A Survivor's Testimony at the Bishop's Baltimore Conference: Luis A. Torres, Jr.

On November 11, 2018, Luis A. Torres, Jr., a survivor of clergy abuse as a child, provided testimony during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ day of prayer at their General Assembly held in Baltimore, Maryland. His testimony is provided here for our readers, along with a link to the prayer service the USCCB posted on YouTube.

My name is Luis Armando Torres, Jr. And I do this for my daughters, my wife, my family, my friends and our community.

I am a Survivor of Clergy sex abuse. My parents came from Puerto Rico to Brooklyn in order to create a better life. They worked hard and they sacrificed in order to send me to Catholic school. My dad drove the Third Avenue bus and my mom worked at St. Francis Xavier.

Through it all, they instilled in me a deep desire to better myself through hard work and education. But, most of all, through their words and their actions, they taught me to love, and to trust in, God and to always be a good person.

I became an Altar Boy soon after receiving my First Communion, something I had dreamed of becoming for as long as I could remember. By the time that I was 9, I would sometimes serve as Lector at the 8 o’clock mass. (I think that the ladies thought that I was cute).

Josephite nuns, Franciscan Brothers, Parish Priests and my teachers became my extended family and my second parents. I learned how to trust. I learned how to always see the Good in people. I believed that I truly experienced God’s love in my life, particularly through all of these people and I believed that God loved me and that he knew me.

Park Slope was a family neighborhood filled with good people. Unfortunately, I would hear the word “spic” directed at me at times. I resolved that I would prove them wrong. I was a Boy Scout, I was an honors student. I received a full academic scholarship to Xaverian high school where I eventually became president of the student council.

Student Council was fun. My friend and moderator, Raul, thought that it was hysterical when I changed the class trip to Puerto Rico and then I rewrote the student constitution so as to make the editor of the school newspaper a position in my cabinet.

At the age of 14, I began working with the developmentally disabled and learned about the joy of service.

All in all, I was fortunate. I was always surrounded by the most wonderful, giving, holy people … deserving of my trust. .. except for My abuser.

From a young age, I was an avid reader. Reading provided an important haven when the actions of my friend, a priest, God’s educator in my life grew to be inconsistent with everything that I had learned about God. Superman and the works of authors such as Tolkien and C.S. Lewis were simpler and provided me with a refuge of clarity, hope and inspiration that were incomprehensibly lacking in the real world. Frodo never faltered, Superman never betrayed. Sam was loyal.

As the first person in my family to go to college, I was proud when I was recruited by and received a scholarship to Princeton. I taught high school at Xaverian for a short while, before attending NYU Law School. I passed the New York State Bar, worked in corporate law, the Mayor’s office during 9/11, and finally as a legislative executive in the insurance industry.

I pursued accomplishments that, in retrospect, served for a time as armor for me against an evil that pursued. Then, about 5 years ago, that evil, the bullet with which I had been shot finally struck me down. Let me take a moment to try to explain … although I admit, I don’t quite understand it myself. So I get why you may not fully understand it, either.

But Abuse of a child is the closest that you can get to murder and still (possibly) have a breathing body before you. When a child has been abused, particularly by someone whom they trust you have destroyed the Child. You have mortally wounded the Spirit and the Soul of that Child.

This is particularly true when the abuser is a Priest. You have taken the most Holy elements of that Child … his connection to God … his Innocence and his Trust. .. his Faith and his Love and used it as a conduit for Evil. You have betrayed it and have destroyed it. This is truly the Devil’s best work.

It’s as if the Child has been shot. Sometimes the bullet catches the Child right away and they fall immediately via drugs, crime, suicide or something else. For Others, the bullet may not reach its destination for many years, but they know its pursuit. They may try to escape it, they may run, they may distract, they build armor … but people get tired and evil. .. is tireless.

In the end, the bullet will reach its mark all the same.

For awhile, the memories of my childhood were dim and inaccessible. I ran from St. Francis Xavier, but I never understood why. I became increasingly self-destructive and angry. Thinking and reading became difficult. Relationships more so. Much later, I would recognize the growing symptoms of PTSD and Depression.

Nevertheless, I was able to move forward with my life. I was one of the lucky ones. I wasn’t on drugs. I wasn’t in jail. I hadn’t killed myself.
The burden of the pursuit increased over time, but I was successful and I was alive. I understood the evil that pursued me throughout my life, but it hadn’t caught me so I was OK, right?

Nevertheless, I feared its strength. Before my wife and I married, I shared the story of my abuse with her … just so that she would know what she was getting in to. In case she wanted to change her mind. Just in case I wasn’t OK.

I accepted the invitation to sit on the Brooklyn Review Board because I felt that I could help (I was one of the lucky ones) and because it was empowering. Maybe, I was a bit arrogant. .. perhaps, a bit reckless.

Actually, I believe that serving on the Review Board saved me. It allowed me to push back against the evil. I was able to see the face of Christ in the efforts of others on the Board when the unspeakable darkness did not permit me to feel God’s presence in myself. Nevertheless, every year the burden grew heavier, I grew slower, and my armor grew weaker.

