I am posting this in honor of Spotlight, which just won the 2016 Academy Award for Best Picture. Spotlight tells the story of the Boston Globe’s investigative reporting which broke open the clergy sex abuse scandal in the Boston area and earned the paper a 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service. I highly recommend the film. It is almost uninterrupted intrigue and becomes increasingly unsettling as it moves from start to finish. It tells a compelling story, but within the story, the moral of the movie speaks with a still small voice that becomes a whisper you can’t not attend to. It takes us to places we’d rather not go, but must–and does so with searing grace.
About this post:
In February 2014 I met Mike Johnson. He asked me to help him tell his tale of adult clergy abuse. Years earlier he lost his marriage to a predatory Catholic priest. The aftermath was devastating because the church’s silence not only protected the priest but also led to extreme alienation between Mike and his children, who were caught up in a maelstrom of events beyond their comprehending.
Mike wanted me to help him record his story as a sort of testament to his children, a chance to tell them what he had endured, in hopes that it might reach them in written form across the chasm of hurt that had widened between them over the years. But several months after we began collaborating, Mike unexpectedly fell ill and died. The project was set aside for nearly year after his death, but then Mike’s widow, Kris (his second wife), asked me to complete the story to fulfill a promise she made to Mike. In January 2016 I finished it. Kris has sent it off to his children and has given me permission to post it here.
Having been molested as a teen by a Sunday School teacher myself–and later finding myself trapped in a marriage of escalating violence–I know firsthand that silence suffocates hope, heightens the sense of helplessness, and aims to erase truth.
On Mike’s behalf, then, I am breaking these decades of silence for the sake of hope and empowerment and truth.
I’ve put the prologue below. The whole story runs 27 pages and is on a pdf here.
That Eyes May Finally See
A testament about adult clergy abuse
Michael Gerard Johnson with David Weiss
Dedicated to St. Odilia, Patroness of the Eyes
Prologue: The Weight of Clouds (6/10/15)
I met Mike Johnson in late February 2014. At the time he still had an impish humor to him despite the years of heartache he had endured and the health issues that were exacting their own toll. As we strolled the grounds of the Crosier Preparatory School and later chatted amiably over lunch in his home, we were both keenly aware of the tempest in his past. It was to be the subject of a shared project in the months ahead. But we were both in our own ways oblivious to the tempest rising in his body that would claim his life in less than four months.
Now I am, as it were, a witness. Once asked, and now beholden to speak. Mike shared his story with me, filled in with letters, documents, and memories, not so I could hear it, but so I could tell it. As a writer, I occasionally step, uninvited, into lives other than my own. At times in poetry, fiction, or essay, I have dared to speak for others. But this particular stepping is invited, even commissioned. In this case, Mike dared me to do this. And so this time it comes with a heightened responsibility to hold another person’s life at my fingertips, knowing he is counting on me to tell the truth of it.
Of course, when we started, neither of us counted on him dying—at least not so soon or so precipitously. But such is death: it reschedules everything. So this tale has been on hiatus for months. Allowing for grief to have its say. For lives to readjust their arc to this yawning absence.
But now, as the anniversary of Mike’s death (June 24, 2014) approaches, and with pages of notes scattered before me, and so many half-composed sentences inside me, it’s time to complete the tale I began last spring. Only these days I write, not with Mike’s editorial hand next to mine, but with that hand woven into the weight of clouds.