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Monday, November 29, 2010

Drama in Documents: New Theater Production comprised of words in Pedophile Priest Files that were released by U.S. Supreme Court Order last year

“We heard how a daughter described a nightmarish trip with Rev. Raymond Pcolka. She walked into a room by mistake to discover Pcolka sodomizing a boy while a younger boy cried hysterically in the same room. We saw then-Bishop Edward Egan coldly dismiss reports of Pcolka’s abuse as mere complaints, not facts. The effect was emotional, but also austere. And the result was truly extraordinary.” – Terry McKiernan

The drama is in the documents, as proven again in a play constructed from pedophile priest files the Archdiocese of Bridgeport, Connecticut, was forced by the U.S. Supreme Court to release December 2009. After a year-long effort, VOTF Bridgeport brought “Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned,” to the stage earlier this month.

“On Saturday, November 13, I attended a remarkable event at the Norwalk Concert Hall in Norwalk, Connecticut,” Terry McKiernan of Bishop Accountability wrote to City of Angels. “Fifteen actors brought to life the famous Rosado documents, the files that Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport had spent millions of dollars to keep secret.”

Producer of the event, John Lawrence Lee, said in a recent phone call, “What I found most curious was that the great newspapers who spent their money to press the legal case against the diocese- New York Times, Washington Post, Boston Globe, and Hartford Courant- were alerted about the performance in New Haven and chose not to report on it. We sent press releases, I called.”

McKiernan wrote, “In December 2009, after nearly a decade of appeals, the U.S. Supreme Court rejected Bishop William Lori of Bridgeport’s last argument, and the diocese was forced to post the Rosado documents.

“They did so in 11,187 individual, unlabeled, one-page PDFs on a website briefly available to the newspapers that had sued to have the documents released. The newspapers did the best they could, but it was impossible to absorb a chaotic file in that form and report on it effectively in the paper by the following morning. So Voice of the Faithful in the Diocese of Bridgeport decided to study the Rosado documents (they are named after a boy who was molested by Rev. Raymond Pcolka) and bring them to the people in a dramatic way.”

John Lee said the Bridgeport documents came out, “one PDF for each page, with no index, unlike San Diego, where ten thousand pages were able to be posted in 24 hours. This was a different story. The Diocese of Bridgeport made it very difficult to access the documents.”

Lee added, “It's the usual response. The Diocese just did what the court ordered them to do”

So taking a lead from “Sin: A Cardinal Deposed” based on the Boston documents and “No Escape” from documents released in Dublin, Ireland, area activists in New Hampshire put together a play based on the words in the pedophile priest files. CofA Lady dreams of productions like “Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned” using criminal documents released by archdioceses in every city in America, just like these crimes took place in every city in America. Words in the crime files bring to life the true stories of the pedophile priest epidemic in the Catholic Church better than any fiction can, and better than any biography based on one survivor’s experience. Plus dramas based on documents have the potential to be an oral history that will live on.

Re fundraising for Bridgeport Voice of the Faithful accomplished by the New Hampshire presentation, “We lost money on it,” said Lee, “but we're not done.”

McKiernan described “Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned” as performed November 13th:

"To begin the performance, fifteen actors filed on stage and took their seats in a row– men and women dressed in black, holding the documents that they would read. Then over the next two hours, the actors stood up individually, or came forward in pairs, and simply read from the documents. The effect was very emotional, but also very austere. And the result was truly extraordinary– the pages that we’ve seen reproduced in newspapers or posted on websites (and many documents that are not available anywhere yet) were brought quietly and devastatingly to life.

"We heard a mother tell how her daughter had described a nightmarish trip with Rev. Raymond Pcolka– the daughter had walked into a room by mistake to discover Pcolka sodomizing a boy while a younger boy cried hysterically in the same room. We saw then-Bishop Edward Egan, played by the superb Manny Lieberman, coldly dismiss the reports of Pcolka’s abuse as mere complaints, not facts. We heard a girl tell how Pcolka beat her, and then offered her the “choice” of continuing to be beaten, or being sodomized instead. Horrible things, that Lori had tried to keep hidden, and that are hidden no longer. In addition to Pcolka, the performance presented the stories of Rev. Laurence Brett, Rev. Charles T. Carr, and Rev. Martin J. Federici. We met the survivors and the bishops and managers who did the cover-up in each of those cases. In a final section, the bishops and managers were cross-examined, using their own revealing words from depositions, to bring out the procedures and the mindset that made the abuse and cover-up possible.

"I work on documents a lot, and has posted a selection of the Rosado documents [ ], but I don’t think a batch of documents had ever fit together for me the way the Rosado documents did on that afternoon in Connecticut. Terrible as the subject was, it was also oddly comforting to experience the documents with each other – survivors, advocates, people from Norwalk and surrounding communities – learning and bearing witness together. After the performance, there was a ceremony acknowledging survivors, and a lively discussion."

Producer John Lee talked about the release of some 11,126 individual pdf files were released last December by the Bridgeport Diocese.

“Terry helped us group them into five hundred page blocks, then Anne Pollack went through them, I don't know how many pages she read personally. She made a map, showing where Egan was located, where the cases were concerning Father Carr, Donovan.”

Lee continued, “Terry [McKiernan] said it was the first time that anybody had connected the statements by different priests and vicars and families, so you had vignettes that had voices of different people talking about the same situation, it allowed you to compare and contrast the statements, that provided the dramatics."

McKiernan shares the credit with other volunteers, saying the goal of the project was “so the significance of the documents could be understood at last.”

