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paul at a young age

What are your thoughts on this very personal story of one man and his family's confrontation with the church that betrayed them?


Dear FRONTLINE,

I'm a 34 year-old Canadian with a college education, a job, and two small children. From the outside we look like a model, healthy family.That's a lie. We aren't.3 months ago I finally told my wife that I was molested as a child. I swore to myself that I'd never, ever tell anyone what happened to me. I easily covered it up in the last 5 years because of September 11th. I was on the 73 Floor of Tower 1 on that day, and I used that event to drink, drug and basically act like a maniac. I could hide the real source of my horrible pain and pretend that September 11th was the root cause of my alcoholism and quest for "blocking"...which is what I did with booze and drugs. I have been half-heartedly trying for 3 years to stop drinking and overcome this crippling depression that stems from many things, but mostly from my experience of being molested as a child. I watched your documentary, and I truly have to tell you that it gave me hope....more hope than I have ever had....and for that I thank you.Because of your film, I told my 70 year-old father what had happened tome. It was quite possibly the most difficult thing I have ever done.Your brother's strength and sheer courage helped me do that.At the end of your documentary, you filmed a priest in your parents' church that was motioning you to "get out". You held your ground, and then filmed him skulking because his power had been taken away from him. This too made me realize that the only way these sick f---ers can win is if we let them. My molester is dead...but he still had power over me....fear and shame. He no longer has that. The cycle of abuse and alcoholism that permeated my family stops HERE, with me.I see a therapist once a week, I'm treating ADHD and PTSD, and I'm talking about events that shaped my life as child. I have never felt worse, or better...your brother can explain that to you.At any rate, I just wanted to thank you and your family for what you have accomplished.

Chris

Dear FRONTLINE,

I thank Joe Cultrera for at least answering part of my issues with his documentary: his creative editting outside of the chancery. If the real footage of his taping outside of the chancery is as he claims it to be (poor audio quality, his explanation of all that his family did for the church, etc.), he can show himself to be the brave documentarian he claims to be by providing the footage for the rest of the world to see. If not "Frontline," then perhaps on some other Web-based venue. Forgive me, but I don't necessarily take his word for it. After all, expecting anything else would mean that "Frontline" would be holding him to a lower standard than he holds the Catholic Church. By the way, is Joe Cultrera planning to aim his camera at any other religions, or is he hanging it up now that he's rammed the Barque of Peter? Perhaps he can investigate the cover-up of pedophilia in the Boston public schools, if he's not too busy.

Matthew Scallon
Chula Vista, CA

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

The exchange with Bishop Lennon sparked controvery in Cleveland, where the local Fox affiliate aired this report, including an interview with filmmaker Joe Cultrera and the full, unedited sequence between Cultrera and Lennon.

Dear FRONTLINE,

What many do not understand, and many others do not want to understand, is that Cardinal Law has been reduced to a doorman at a church in Italy. He has not received a posting to the Vatican. He has been reduced to the status of about a parish priest, in a country other than his own. It might have been more dramatic had he been posted to, say, Nairobi or Goa. On the other hand, he is now within the oversight of the Vatican which moved (and demoted) him.

Many others would have had him defrocked, but Canon Law does not provide that result for his actions, or failure to act.

Tim Moore
Tualatin, Oregon

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

Law was appointed archpriest of St. Mary Major Basilica in Rome, but he remains a cardinal and therefore continues to sit on committees that make church policy, including the committee that chooses which bishops lead American dioceses. For more on Law, see FRONTLINE's page of updates on issues and characters featured in "Hand of God."

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a 49 year old woman who was molested by my brother when I was aged 12 through 16. I began to watch Hand of God mid-way through. I found many of the feelings that Paul recounted to be like those of my own. I thank Paul so very much for relating his story, so that I can continue to heal from my past experience. Although I have had intensive therapy, the memories still leave me unsettled and the guilt resurfaces every once in awhile. I forgave my brother and my parents but have difficulty even today explaining those events to myself. It is still confusing to me. Also, I thank PBS for broadcasting this story, Paul for the courage to speak so candidly, and Joe for creating the documentary. We need more firsthand accounts like these to help all of us heal.

baltimore, md

Dear FRONTLINE,

I appreciate the candid honesty with which Paul Cultrera told his story. I grew up Catholic in the 70s and 80s in Portland Oregon, at a parish where one of the trusted priests was discovered to have sexual involvement with young people. I am so thankful that I was not involved. However, these stories haunt my emotions and I feel a sense of compassion and oneness with the storytellers. I am amazed and thankful that Paul and Joe were able to speak their truth, and I was completely captivated by the show. Thank you!

