The following interview with Carol Kuhnert author of "No Longer on Pedestals," was conducted on March 14th 2015 by Laure McCourt Lopez. Magic City Morning Star wishes to thank both Mrs. Lopez and Mrs. Kuhnert for this contribution. Mrs. Lopez's review of this book appeared at Magic City on March 22nd 2015.
Thank you for taking the time to speak with me today about your book "No Longer on Pedestals." I found your book to be thoroughly engaging and informative and I truly appreciate your honesty and integrity in discussing such a painful subject that surely affected you, your family and a multitude of others.
What qualifies you to write this book?
"I have been a devoted Catholic all my life and my book voices my experiences since learning of my brother's horrendous crimes against children. I have lived these moments and for the past twenty-seven years I have been shocked and horrified with the behavior not only of my brother, Rev. Norman Henry Christian, of the Archdiocese of St. Louis but of the people he reported to, the ones that should know better. Personally, I expect a hierarchy to feel a sense of duty to protect all followers from harm while demonstrating Christ's compassion for the victims and helping them heal. What a better world this would be if everyone would reach out with kindness to all victims of abuse."
How did you come to write about this personal journey; what was your motivation?
"After decades of hanging on to faith that the church would do the right thing, I was completely shocked into reality when Norman's death was celebrated with Archbishop Raymond Burke presiding at his funeral as if Fr. Christian was a revered priest instead of the demoted priest/child rapist that he truly was." It was at that point that I felt the need to share my experiences with the other faithful believers. Maybe if they heard my story, they would demand a change for the good in the Catholic Church."
What one thing do you want readers to take away from their reading of "No Longer on Pedestals?"
"At the end, the victims are the innocent ones and they deserve everyone's compassion and understanding. All incidents need to be addressed and the perpetrators and the church must have their day in court. Our silence tells the church officials we approve of what they are doing. That same silence tells the abuse victims that we don't care about them."
What scenes and /or characters would you like to highlight?
"The first one would be the evening my frightened daughter told me that my brother was a child molester. The tension in our home had become unbearable. She was barely speaking to me. I walked on egg shells, weighing my words to her very carefully. Finally, one evening she asked me to come to her room, that she had something to tell me. She had difficulty beginning to speak. Then her tears flowed as quickly as her words blurted out. We shared a box of tissues as she revealed the terrible things my brother, a priest, had been doing to her as well as innocent little boys.
Another thing would be, my sister Jeanne and I, asking to speak with Norman after revealing to him that my daughter shared his secret. Norman eagerly agreed to meet with us and within days the three of us sat talking for hours in my sister's living room. The first words out of his mouth were directed to me, shouting, how angry he was at my daughter for telling me about him, adding that he was going to find it very hard to forgive her for her betrayal. Norman's hours of disclosure continued to stun my sister and me. Upon leaving, he strongly warned us not to repeat anything he told us as that could cause great harm to the church. Not that his behavior would harm the church; it would be our fault for bringing it to the public's attention.
And the third one would be my niece delivering Tim's, who's the victim, message to her uncle, Fr. Norman Christian. My niece's name is Patricia but prefers to be called by a nickname, Pete. Her description of what transpired in her uncle's room at the nursing home was disturbing. Well aware that his death was near, Fr. Christian still refused to say he was sorry for abusing Tim or any of the others who had suffered his abuse. His responses stunned her.
The fourth would be the evening Sue, Pete and I met Tim, and listened to his heart-breaking account of how Fr. Christian sexually abused him. It was a very emotional evening when we met Tim and his wife. What does one say when meeting a person, your brother, a priest, had sexually abused. We held ourselves together as best we could as each of us spoke of what we experienced with Norman. Tim spoke last hesitantly telling how Fr. Christian came into his life and all that followed. We physically trembled as he divulged the details of this priest's appalling assault on a young child. We were so very sorry for the lifetime of pain brought on this, now man, by my brother.
A columnist with the St. Louis Post Dispatch, Bill McClellan, was with us that evening and he wrote a column on us which ran in the October 27, 2004 issue of the paper. He helped bring to an end the church's cover-ups for Fr. Norman Christian.
And the last one I would say would be the day I joined Tim and his family for his mediation hearing with the archdiocese representatives and the mediator. I met more of Tim's family the morning we gathered while we were waiting for the process to begin. I could sense their grief and anxiety. Tim, his wife, parents and brother were all anxious for their turn to tell how Fr. Christian had destroyed Tim's life and that of their family. I was extremely nervous but looking forward to speaking to the mediator in support of Tim as well as to be heard by the archdiocesan representatives. The mediator called on me to speak first. I told of all I had observed regarding my brother and the manner in which the church officials protected him and the church's image over his victims. Speaking of my disgust with how the church continues to keep molesters in ministry, I felt for the first time they were actually listening to me and this time in the presence of a mediator as well."
What themes in your book do you believe are relevant to current news topics, society, the world or life in general?
