Pope Francis in the US prompts interest in Priest Sexual Abuse

Pope Francis’ visit to the US had me scrambling. Along with others who’ve spoken out about the need for change in the Catholic Church.

I had three calls for interviews just before and then during the Pope’s visit. Here are audio clips from two of those.

Seattle’s KUOW had me on to talk specifically about my feelings around the Pope’s visit.


Out-FM WBAI 99.5FM in New York City interviewed me and Tim Lennon, another SNAP activist about our experiences and the failure of the church to come to grips with the atrocity of child sexual abuse by priests.

Welcome Pope Francis! And a way to help hold him to his word

pope francis kissing childA Papal Visit that Promises to Make History

What a rare event. A visit from a Pope who has spoken forcefully in favor of many fixes to the church and the world that I’d very much like to see become reality.

Pope Francis will have a lot of people expecting great things from him this week. There are so many issues for him to address while he’s here – poverty, care of the earth, climate change, sexual abuse, to name a few.

One Issue Stands Out as Paramount

Of course, I want Pope Francis to announce firm action on priest sex abuse. To me this one scandal represents the root of all the rest of the problems we face. The endemic and systemic condition that allows self-gratification – via predation by one human on another – to continue unrestrained. In an organization that claims its purpose is to help and support, such a situation is unconscionable.

Something Special for Pope Francis

To mark this historic Papal visit, and to expand my work of exposing the situation within the church, I’m offering the ebook version of Split: A child a priest and the Catholic Church for just $1.00.

I urge you to grab a copy now, read it, and join with me in welcoming Pope Francis, and pressing him to take action on the epidemic of priest sex abuse.

NBC News Photo

While We’re Young, Pope Francis: Waiting for Real Action on Priest Abuse

wrist watch shows time ticking away as Pope Fancis delays real action on priest abuseTribunal Promised Real Action on Priest Abuse

Pope Francis apparently listened to the people he appointed to determine how the Vatican should proceed in cases of clergy abuse. In June of 2015 the Pope established a tribunal to hold bishops accountable for their handling of abusive priests.

I certainly would like to celebrate the forming of his tribunal, but I’ve held off. Too many times my hopes have been raised, only to be dashed by inaction. As I’ve said before, though I am always hopeful, I’m quite skeptical of the power of institutions to police themselves. Now three months have passed since the formation of the tribunal and not another peep about it has come out of the Vatican. What’s happening in there? Are the wheels of justice turning? Or is this just more of the same, couched in more dramatic rhetoric?

Changing a System as Big as The Catholic Church

To give credit to Pope Francis, I do remember that the pontiff and the Vatican are two separate things. One man, no matter how infallible and powerful, does not make the decision for the whole church. The Vatican is made up of Bishops – peers of those Francis seeks to try. Those men too must decide to listen to the advice of the experts. Then they too must choose to go beyond soothing words and take hard action.

Unfortunately tribunals can sometimes get in the way of real action, stalling, arguing, pontificating. Unless the new tribunal changes this practice of the fox guarding the hen house, the Church will never address the systemic illness of abuse. What I, most Catholics, and concerned parents, want is simple and shouldn’t be all that difficult. We want to see the crime of rape – whether of children in the church or women in the military – treated as a crime. Perpetrators must be turned over immediately to the judicial system. Leaders in both institutions have failed miserably at this. Their first priority remains the protection of the institution from scandal. When will they admit that ship has sailed? Everyone already know that bishops have been accomplices to these crimes against children. Now we want them to be subject to the judicial process as any other accomplice would be.

Church History Stands in the Way of Action

Never in the History of the Church has a Bishop been expelled, defrocked, imprisoned or otherwise held responsible for his complicity in sexual crimes. Here we are two-thirds of the way through the year 2015 and history is repeating itself.

When Francis and the Vatican join to remove the first Bishop who shuffled predator priests from parish to parish, allowing them to rape again and again, I will celebrate the forming of his tribunal with all my strength.

Until then all I can do is hope that maybe this time it will be different. Maybe this time Francis will show the world and guilty Bishops that he is in DEED, the head of his flock. He has the power to change things, if only he will ACT.

The church has started groups like this before, but nothing really significant has happened. Until an action is taken, until the first bishop is removed for protecting, sheltering or harboring these predator priests, until the Vatican takes real action on priest abuse, the pronouncements remain merely words.