Diane Reed
Denver, Colorado

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am a Detective in Kansas. I worked the investigation into former priest Robert Larson. During the course of the investigation I found the "church" to be less then helpful. This investigation happened prior to the MA. investigation. After the diocese was made aware of Larson's tendancy to molest children, they would move him to another parish. At each parish he was moved to, he would molest. He was moved from Parish to Parish. His victims were many, five of the victims became suicide statistics. It was a difficult investigation as I had to confront people who would not believe a Priest would ever do such a thing to a child. The victims, who were now young men, suffered for years, thier lives turned and twisted. Larson was sentanced to three years and then paroled to some kind of facility for pervert priests. The Boston Globe had contacted me after the investigation was complete and told me they were working on some cases in MA. So many think the Priests stand next to God, but what must be remembered, they are just men and some, like Larson, are not Godly at all.

T. WaltonNewton, Kansas

Townsend Walton
Newton, Kansas

Dear FRONTLINE,

Watching "The Hand of God" was reminiscent of my deep involvement with abuse survivors and concerned Catholics in the Boston area after The Boston Globe broke the story in early 2002 that shed necessary light on a scandal that had been brewing for decades. I was active with my parish in Cambridge, especially with the organization of listening sessions, study groups, and outreach. Ultimately, my activities led me to Voice of the Faithful, where I served on the initial leadership team. Ultimately I became involved with direct support of a survivors group. I was and continue to be deeply moved by survivors' stories ... and the Paul Cultrera story on FRONTLINE was no exception.

I believe most Catholics like myself are genuinely concerned about the clergy sexual abuse scandal and sincerely hope that every survivor will experience healing. And most of us are hopeful about the Church's launch of programs for protecting children and about reiterating appropriate behavior between adults and children. We are particularly eager to see the standards for clergy and seminarians raised to the expectations of the solemn vocation to which these men have been called.

Having worked with WGBH throughout the 1990s, I was confused and distressed to note that FRONTLINE provided virtually no context for the clergy sexual abuse scandal portrayed in "The Hand of God." While I am a strong believer in compelling and creative filmmaking by independent producers, my recollection is that FRONTLINE--as the premiere public affairs series on television (bar none)--is best known for tackling serious and important subjects: digging deep and unafraid to challenge conventional wisdom. Why was "The Hand of God" an exception to this hallmark approach? In the five years since The Boston Globe's award-winning coverage, much has been learned about the scandal:

The incidence of abuse perpetrated by Catholic clergy is approximately 3-5%, essentially the same as other denominations and the general population. This perspective is absolutely vital to shedding the necessary light on a tragic societal problem.

According to the extensive report prepared by the John Jay Law Center, 80% of the cases involving Catholic clergy have been with post-pubescent males: this strongly suggests that homosexuality within the priesthood and seminaries has been a major factor in the scandal for many decades. Most of the lay Catholics I speak with are frustrated that the Church's hierarchy, bogged down in political correctness, has done little to tackle this issue.

While most of the cases have turned out to be legitimate, there is an increasing number of false allegations--combined with eager law firms building essentially a boutique practice by seeking out abuse cases involving Catholic priests (Forbes did an extensive study on this troubling development in mid-2003.) "Witch hunt" may be too strong a term. However, I have personal knowledge of donations by law firms to survivors groups--for the sole purpose of building a lucrative practice from the scandal.

Apart from the glaring absence of any context to the FRONTLINE special for the subject of the scandal, I was truly affronted by the blatant mocking of the Catholic faith. As an Italian Catholic, I am well acquainted with some of the inherent quirkiness. However, I take my faith quite seriously as a source of unending strength and inspiration. Scandals have plagued the Catholic Church throughout its history: while the institution has its obvious flaws, the underlying faith tradition is what keeps us going. Most of the Catholics I know have come to regard the pervasive Catholic bashing as tedious and irresponsible.

I do hope that FRONTLINE will dig deeper into the important issues surrounding the post-scandal era of the Catholic Church. You will learn that conversions are on the rise and that these converts have looked beyond the scandal to embrace the rich tradition of faith and reason that underscores Catholicism. You will learn that newly ordained priests are deadly serious about their sacred vows and acutely mindful of their pastoral obligation to their entire faith community--most especially children and young adults. You will learn that lay Catholics are genuinely sympathetic to abuse survivors and hold their priests and bishops accountable for fixing the underlying problems--permanently. You will learn that Catholics understand there are necessary boundaries that provide the foundation of a faith tradition and a civilized society. In short, you will find Catholics (including Italian Catholics) who convey a dramatically different image from that of the ignorant sheep in "The Hand of God."

