like premarital sex. He asked graphic questions about it and he looked me in the eye and he said, ‘You're a contaminant.’
His unexpected hatefulness shattered her mind, her spirit, her will, she said. “From that point I complied with what he said. He penetrated me. I remember, afterwards, him going to the bathroom and getting a towel and cleaning himself off.
“It hurt. It hurt because it was done like he hated me.
It wasn’t a seduction, it was an assault, it was violent.”
Later in therapy:
"It came up in chunks, one night I woke up screaming, it was there knocking at the door of my consciousness. I went back to therapy and she made me feel safe enough that I could say what had happened. That he had touched me.
The first day of therapy, Clark referred to her own self as a "contaminant."
Confirmation for Adult Victims of Pedophile Priests Is Not Like that of Other Catholics
(Clark is “lucky” there are more than a dozen other known teen female victims, now adults, of Patrick McElliott, as corroborating witnesses leave the Church little room for argument against an accuser.)
“I’ve talked to other of his victims,” Clark said, “and he did this for at least thirty years. He abused girls who were age ten to twenty. And the Archdiocese knew all about it.”
Enraged, motivated, Clark sat down and wrote Blind Faith a novel that combines the experience of dozens of families who’ve lived through a pedophile priest’s intrusion in their lives.
In a small town in Iowa, a family with some dysfunction is reliant on the church. The pedophile priest takes advantage of a boy’s vulnerability. We read the horror and shock the boy goes through as he is sodomized, then has to act normal around his family. His shame, then he tells his family, they tell the bishop, and nobody punishes the priest. All while the matriarch Lucinda keeps trying to cook normal meals for their nightly sit-down dinners.
It would be an unbelievable story if the same story hadn't been repeated in hundreds of towns all over the country.
Pedophile and Ephebophile rape, especially by a priest, is not just a crime against the individual child, it skewers the dynamics of entire families.
To research the book, Clark gathered information about the pedophile priest issue nationwide. An activist in Iowa sent her a copy of Crimen Solicitaciones, the 1962 document the Vatican sent to all its bishops telling them to keep sex crimes of priests secret.
Janet told me: “Reading Crimen Solicitaciones caused me to realize I wasn’t the only person this has happened to.
“I realized sex abuse was so common in the Church they had a doctrine about it.”
CofA Attention Deficit Side Trip
YES, I know what she’s talking about!!!!
That's what happened to me, somewhere in between reading about Crimen and finding out there were hundreds of other people with similar experiences to mine around the country, then the world. You stop being a victim of your own crime and start seeing you are part of a class of crime victims, on the receiving end of a perpetual pervert-victim cycle and coverup of crimes that had been going on in the Catholic Church for decades, maybe centuries!!!!!
You start using exclamation points!!!!!
Back to the story of Janet Clark and her book Blind Faith.
In the book, Blind Faith, Clark does not come up with a grand resolution to the crimes and their repercussios. I was left after reading it with a need to read more, and I think Janet should write more books like this, make her next book a James Michener type approach to the issue. As the pedophile epidemic in the Catholic Church is a monstrous issue. Blind Faith gives you an idea of what just one family as well as thousands of families have gone through as a result of the Roman Catholic Church's negligent handling of perpetrator priests in our communities.
Clark talks more about her experience:
“Talking to the other victims of McElliott was really helpful for me,” Clark says, “It put it in perspective, helped me to know how he operated. One of the other girls, now women, said, he really hated women, and that made me realize, it’s not about me at all, he just hated women.
"One girl said he would call over and request her to come out of the classroom.
"Another plaintiff said he took photos of her. Another priest, a good priest, found them and took them to the bishop, and McElliott was moved to another parish the next day."
While writing the book, Janet remembered more details about her own assault. She called friends she hadn't seen in a long time.
“My two girlfriends said, right after I went to the retreat where the priest abused me, I had told them a little bit.
“They all said, right after I went to that retreat, I’d start to talk about what happened there, and then get all choked up.
“And I’d remember my throat choking.
“My throat closed up like I'm not supposed to tell.
“Then as I wrote the book, my main character, the altar boy, was going to grow up and become an abuser, he’d go through horrible experiences and end up an abuser. Then as I wrote, I got attached to Jack, and I wanted to rescue him.”
In Janet's book, the external order in Jack’s family masked its growing dysfunction. Jack's father was drinking heavy after his mother died, the grandmother was trying to anchor the family, relying on the Church, and the pedophile priest stepped into the opportunity.
The effect on the family could have been chaos, but they find new resources as they lose faith in the Catholic Church. The Church’s reaction here in this one Iowa town, so much like in the rest of the world, to protect the priest and cover up his crimes, wreaks havoc on the lives of several characters who Clark develops throughout the book.
Clark’s own civil case was part of a cluster of lawsuits filed in 2005 Dubuque, Iowa, concerning Patrick McElliott, who used different strategies to get to girls in their late teens to early twenties.
The act of recovering a memory is rarely a one minute one time episode, but an experience that weaves into the events of a person’s life. Something happens and the memory intrudes, or the past experience begins to make itself known. It can then be decades more before the whole incident from one’s childhood ever comes out.
If the entire memory ever ever comes out at all.
That interwoven connectedness is part of the story of Janet Clark.
McElliott took advantage of his role as a priest to sexually assault pre-to post- pubescent girls for thirty years. "We know from court documents it was thirty years, but it was surely even more," she added.
"The Archdiocese knew about a lot of them,” Janet said, “and yet they write this glowing obituary.”
Janet Clark graduated from Buena Vista University with a major in Education. She taught for ten years before going to work writing for a local lifestyle magazine, a business review, "and sometimes the newspaper," she says, "I wrote freelance for four years before I started writing Blind Faith."
People can read the first chapter of Blind Faith and buy it at the Janet Clark Website
In one case against McElliot, the victim claims she had several private visits with the priest while she was a student at the parish school. During those visits, the lawsuit alleges McElliot took photos of the victim in various stages of undress and sexually abused her.
Another plaintiff in a 2005 lawsuit said that in 1964, when she was 13 and an eighth-grade student at St. Patrick Catholic School in Colesburg, Iowa, she was abused by the Rev. Patrick McElliot, a parish administrator, after confession.
McElliot was removed from his duties at the school because of complaints filed by other students. He retired in 1979 and died in 1987
Clark will be reading from the book Blind Faith at the People's Book Co-op in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, on Tuesday, June 8 at 7PM.
Janet Clark, January 2010