Waiting for the pope’s move.


Exposing the Priest Abuse Scandal: Huffington Post Live interview – UPDATE

huff-post-live-logo-priest-abuse-scandalUPDATE: Huff Post Live interview postponed

Thanks to all of you who tuned in to HuffPost Live yesterday. I hope you enjoyed the interview with Mary Pflum Peterson. She has a very interesting story and I’m very glad to see it aired by Huff Post.

Unfortunately I – along with other guests – was cut from the segment due to time constraints. I’m in conversation with the host and producers and we’ll find a later time to talk about my story and the work of holding the Church accountable for abuse by priests. I’ll keep you posted on developments.


The Priest Abuse Scandal is getting big-time attention today on the Huffington Post

HuffPostLive, The Huffington Post’s streaming network, will step into the priest abuse scandal with a live interview segment at 5:20 pm Eastern time today, Monday, Sept. 14th.

I’m being interviewed, along with Mary Pflum Peterson, a producer at Good Morning America. Ms. Pflum Peterson is author of White Dresses, a memoir about her mother, also an ex-nun, who suffered abuse by other nuns and later married a gay man. Talk about an issue packed segment! And it couldn’t come at a better time. I’m happy so much attention is being focused on the abuse scandal as Pope Francis plans his trip to the US.

Airing issues as the Pope is set to visit the US

This will be a conversation about sexuality and the church, as well as life as an ex-nun. The host is Nancy Redd, New York Times Bestselling Author of Body Drama: Real Girls, Real Bodies, Real Issues, Real Answers and Diet Drama: Feed Your Body! Move Your Body! Love Your Body!

Clearly this will be a high-powered segment. These two women do not shy away from talking about difficult issues. I’m thrilled to be included in this important conversation.

Keeping the topic of the priest abuse scandal front and center during the Pope’s upcoming visit is of paramount importance to me. As an abuse survivor, and as an activist for protecting other children and women from being abused, I’m happy Francis has given the issue so much thought. But it’s important to keep it uppermost in his mind.

Please watch this important segment

I hope all of you can take time to watch today. Please pass this message on to friends and family so that they too can learn about this vital topic. There are social sharing buttons below the post so that you can easily email it, or post to your followers on Twitter, Facebook, or other favorite social media sites.

And, as always, I invite you to leave a comment below to let me know what you think about the show, about my book and anything else you’d like to share about the Priest abuse scandal. I’m also here to answer any questions you may have about healing from and stopping abuse.

Wonder about Each and Every Priest

woman skeptical of priest

I wonder how many Catholics approach a church in a new town, perhaps the arrival of a new parish priest or bishop, the way I do. There one sits in the pew, getting a good look at the inevitably genial-appearing man performing the sacraments and delivering a suitably serious yet broadly accessible sermon message, and the thought is inevitable—“So, is this one a child abuser too?”

So begins a review of my memoir SPLIT that left me breathless.

My answer to that question is: All who stop to think.

There are a great many Catholics who don’t face the priesthood with that bedeviling query in their minds. Because they choose faith over facts.

Faith is – usually – a good thing. But when faith blinds a person to what is really going on before them, it ceases to be good and becomes a hindrance.

For decades now, the habit of seeing only the garments and the trappings, hearing only the pious words, has led many to refuse to look at the plain facts. And the fact is, when such a high percentage of clergy falls into sin of one kind, each believer has the responsibility to wonder. If they don’t, then they share the guilt when yet another child is abused.

What do you think when you meet a priest?

I’d love to hear from readers about their take on this reviewer’s question. So please leave a comment on this post telling me what goes through your mind when you meet a new priest. Is the first thought in your mind about where they fall in the spectrum of abuse?

Read the full review at San Francisco Book Review.

Photo Credit: spbpda via Compfight cc

Five Things I Never Thought I’d See

A confession: I never thought I would see this day

Though I’ve worked hard for the acceptance of same-sex couples, I never really believed I would see the day when I could marry the person I loved.

I never thought I would see the day that my transgender friends would be granted their rightful place in society.

I never thought I would see the day churches would embrace marriage between two persons who want to love and cherish each other forever, regardless of gender.

I never thought I would see the day when Seattle would have an out and proud mayor who is gay.