McKiernan wrote: “Everyone pitched in, but three people were key to the effort: Anne Pollack, who built a vast spreadsheet that put the chaotic jigsaw puzzle of the file together so that it could be read; Joe O’Callaghan, who created a beautiful script by painstakingly piecing together statements by survivors and their parents, depositions of bishops, and diocesan letters and memos; and John Marshall Lee, who kept the project going and acted as producer for the event.

The producer John Lee commented, “If Anne Pollack hadn’t been there, Joe never would have been able to do his work. Then the playwright was able to say, take out the narrator, and gave that voice to a victim.”

McKiernan continued:

“Some of us saw the excellent ‘Sin: A Cardinal Deposed,’ a 2003 play that dramatized the Boston files. The Bridgeport documents, as presented in ‘Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned!’ were even more powerful. I hope a way will be found to take the production on the road, and I also hope that other groups will do similar events with the documents in their dioceses."

(John Lawrence Lee sent this email which gives background on the project, and an idea of the logistics faced in getting Bless Me Father for I have Sinned onto the stage November 13th.)

"The Diocese of Bridgeport saw Bishop Egan transferred to New York in 2001 with a replacement in the person of Bishop William Lori who was transferred from Washington DC where he had experience with administering sexual abuse complaints. By 2003 the bulk of cases had been settled rather than fought out in court in two major blocks, 2001 and 2003, spending over $37 Million. Cases settled, confidentiality enforced on all parties, and the people in the pews (who paid the premium for the insurance policies in one way or another from contributions) and who also are responsible for the funds of all kinds contributed over the years were left in the dark as to costs and details. To this day there is not comprehensive diocesan reporting from all entities, and even the minor report for the year ended June, 2009, that shows the Diocesan Corp, Catholic Charities and a special education fund, . is about 10 months late.

"To us sex, money and power were part of the story line from the glances occasionally seen in stories that leaked out. (We also, during the past five years, had listened to two Fairfield County parishes with large amounts missing whose pastors were probably not living out ordination promises and who were indicted or just disappeared.) But four newspapers (NYT, Washington Post, Hartford Courant, and Boston Globe) used a legal team to pursue through CT court system the opening up of court files that were no longer necessary as settlement had occurred. One or more judges in the extended appeals process stated that the public interest would be served by the records being opened.

"As members of VOTF in the Diocese of Bridgeport we followed the ping-pong game being fought by the lawyers for the Diocese and those for the newspapers. Last fall when the US Supreme Court denied standing to the Diocese, the documents were disgorged, all 11,126 pages of 12,600 as individual PDF. One of our members, Anne Pollack, with help from Bishop Accountability began the laborious process of mining what was there and organizing it into some form that could be printed and read. Several of us read notebooks about one or more of the victim survivors and/or the depositions on multiple occasions of Bishops, Monsignors, and alleged abusers. Sitting with that material and sensing the reality of the clergy who were distant, legalistic and superior in their answers, while also understanding the stonewall that victims and families met with disbelief, lies or misdirection about management actions of abusers, and no sign of concern for those who had been abused by power and sexual predation as children, now burdened as adults.

"In any case by May Dr. Joseph O'Callaghan had read and assembled four stories about clergy abusers using the language from the documents. When we assembled as a group and read the words of the parties, we were taken by the spoken word. But would we look to do this ourselves as amateurs or engage assistance at each level to develop the material and the stories therein, giving voice to the voiceless, branding the product and promoting our effort at a time that many public voices claim, "It's all over." I personally believe that until you have listened to a survivor tell their story in person and reflected on that person's journey, you are in no position to say with the episcopal chorus, "It's all over."

"So little by little we sought out a playwright to help rewrite and edit to bring out the dramatic potential. We sought out legal advice on dramatic material, ownership, etc. and created agreements. Found a director. He found actors to perform a dramatic reading. Artists and graphic designers were sought to promote through Internet technology as well as more traditional print materials. Publicist for local releases. Interviews on local public access and public TV. Renting a civic performance venue, not a Church, since we are not allowed to meet as faithful Catholics on Catholic property in our Diocese. Professional sound engineer and video crew to record the reading, the Q & A and the memorial to honor survivors. Budget concerns, attendance concerns, Murphy's Law fears...... Saturday evening it was over and the approval and commendations from survivors as well as just plain folks in attendance made the time, talent and treasure worth it."

(Note: City of Angels tried to get a copy of the Bless Me Father For I Have Sinned script, so we could run excerpts, and I was told copyright issues prevented VOTF from providing it...


“The Diocese of Bridgeport had to turn over documents about ten months ago — 12,000 pages worth. The media and activist groups have organized and indexed this mountain of raw data.

“It’s the Bridgeport chapter of Voice of the Faithful, an activist group formed to address the abuse problem, which developed the unorthodox, though not unprecedented, idea of presenting the transcripts as theater.

“There’s a script,” insists author Joseph O’Callaghan, a lifelong Catholic and a retired professor of history who taught at Fordham University for 40 years. He constructed Bless Me, Father, For I Have Sinned—Priestly Abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport so it would have central characters and a narrative structure. Of the 32 priests accused of sexual abuse in the Bridgeport diocese, Bless Me Father focuses on four in particular — Charles Carr, Martin Federici, Laurence Brett and Raymond Pcolka — but also includes dialogue between attorneys, bishops, monsignori and abuse victims. Except for the subtraction of some repetitions and stammers and the addition of some clarifying narrative remarks, O’Callaghan says the script is “all verbatim from transcripts.”

From the New Haven Advocate who were about the only media to cover the New Hampshire event November 13th.

Here is program for the piece, directed by Jack Rushen

Read a review of Bless Me Father for I Have Sinned at the VOTF Bridgeport website
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