Susan Emily JordanOak Park, Illinois

Susan Jordan
Oak Park, Illinois

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you to Frontline and the Cultrera family. Why, why is McCormack still bishop in my state?

Eileen Brady
Manchester, NH

FRONTLINE's editors respond:

For more on McCormack and Manchester's own abuse scandal, see FRONTLINE's page of updates on issues and figures featured in "Hand of God."

Dear FRONTLINE,

Dear Frontline:

Thanks to Joe and Paul for sharing their story with us. Thanks to PBS for making it widely available. I am surprised by the messages that indicate widespread ignorance about these matters. The documentary is a gentle presentation of the truth compared with the real horror some have experienced. Several films and books have documented other more repressive experiences and there is a website devoted to keeping track of continuing developments. While the documentary persued one story of one issue in the church, the real story is the abuse of power. This was the heart of matters at the time of the reformation and has not changed much since then. I am among those who would say that sexual abuse, while real and devestating, is not the most serious abuse many have experienced at the hands of the church.I am an active Catholic Priest (still) in good standing. I believe in the value of celibacy (for some priests) and the efficacy of the sacraments. As a teen I experienced a near miss with sexual abuse that did not severly impact my life. But I have repeatedly seen others who were not so lucky and deal with the abuse of Church authority in some fashion nearly every day. The experiences of the Cultrera family are much the same as what a hundred other families have shared with me. It becomes more and more difficult to serve as a priest as we are manipulated into impossible positions and expected to hold the fort in the face of unrelenting dissatisfaction. The Catholic Church is crumbling from the inside and those guarding the gates are only concerned with preserving their own power. Celibacy, Santa Claus and weapons of mass destruction share a common thread. They all demonstrate the insistance of people to believe what they know is not true. Perhaps another thousand documentaries like this one will bring Catholics to their senses and save the church from itself. UIOGD

ortonville, mn

Dear FRONTLINE,

As a faithful Catholic who believes Jesus Christ founded the Church, I connected very much with the film. All throughout I found myself moved and praying for the victims. The worst part about the scandal is that so many have lost their faith. Believe me, those who keep it are not all mindless robots who have been conditioned to kneel, as the producer said. Rather, we have learned our history - that Judas was one of the apostles, that Christ Himself prophesied scandals in His Church (see gospels) and we are not surprised. Yet, we also know that there are so many holy saints of yesterday and today who have built the civilization we now take for granted. Not just charitable works but humane civil law as we know it comes from Catholic tradition. And yes, we do believe in the miraculous nature of all the sacraments - that is, that they are a direct way of encountering Christ. My heart breaks for the victims. The Church does need to reform its clergy. She has before (see Council of Trent) and will again. God is just and merciful.

Susan Lloyd
Whitehall, PA

Dear FRONTLINE,

My husband is a married Catholic priest. When he received the 7th sacrament of marriage he also received the same punishment and limitations as those who were identified as sexual predators with one glaring exception. Many of those predators are still receiving housing allowences, medical coverage and pensions. Priests who are called to marriage and have done nothing wrong receive a much harsher punishment. God bless this dear family for speaking out. There is still so much to be done including adressing the issue of abuse perpetrated on those over 18 who were in a vulnerable state and sought the help of a trusted priest only to be victimized. Adults as well as children have been scarred and abused by clergy. We have only just begun to deal with the tip of a huge ecclesiastical iceburg and the elephant in the room is wearing a miter.

Akron, Ohio

Dear FRONTLINE,

My heart goes out to Paul and others like him. Being sexually molested is horrifying, and having the deed performed by a priest -- well, I just can't imagine.

What we have to remember is the era in which this occurred. Fortunately, these days, children are are made aware of and are encouraged to communicate these things to their parents and teachers; not so in the 1950's and 1960's. I know that in my parent's eyes, a priest could do no wrong. I recall their attitude of self-importance and hautiness that was used very effectively to infer on lay-people a sense of guilt and control that I can recall feeling to this day.

I remember quite vividly when my parish was having a pledge drive to build a new church. Every parishioner had to give a couple of hundred dollars. My mother visited the rectory, spoke with the pastor and told him she couldn't afford the amount he was asking for. I don't know what he said to her, but what I remember all those years ago, is that she left there crying.