"Priests' rapes and molestations of minors continue to be reported even in today's news. But instead of removing the offenders, the church still continues to protect and relocate them. In protecting their own, the church fights and intimidates victims into silence. The church lawyers find any bad choice or embarrassing thing about the victims to publically shame them and make them less credible. In fact, broken and vulnerable people tend to be chosen as victims by perpetrators for this very reason. The church continues to be secretive about the sabbaticals and treatment centers for known clergy sexual abusers. In their mind, keeping the punishment and/or treatment in house seems to still be an acceptable way instead of reporting the criminals to the authorities. The church is now encouraging dioceses to declare bankruptcy so as not to have to pay the victims of the chronic abuse. The latest one is the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis."
Tell me how this book is unlike others with similar topics. What sets it apart from other publications?
"The author of the book is immediate family. I'm the priest's own sister. I strongly encourage people to reach out to clergy abuse victims. Let them know that you care about them and that the abuse is not their fault. Other books on this topic are usually written by the victim or the victim's family. That would be the difference."
What are your five key messages?
"First my faith still trusts that the church was properly handling these issues. My vigilance of my brother and the church officials, the heartless routine deception by the church in moving predator clergy from parish to parish without notifying naive parents and grandparents of the danger in their midst: the newly assigned, charismatic molesting priest. These adults are ecstatic that a priest takes such an interest in children allowing self-admitted pedophiles to serve in parishes because they had never been brought to court. The pro-life advocates should be outraged that vulnerable children's lives are being destroyed by the very people who should be an example of Christ to all. Instead these victims are ignored, are called liars due to their broken lives. Everyone seems to want them to just go away."
In 2015, has the Catholic Church, in your opinion, made any strides towards addressing the issue of clergy sexual abuse and presenting a zero tolerance policy in order to protect congregants of all ages?
"Basically the things they have done are for appearance sake and place the responsibility on the parents and the children such as the Safe Touch program for children and the Protecting God's Children program which teaches adults how child molesters work and how to keep children safe, how to spot molesters. Unfortunately, I have not seen the zero tolerance policy being followed. They expect the faithful to believe it because they say they are doing things and many do as I did for so many years."
Is there an approximate percentage of sexual abuse that is actually reported today?
"There are studies on the sexual abuse that's out there. The problem with these numbers is that it carries a certain stigma of responsibility for the victim when they report the sexual abuse. A child, or even an adult, who is victimized, would be re-victimized by the congregation or the public should they tell. Many rapes and molestations go unreported so the data is not completely accurate no matter who is collecting the numbers."
What originally prompted you to save correspondence, emails and other documentation in regards to your brother and the church?
"I have always been one to save a letter for a while to go back to if needed. With Norman, and later his superiors, I kept them to go back to should I need to remember what he said or what I said in reply. Although my faithful upbringing said 'trust,' I guess subconsciously, when their behavior said 'don't trust me,' I felt the need to keep everything just in case and it did come to serve me well."
Do you continue today to advocate for victims of abuse within the church? Has the cultural climate become more accepting of hearing your message of hope and support that all victims deserve?
"I do continue to advocate for victims. Every chance I get I speak the truth to clergy and to members of the Catholic congregation. I have to say that some changes have occurred in the past decade. Seeing that other victims' reports are being believed, more victims have been finding the courage to report their own clergy abuse. Now while people may not be completely embracing the victims yet, many have been at least willing to read my book and see the truth. There's a long way to go yet."
Are there any additional comments you'd like to make about your book?
"I poured out my heart and soul as I recounted the past twenty-seven years. I speak of things I did right as well as things for which I am not proud. It's my hope that the reader can gain an understanding of how naive I was, especially at the beginning and dealing with my brother and the church officials. While all I had was information from my daughter, my brother and hierarchy, the heartache and responsibility to help the victims was overwhelming to both me and my family. The Catholic Church has had confidential, thorough, heart-breaking files of first hand reports from actual victims and detailed confessions from their pedophile priests. Yet all they do is deny and ignore. No compassion, no accountability, no love. Why can they not be the example of what they have taught their followers throughout their life? Why can't they encourage all members of the faith to be compassionate towards all victims? The church policies need to be changed. They must stop protecting the church's reputation before they protect children. And people need to speak up; we all need to live Christ's values. Live the religion we were brought up in, especially the clergy, our moral leaders."
Laure, thank you for giving me the opportunity to speak with you today."
I do appreciate your time, Carol, and as I have said, your integrity came through very clearly in your book; obviously this was a very painful time for your family and I pray that you're all continuing to heal together. Over time, God's given you a voice to speak out for these victims. I think we would all be shocked if we knew how extensive the abuse has been and I do thank you so much for this interview.
Thank you to Carol Kuhnert for being a much-needed voice within the Christian community. May others listen and lead with compassion as true followers of Jesus Christ.
Laure McCourt Lopez
March 14, 2015
Carol Kuhnert is a lifelong member of the Roman Catholic Church. Upon discovering the truth that her brother is a pedophile, she has made it her mission to confront the issue and push for change and reconciliation. She has been married for over 52 years and currently resides in Missouri.
"No Longer on Pedestals"
By Carol A. Kuhnert