Mary-Ellen at Hopefully Ever After has written an absolute must-read piece, pouring her soul out in pixels.
What are you waiting for? Go read it. Then come back. (Warning: it's extremely descriptive in places. But necessary.)
I have three things to say about this piece.
1. Mary-Ellen is a hero. More on that later.
2. I've inveighed more than once on the witchhunt that has developed around the pervo-priest scandals. I still maintain that many good men are unjustly accused and that many people have profited handsomely from the Big Lie that priests are all potential molesters.
But big lies often grow from small but deadly truths, and this is one of those. Fr. Leo Riley was indeed a child molester. (Mary-Ellen wasn't his only victim, though she may have been his most long-term one.) Which makes it all the more despicable. A stranger who lures a child into a car is vile enough. But when a trusted family friend, a man whose job it is to model virtue, destroys a child from the inside out, it is an unspeakable evil. The same hands that held Christ's body every day snaked over an innocent child's body at night. The same lips that spoke the words of Jesus told manipulative lies to a little girl. This is one of those sins that cry out to heaven for vengeance.
And the ripple effect, while not as personally devastating, is far-reaching and possibly unerasable. A few vermin like Fr. Riley have tainted the reputation of priests for generations to come. The very word "priest" has become a snickered synonym for "hypocritical pervert." His behavior has made the Catholic Church, not just a laughingstock, but a stench to much of the world.
3. I don't know Mary-Ellen's parents, but I'm reluctant to judge them very harshly. The thing to remember is, in the '70s and '80s, child molestation was just beginning to be talked about openly, and lots of people had no idea how to deal with it when it came to light. In my family, there was an uncle who couldn't keep his hands off his nieces, and I don't think anything was done except to keep a close eye on him at family functions. (He died before I was born, thankfully.) The same thing applies to the bishops who kept shuffling accused priests around. Often, they just didn't know better. It had always been done that way.
In fairness, Mary-Ellen's parents did believe her and put a stop to her abuse, even if it was too little to late, and the Stigmatine Order did cooperate with police after policies were put in place in the early '90s. We know what to do now. But back then, the times they were still a'changin'.
Okay, back to point 1. Lots of people have memories of childhood abuse. Lots of them go public about the abuse later. That doesn't make them heroes. It just makes them veterans. It's what they do with their victimhood that counts.
Most people, with a history like Mary-Ellen's, would spend their lives bitter and cursing God for betraying them. (Which, in a way, I suppose He did. At least His representative betrayed her on His behalf. God gets the credit for the good things, and at Calvary He took on Himself all the blame for evil done by Man. In all cases, it comes back to God.)
I would have abandoned a God that I felt had allowed those things to happen. I probably would never have set foot in a church again except to spit in the holy water. Yes, I know intellectually about one bad apple, yada yada yada. That knowledge doesn't bind wounds or soothe fear.
But Mary-Ellen is able to separate Fr. Riley and his evil from the good God that always loved her. She is faithful to the Church that failed her. She talks about her parish's pastor who is the polar opposite of Fr. Riley, a good and Godly man who keeps his vows and works with her where she is.
Mary-Ellen has faith that leaves mine in the dust. She loves God more than she hates her abuser.
That's what makes her a hero.