May 01, 2011

Reviews of The Silence

Some thoughts on the news report previewed in Catholic Church Abuse on Frontline:

Frontline airs documentary on clergy sex abuse in Alaska

"The Silence," which airs on KCTS 9 at 9 p.m. on Tuesday (April 19), tells a powerful story of the suffering and recovery of an Alaska village where 80 percent of the children were abused by the clergy.

By Anthony B. Robinson
Certainly, the most powerful moments of the Frontline broadcast are those in which victims, now middle-aged, gather in St. Michael to tell the stories of events that as children changed their lives forever.

Reporter Mark Trahant, a Northwest journalist who writes for Crosscut and many other publications and was for several years the editorial page editor of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, narrates the story. By way of introduction, Trahant notes, “As a journalist, and member of the Shoshone-Bannock Tribe, I’ve been writing about Native Americans my whole career, but little could prepare me for what happened in St. Michael.”

A unique part of the 2009 court settlement was a requirement that Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler travel to all the affected villages, including St. Michael, to meet in person with the victims and apologize on behalf of the Catholic Church. Frontline is able to tape these 2010 meetings of Bishop Kettler (who was not bishop at the time the abuse took place) being confronted by the victims and apologizing.

"The Silence" has been broken. The victims themselves have broken the silence of shame and guilt by speaking through their tears. The Church has broken its silence and complicity by facing the victims and apologizing. But viewers may experience another silence. I found myself moved to silence by this broadcast, a silence of sorrow and deep sadness.
Speak Your Piece:  Silence No More

Finally people are listening to us. Now we can stop carrying this terrible silent burden alone within our families.

By Mary Annette Pember
The meetings are featured in The Silence, and caught me emotionally off guard. I heard hoarse, ragged cries come from somewhere and realized they were coming from my own mouth. I cried not only for the victims, but also for my mom, who will be 86 next month. Although dementia has claimed much of her mind, she still speaks guardedly of the abuse she suffered at the “Sister School,” the catholic boarding school where she was raised.

She makes ominous, veiled references, still filled with fear of retribution from the priests and sisters who ran the school. They have robbed my mother and so many others of any real peace or serenity.
For a two-minute version of this half-hour report, watch the video:

Comment:  The Silence was indeed a powerful report. A few observations:

  • The people wear parkas outdoors because it's cold. But there are no igloos, dog-sleds, harpoons, walruses, etc. These people live in houses and attend church--which was the big problem.

  • One victim told his father about the abuse. The father beat him with a belt for daring to criticize a priest. Then the father went out and got drunk, came back with a gun, raged at his wife, and shot her and the victim's younger brother. Apparently he couldn't believe the church had done wrong, so he blamed his wife for raising his son badly.

  • Fairbanks Bishop Donald Kettler initially denied the church had done anything wrong. When confronted with undeniable evidence, he grudgingly changed his tune. His apologies to the St. Michael victims seemed kind of insincere or forced to me. He didn't seem to be overwhelemed with Christian compassion.

  • Being molested and raped "almost daily" by trusted authority figures is like being tortured. It's like going from a peaceful existence to a war zone. It's like seeing a meteor strike the earth or the sun fall out of the sky.

    In other words, it's about like seeing half your tribe killed by disease and hunger, another third killed by warfare, and the rest cheated out of your possessions and herded into concentration camps far from your historic homeland, sacred sites, and cultural ties. It's like having your entire world overturned, shattered, destroyed.

    You may still live, but everything you know and believe will be gone. No wonder you'll feel lost, helpless, suicidal. It won't be the least bit surprising if you lash out with alcoholism, abuse, and violence yourself.

    That's essentially what happened to the victims in St. Michael, Alaska. And to victims of priestly abuse everywhere. And to many of the world's indigenous peoples in general. White Christian Euro-Americans treated them like dogs, which turned them into whimpering wrecks or angry attackers. It's "natural" for humans and other living beings to respond to treatment like that.

    For more on the subject, see "Res-Love" = Abuse and Alcoholism and Intergenerational Trauma = PTSD.

    none said...

    That was a very sobering documentary to watch. At one point, I felt physically ill. Well, that's not true, I felt sick the whole time I watched it.

    Anonymous said...

    The really bad thing is, the clergy in question said that without the Church, this would've seemed normal. Pedophiles seem to love the idea of "Indians just being Indians". Makes it easier for them to mask their crimes.