The fight to prove all lives matter

Through the years, different groups of people have taken a pounding and a beating – Blacks, Jews, Italians, Irish, Chinese, Japanese, Women, Muslims, Gays, the list seems endless – while they fought for freedom and equality. They all deserve both. Period.

During the festivities of PRIDE week, I was reminded that despite all our accomplishments, the struggle for freedom and equality continues. Valuable lives – gay, straight, black, Muslim – are still lost unnecessarily because of prejudice, hatred, ignorance, religiosity, fear and despair. Our LGBT youth, a subset of all other groups, face the worst of it. These beautiful young people commit suicide far too often, unable to live after friends, family and church find them unworthy and throw them away.

Teen suicide rates are high – especially among LGBT youth, who are four times more likely to end their lives than straight youth. Teens who aren’t sure of their sexuality are three times more likely to attempt suicide than their straight peers.

According to SPEAK (Suicide Prevention Education Awareness for Kids) suicide is the leading cause of death among gay teens nationally, with 30% of gay youth attempting suicide near the age of fifteen.

Some of those who survive end up out on the streets. The street is no place for any kid. It is often on the streets that physical, mental and emotional problems begin. There are a host of predators – even some that appear quite benign – waiting for vulnerable youth on the streets. The more fortunate find resources such as the Seattle Human Services Department, YouthCare, Lambert House, the Orion Center and Catholic Community Services to turn to and come back into society.

I believe without a doubt that when one group of persons is raised up, we all are

When our schools are safer and bullying is not tolerated for gay students, all students are safer. When gay parents are granted the right to marry, all families and children are validated. As churches welcome LGBT families and individuals, the community is enriched and when work places are gay friendly they attract the brightest and the best and everyone profits. And when gay teens are safe and cared for, all teen lives become more valuable.

During PRIDE week I was reminded that I am a part of a city that cares. Seattle cares. Seattle wants to make things better. As I see it, PRIDE week is not only about LGBT pride, but pride in all of humanity. The march along Broadway was accompanied by a chant of “NOT ONE MORE.” We cannot afford to lose one more life to hate, homophobia or racism.

Wearing a shirt with the words, “PRETTY QUEER, HUH,” across the front, I cheered and shouted for joy along with thousands of my LGBT peers. We cheered our officials, the fire and police departments, men and women in uniform who help members of the LGBT community every day. We shouted for joy that brave out and proud men, women and families can live openly here. We marched to celebrate that we live in a city that knows there’s a place for everyone.

mary dispenza surrounded by young LGBT activists at Seattle Pride

At the parade, my friend Al Garman snapped a photo of me surrounded by enthusiastic LGBT kids and their supporters. I like this picture because it shows the generations – the up and coming young surrounding an elder representative of those who have fought the good fight in the struggle for equality through the years.

There’s still much to fight for

Despite the fact that I’ve seen many amazing things come to pass, the struggle isn’t over. There are still many ways to enhance and ensure freedom and equality for all. I’ll continue to work on these issues. Now though, I see a new generation taking the lead. And I look forward to passing the torch to them.

Though I never thought I’d see the day when the U.S. Supreme Court would give same-sex couples the right to wed in all 50 states, I’m overjoyed that I did!

I can’t even imagine yet the great things the next generation will bring us.

PS – A version of this article appeared previously in the Seattle Gay News.

Gave away a copy of SPLIT at Island Books

mary dispenza signing at Island Books, Mercer IslandSunday June, 28th I was at Island Books, in the beautiful village of Mercer Island, Washington, to read some selections from my memoir, SPLIT: A child, a priest and the Catholic Church.

At my readings, I always spend some time talking about the issues survivors face. The last few months gave us lots to talk about.

This time I also offered something new: the chance to win a copy of the book. And as they say, if you don’t enter, you can’t win. We drew the name of one lucky reader who went home with a freshly signed copy. Unfortunately my photographer was having such a good time chatting that she forgot to take pictures!

A big thank you to all who attended. I had a lot of fun reading my story and talking with you about the issues. And thank you Island Books, my favorite indie bookstore, for the warm reception and for creating such a fun event.

Check out Island Books for yourself, you won’t find a friendlier or more helpful bookstore anywhere.

Island Books
3014 78th Ave. SE
Mercer Island WA 98040

Directions to Island Books

There will be more such readings. Check the events page for what’s coming up.