So, keeping that in mind, and keeping in mind that pedophelia - child molestation is a crime, we find that the Catholic Church recycled the priests they KNEW were guilty instead of calling the police to have them arrested. They actually sent them to other parishes so they could start fresh on other children!! And we are to have respect for these people of the cloth, and listen to them preach to us, and go to confession and tell them our sins??

I pray every day for the multitude of boys who had to grow up with this horrible secret - and I have to also admit that as wonderful and gentle as Pope John Paul was, he knew pedophelia was rampant in the church too and he did NOTHING. He declared that priests had to be "perfect." Was he living in the same world I am?? But he wasn't too naive not to give Bernard Cardinal Law refuge in the Vatican after he left Boston in shame in 2002.

I read the first post which stated that the program wasn't balanced. The church doesn't deserve to have a balance. We're intelligent people and we know there's good and bad in everyone. The church took the low road. They made their bed, now they're lying in it.

Maria Varecka
New York, New York

Dear FRONTLINE,

I thought this program would be just another series of interviews with victims,offenders,and attorneys from both sides. It was more effective as a personal diary of one victim and his family. Towards the end of the program the rhetorical question was to "What would Jesus have said about the abuse. I believe that the gospel of Luke tells us just that. "Woe to anyone who gives scandal to one of these, my little ones. It would be better if a rock was tied around his neck and he was drowned in the Red Sea.

St, MN

Dear FRONTLINE,

When I watched Hand of God the first time I couldn't believe what I had just heard. I always knew that there were bad priests that molested children but to see how far up the ladder it went and all the cover-ups that there were was mind boggling. I cried during the episode, thinking about all those poor innocent children. I myself am a catholic woman. I attend my catholic church every Sunday and have my 6 year old son in CCD classes. I can't help but to have that suspicious of the priest that come and go in our church. I always wandered, were these priest transferred here because of something they did wrong elsewhere. Now after viewing this show my mind is really going crazy wondering where my heart is in church. I believe in God I love him but I wonder how he could let something like this go on. I wonder did he send Paul and others to unveil this mess that has become. I'm lost in my thoughts. I will continue to go to church and I can only pray to God to guide my heart and thoughts with the right judgments. However sad to say that I will not allow my son to be an altar server I simply can not trust the priest. I will continue to teach him the word of the Lord but that's as far as I can go. I don't want to make a mistake that will haunt my son's life.

As for Paul and Joe, I totally understand where they are coming from when they say that they are not going to church, because they can still pray at home. I'm glad to see that your family is better now. Thank You for taking the brave steps in doing what you did. I hope all the people named in this documentary see this and realize what they did was wrong. I'm glad Burmingham is where he is now; the thought of how many other victims there would have been is crazy to say the least.

Joe I loved your documentary and think you did a wonderful job in it all the symbolisms were great. I don't think the film was unfair, they were simply stating the raw sides for us to be aware. This is also a reminder for us parents to talk to our kids about molestation and rape and the bad things that could happen to them even in church. Kids need to be aware that they must speak out and tell a person until someone listens. I've had this talk with my kid and will continue to do so. Thanks again.

Sincerely, H.M.San Antonio, TX

H M
san antonio, tx

Dear FRONTLINE,

I am both a victim and whistleblower of sexual abuse. I am neither gay nor celibate but a priest for 31 years until I finally got congruent and married. Hand of God reminds me of all the arrogance, hypocrisy, dishonesty, lack of integrity and intimacy I experienced. I am happy that secrecy is revealed and we will accept responsiblity for our own spiritual growth and developement with Love as the Center. Congratulaltions for a story well told!

Tucson, AZ

Dear FRONTLINE,

Thank you to the Cultrera family for providing a glimpse into the sins of the Catholic Church. I pray for the entire family and hope they can make peace with themselves. The Catholic Church is nothing more than beauracracy of incompetents who truly have no check and balances and no moral standards, but yet they hold themselves as our spiritual advisors. Shame on them. I was a twelve year catholic school participant and alter boy, but have never had the tragedy of physical abuse. What was clear to me is that the main business of the church is the protection of the church itself, and the power of the priests. I no longer am a catholic and will not participate in their dysfunctional organization that was and is unable to live by their own teachings. You can make the agrument that not all the church is this way, but when the bishops, cardinals and pope all participated in the protection of pedophile priests and continued to do so for fifty years, that is an organization worth avoiding at all costs.

John D'Angelo
Magnolia, DE

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posted jan. 16, 2007

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