She sits in bankruptcy court on wooden benches much like church pews,grasping a homemade fan as if it were a rudder in a storm-tossed sea.
On one side of the fan is a black-and-white photograph of herself whenshe was dressed up for her first Holy Communion. On the other side,she's posing with her three sisters, little heads rising like stairsteps.
All four were allegedly being sexually abused by their priestat Holy Spirit Catholic Church on 55th Street in the 1950s, when thephotos were taken.
She's 58 now and lives within walking distance of the San Diegochurch. She says the pictures are to remind everyone in the Catholicdiocese's bankruptcy case that “it's all about the children.”
She adds: “I don't want them to look at how I look now. This is how I looked then.”
She is not alone. For several years, men and women who said theywere sexually abused by Catholic church workers when they were minorshave waged a war of images.
Heidi Lynch, 50, of El Cajon wears a golden dog tag with apicture of herself as a girl. On the flip side are the words: “Rememberme.”
Dozens of young faces smile from quilts that are unfurled atvigils and news conferences. Quilt maker Erin Brady, 48, who lives inthe San Gabriel Valley, is starting her seventh panel. By her count,she's used 168 photos submitted by people from Southern California.
David Clohessy may have been the first to hand a photograph to Catholicbishops. Clohessy, the national director of the Survivors Network ofthose Abused by Priests, was speaking to U.S. bishops in Dallas in 2002when he held out a picture of Eric Patterson. Patterson, 29, killedhimself after years of wrestling with trauma, including being allegedlymolested by a priest in Kansas when he was 12.
“People have to understand this crime didn't happen to a 30-or40-year-old woman. It didn't happen to a big, burly guy,” saysClohessy, who lives in Missouri. “It happened to a kid, and we have toremind people of that.”
'A real face'
SNAP leaders say the childhood picturecampaign began in earnest five years ago, as the Catholic clergy abusecrisis exploded across the country.
“When you look at us today, we're all grown up,” says BarbaraBlaine, SNAP's founder. “It's hard to recognize us as vulnerable kids.”
Blaine, a Chicago resident, says the photographs have helpedmany with their healing. She remembers the wife of one person whoclaimed abuse coming to a SNAP meeting and seeing the photographs onthe walls. “She stood at the doorway and she just started crying andshe just said, 'Now I get it.' ”
The Rev. Thomas Reese, former editor of the Jesuit magazine America, calls the photographs “heart-rending.”
“You get a real face for the person who was abused, I think it'sa very successful tactic and very, very moving,” says Reese, a seniorfellow at Georgetown University's Woodstock Theological Center.
Public response from bishops has not exactly been resounding.Last year, SNAP displayed Brady's quilts in a tent near the Los Angeleshotel where U.S. bishops were meeting. None came.
“I wasn't surprised, but there was a little piece of me who wasdisappointed,” says Brady, one of more than 500 victims who last monthsettled with the Los Angeles archdiocese for $660 million.
San Diego Auxiliary Bishop Salvatore Cordileone says he doesn'tremember seeing any of the photographs, either on the quilts orelsewhere. He has noticed men and women at demonstrations, though hesays he hasn't tried to approach them because it wouldn't beappropriate.
“There might be an opportunity to exchange a few words but itmight make the situation worse because it really needs an extendedconversation,” says Cordileone. “So I have not attempted to do thatmyself in that kind of situation.”
He adds: “I think what's important for the victims is healing,and we do want to do what is necessary for healing, which involves alot. Not just money, but reconciliation and so forth. That's our hope.”
Case put on hold
The woman who made the picture fan was“absolutely shocked” when the Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego filedfor Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Feb. 27. Her lawsuit was amongroughly 150 cases put on hold by the bankruptcy petition.
So she fashioned the fan out of cardboard, which she framed inembroidery, and attached a lopped-off paint stick for a handle. Asoften as she can, she takes vacation days from her job at a health careprovider and drives downtown to the federal bankruptcy courthouse.
She has asked not to be named and it is the newspaper's policy not to identify such victims without permission.
She bristles at bloggers and letter writers who accuseplaintiffs and their attorneys of greed. She says that after going toconfession, she still had to do penance. “Now the church needs to dotheir penance.”
Lynch, the woman who wears her childhood picture on a dog tag,says asking for money “just seems to be the only thing that will wakethem up.” She says she suffers from anxiety and depression so severethat she's unable to work.
At a bankruptcy hearing in April, Lynch also brought a largecolor photograph of happier days. Supporters “would look at me and nodand smile and put their thumb up.”
She cradled the picture in her lap. “It brings it intoperspective,” Lynch says. “I was a very small child and the perpetratorwas a very large adult. Now we're sitting there as adults and we don'treally don't look like victims.”