Once a Victim, Now She's a Survivor

Once a Victim, Now She's a Survivor

As she walked into the store that evening a few years ago, Jeanne Cratty felt something was wrong. She couldn't put her finger on it exactly, but, she said, "my antennas went up" and she felt somehow in danger.

Then she saw him: the man she says molested her when she was a schoolgirl. He had been the Cratty family's parish priest and trusted friend, providing comfort in times of crisis and displaying what appeared to be a kindly, benign interest in little Jeanne.

He did not appear to see her now, as he moved among the store aisles. But for Cratty, who traces her severe depression and host of psychological disorders to the sexual abuse she suffered at his hands, seeing this man - who long ago left the priesthood - triggered a severe reaction inside her.

"Right then and there, I practically regressed to childhood," the South Weymouth native recalled. "I forgot how to drive my car. I couldn't get back to my apartment. All I wanted to do was to go home and be with my parents."

She managed to make it to her parents' home, which was nearby, and broke down in her mother's arms.

Cratty, accompanied by her parents, recounted this incident at last week's Boston College conference on the mental health profession's response to the clergy sexual abuse crisis [see related story]. The Crattys' story of their struggle to understand and cope with the trauma they say was caused by their former priest's sexual abuse of Jeanne gripped the McGuinn Hall audience, many of whom were visibly moved.

But Cratty, now 35, said she wanted her experience to be instructive for social workers, counselors and other therapists who are helping survivors of clergy sexual abuse.

"As you're treating your clients, you're not just treating them as adults," she said. "You're also treating their child, their adolescent, because when you are abused your emotional life just stops.

"Survivors don't walk around with a 'V' on their chests. I don't think of myself as a 'victim' any longer...I do think I'm doing OK."

Cratty has filed a civil suit against the former priest, claiming that he sexually abused her several times when she was between 7 and 11 years old. He has denied the allegations.

While Cratty said her current therapist has been instrumental in helping her, she cited her family, and her parents in particular, as the most vital forces in her life.

"Aren't they cool?" she said quietly, nodding at her parents after her father, Bill, had introduced her. "I would not be alive today if I hadn't had the fortune to be born into this family."

Her father promptly replied, "Can I just say that she's my hero?"

Prior to introducing Jeanne, Bill Cratty offered a brief synopsis of his daughter's ordeal, and the family's attempts to help her. He described the attention their parish priest began to show in Jeanne when she was 6 years old, giving the child gifts and later inviting her and other children to accompany him on trips to New Hampshire during several summers. The priest kept in touch with the Crattys after he was transferred to another parish, but the family lost track of him in the early 1980s after he informed them he had left the priesthood.

Jeanne's late teens and young adulthood were marked by a litany of problems, Bill Cratty said, including increasingly severe anxiety and depression, nervous breakdowns and over-eating. Medical examinations were an ordeal for her. But one of the worst outcomes, he said, was the effect on her faith.

"To this day, she cannot attend Mass, and she finds it difficult to say the rosary or sing hymns," said Bill Cratty.

Jeanne Cratty said that she has to "prepare herself" before she can be around a priest who is "in uniform" - she related how, not long ago, she felt anxious when a priest wearing his clerical collar entered the grocery store where she was working.

"The public needs to understand the path survivors take," she said. "It doesn't all end when a settlement is finalized or the papers stop reporting on the scandal. In many ways, I'm blessed: I have a good support system, and I didn't turn to alcohol or drugs.

"The key is the chemistry between the survivor and the therapist. My therapist lets me do the work. She listens, picks up on themes and brings them to my attention so I can continue to look inwards."

At the conclusion of the Crattys' appearance, Boston Archbishop Sean P. O'Malley, OFM, Cap., who had been sitting in the front row, reached across the table to shake Jeanne Cratty's hand.

-Sean Smith

 

Return to Jan. 22 menu.

Return to Chronicle home page