Over the years, I felt the corruption of cynicism increasingly take hold and further weaken me.

I witnessed a Church that didn’t understand or didn’t seem to care.

Or worse, a Church that was actively hostile to the children who had trusted and had suffered under its care.

A Church that professed Faith but acted shrewdly.

A Church that seemed to listen less to Christ’s teachings and more to the advice of lawyers.

A Church that seemed less interested in those it had harmed than it was in the protection of assets.

I was once again confronted with the heartbreak of the profound betrayal of everything that I believed, and the possibility that my trust in the Church and God was only a cruel trick. This was too much. So, about five years ago, I succumbed. Whatever armor remained was no longer sufficient. A growing inability to think, to reason, to even read overwhelmed me. I was filled with anger, darkness and despair. Self-harm became a real possibility. My PTSD and Depression had overcome me completely.

One evening, after attempting to read the same paragraph for about 8 hours, I realized that I could not return to work. The career that I had worked so hard at building for so long was over. I disappeared completely from my professional and (to the extent that I was able) from my personal life. Friends and colleagues kept trying to reach out, but I did my best to ignore them and drive them away until they finally gave up. My wife and children were forced to cope with a father who had suddenly ceased to exist.

It was easier to do this than to open up to them and explain the irrational shame that I felt. I didn’t have much armor left, but I could at least preserve my pride and dignity. I jokingly refer to this as “my Soprano’s moment.” It’s as if I had stepped “on the plastic sheet” and vanished violently without a trace.

Since then, I’ve worked towards healing and I have found a voice. It’s been a difficult journey. I’ve tried to push back against isolation and shame and have found community and relationship. I’ve learned how to battle the overwhelming darkness and cynicism that all survivors face anew each day.

The Diocese of Brooklyn, particularly through its Victim Assistance Coordinator, has demonstrated to me its willingness to share in my journey and its commitment to restoring faith where once I only knew betrayal.

Please understand, the heart of the Church is broken and you need to fix it. Now.

The betrayal by my abuser is compounded by an ongoing betrayal realized by the Church every time it treats its victims as liabilities.

Every time that they are called “money grubbers” and treated as dishonest adversaries.

Every time the Church chooses to place the advice of attorneys ahead of the needs of its people.

The pain of this ongoing betrayal is not restricted to victims but is also experienced by the families of victims, by the larger Church community, and by priests. The dissonance that we all experience is impossible to resolve when the very people who encourage us to follow in the footsteps of Christ, fail to follow His example.

What would Jesus’ response have been in the same situation? Would He have called His lawyers and denounced the victims, or would He have turned over the tables in a fit of rage and declared that this was intolerable in His Father’s house?

When my friend, my Priest, became my abuser, I didn’t feel anger. What I felt was confusion, disappointment. .. and grief.

Disappointment that the person whom I trusted so much …. the person who was in my perception God’s representative, the person who my family told me was like a third parent, had betrayed me so completely.

Grief … because everything that I believed in, the totality of my Faith might possibly be baseless and I was lost.

We are not liabilities, we are not your adversaries, we’re not scary … we are your children, we are your brothers and your sisters, we are your mothers and your fathers. Your words and actions have caused us further harm and pushed us away.

Through silence, distrust and defensiveness, we bear the shame of a crime to which our only contributions were trust, faith and innocence.

I’m not angry, but I am so sad and disappointed, and I think that this is what many people feel. Victims, lay people, priests …. everyone. I think that we all expected better. We still expect better.

So, I stand here before you today and willingly remove the last vestiges of an armor that has protected me for so long so that we may speak. In return, I ask that you inspire me and our community to Faith and Hope through your Courage and your Action. You were not called to be CEOs. You were not called to be administrators. You were not called to be princes.

Be the Priests that you were called to be.

Please act now.

Be better.

Be good.

I’ve been told that I’m naive to expect such things. My only response is to say that Faith is an inherently naive thing … we are supposed to approach God as a child … where else but with our Church and with our God should we have the Courage to be so naive?

Thank you.

Luis A. Torres, Jr. is an attorney with thirty years of expertise in negotiation, communication, and facilitating dispute resolutions among diverse interest groups. Luis has been participating the Diocese of Brooklyn survivor program and, for 17 years, has served on its Review Board. He has spoken to the National Review Board and other groups. Luis is co-founder and co-director of Spirit Fire, where he serves as a survivor advocate and board member. He is currently working on a book about the integrated pastoral care model behind Spirit Fire. Luis is a husband and father of three daughters. 

This speech has been reprinted here by permission of Luis A. Torres, Jr. For permission to print or republish, please address requests directly to him at Luis@SpiritFire.Live.

YouTube video: Luis’s testimony begins at 43:17 on the USCCB video clip for the prayer service: https://youtu.be/Wkxrop3WnPg

As covered in the National Catholic Register Online in “Survivors Who Addressed US Bishops Disappointed By Delay in Sex Abuse Proposals,” by Heidi Schlumpf, November 12, 2018.

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