The Power of Story: Our greatest tool for healing, change & connection

Rudyard Kipling quote - If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.Stories About Story

As I prepared to send out copies of my memoir, SPLIT, A Child, A Priest, and the Catholic Church to reviewers, I decided to include a letter with each one. So last week I worked with a designer to create a letterhead.

When she asked if I wanted a tag line on the page, I blurted out: “Stories change the way we see things.” Now this was interesting, because we were discussing this one book, but clearly, what was on my mind was the power of all kinds of stories.

Later that week, I arrived in Tampa, Florida for the semi-annual SNAP leadership training. Taking the shuttle from the airport to the beach, I fell into conversation with the man sitting next to me. His name was Jeff and he was a filmmaker for National Geographic. His subject is sharks and other underwater creatures. Right now he is working on a nature series for children.

I asked him about his background, thinking that he must have grown up around animals. The truth was dramatically different from my expectation, and wow, did his story grab me. He contracted polio at age four and spent six years of his childhood in an iron lung.

Doctors told his family he would never walk again. He would never play with other children, or go to school. But he defied the odds against him. He decided to write a different story of his life. Through determination and grit, he learned to walk, he went to school and he even excelled in tennis. He now has five grown children, teaches at the University of Hawaii and swims with sharks.

I’ve never known much about polio. And what I had heard always left me believing that before the vaccine, everyone who contracted the disease either died or lived as an invalid for the rest of their lives. It was thrilling to hear one patient had such a wonderful outcome. And I appreciated hearing Jeff’s tale of the bravery and persistence it took to heal from this fearsome condition.

Giving Your Story

I am convinced that among the greatest gifts we can give one another is the gift of our story. We think we understand . . . until we hear the other side of things from someone who lived it. Stories often change everything. A story can lift us up, or it can bring us down, but at its best, a story can teach, inspire, expand and persuade us.

How many times have you read a story, or listened to a story and found yourself saying, “I didn’t know that,” or “What a wonderful experience,” or “How could that happen? Wasn’t anyone watching?” or “ That was wrong – just plain wrong. Something must be done about that.”

The Power of Story

Though storytelling has always held an important place in human culture, numerous studies now affirm the power of story as the greatest tool we have in accomplishing our personal, institutional and organizational goals. And when we combine facts and data with a compelling story, we can awaken the minds and hearts of people, often change the way they see things, the opinions they hold, and even move them from one position to another.

And we don’t just tell our stories to change others, we tell our stories because we must.

There is no agony like bearing an untold story inside of you.
Maya Angelou

The Gift of Attention

There’s another great gift we can give each other. That’s the gift of our attention. When someone has a story to tell, they deserve to be listened to fully. That’s one of the most important parts of the work of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, listening to the stories of the abused. Our mission statement says in part:

Protect the vulnerable. Heal the wounded. Expose the truth.

All parts of that statement involve stories: the story that tells of the vulnerable in need of help, the story that reveals the wound, the story that exposes the truth. The members of SNAP keep telling our stories and encouraging others to share their stories because we know how effective stories are in bringing about the healing we all need.

Do you have a story inside you? Would you like a place to tell it? You can tell it here.

Knowing the power of story, and the value of sharing a story, I’m starting a new project. I’m opening MaryDispenza.com to the stories of other survivors. This time the stories will be not mine, but those of other survivors, others who have embarked upon a healing journey. And I hope in the future to create a story collection and extend the healing power of story to as many as possible.

I’ll act as editor, and provide guidance for those who have a story to tell. If you have such a story, please consider sharing it with the world. I would love to read it and consider it for this site, or for the anthology.

Keep an eye on this site for more information as the project develops.

Best of 2014: I’m honored my story is included on this list

mary dispenza coming out story best of 2014

It’s time for all the Best of 2014 lists

And I’m on one of them!

I’m so blessed. My coming out story was chosen as one of the best of 2014. And I was invited to tell it again on December 2nd at A Guide To Visitors, Seattle’s longest running personal storytelling event.

The evening was called AGTV Presents Best Of. What an honor to be selected as one of “the best stories told on our stage to-date!”

It can be hard to tell a story. Especially when it’s a painful one like mine. But getting up there and doing it can lead to so many rewards. I encourage anyone to give it a try. And I thank the folks at AGTV for choosing me. That kind of feeback makes the struggle very much worth it.

Here’s an excerpt from my story. Give it a listen. I hope you enjoy it.