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Peace, healing are needed

The woman victimized by David Morrier, the Franciscan friar who, acting under the guise of counselor, trusted adviser and man of God, violated her trust and his oaths, was admittedly a troubled soul when she arrived on the Franciscan University of Steubenville campus more than 15 years ago.

Seventeen and on her own in a state where she knew absolutely no one, “confused about the world, searching for a home and a place to finally feel safe, and carrying the hidden scars and trauma of abuse” suffered years earlier, she would be easy prey for a predator like Morrier, who Friday admitted to a single count of sexual battery.

He’ll be on probation for five years, which isn’t much in the grand scheme of things. But he will be required to register as a sex offender for the rest of his life which, to Jane Doe, his victim, was the greater good.

“Her primary goal (was) to make sure he cannot hurt another young woman, that there’s a warning label on him … to prevent him from ever doing this again,” Jefferson County Prosecutor Jane Hanlin explained after sentencing was imposed. “I give her an unbelievable amount of credit for that.”

To Common Pleas Judge Joseph Bruzzese, probation was a gift. He told the friar Jane Doe’s “was the most powerful victim impact statement I have ever heard. You’re fortunate she agreed to this.”

For nearly 30 minutes Bruzzese had listened, as did all in the courtroom, to Jane Doe detail the systematic abuse she’d suffered, not just at his hands but at his instigation: Sexual acts in the confessional, in the chapel, in Finnegan Fieldhouse; how he psychologically manipulated her into believing she was possessed by demons and God had tasked him with healing her, forcing her to undergo exorcisms and deliverances rather than get the therapy she desperately needed. How he “guilted and shamed” her into enrolling in grad school at FUS because, “If you don’t, it means that you are throwing away all of the energy and effort that I have put into caring for you.”

Diagnosed with PTSD, alcoholism and addiction, instead of receiving therapy he subjected her to repeated deliverance sessions, each up to four hours long, “until (she) was told through ‘discernment by God’ that (she) was possessed by 36 demons. That is when the Major Rite Exorcisms started in September of 2010.”

“The only role therapy played was to keep me physically alive,” she said.

When exorcisms weren’t enough, more deliverance sessions were ordered, with men restraining her physically in chairs or on the floor while others prayed over her and Morrier forcing her to repeat her darkest secrets aloud, and if she wouldn’t, he did — including graphic sexual details of abused she had endured as a child. “Some of these secrets revealed were only ever told in the sacrament of confession before it was spoken out loud by him to a room full of adults who barely knew him,” Jane Doe said. “When I screamed and begged and cried for them to let go, the response was to hold me down tighter.”

She said he told her there was healing power and grace in the sacraments, “but he brought his own perverted desires into what should have been sacred encounters with God.” Instead of receiving God’s forgiveness in confession, she said she was forced to relive every excruciating detail of the acts he committed against her, confessing them as if she was the one responsible for it all. “Inside of the confessional, a place where an intimate encounter with God takes place, I was violated with his hands, his body and his abuse of his priestly authority in refusing to absolve me. The confessional became another place where my soul entered to die, over and over again.”

In 2013 when she disclosed — to his superiors, other friars, college administrators, staff — and was, she said, treated to a pompous platitudes and victim-shaming:

“God looks unkindly upon people who cause scandal.”

“What about his reputation?”

“Have you even considered what this will do to him?”

“He sacrificed so much for you,”

“Do you understand he’ll never be allowed in public ministry again?”

“Have you sought forgiveness through confession for this?”

“Do you understand the steps I need to take if you stick with what you are telling me?”

“I don’t think you are remembering what happened correctly.”

“This will ruin him.”

“You are more dangerous to this campus; You should have been the one removed.”

“You should be ashamed of yourself.”

“We’d like to recommend a therapist who can help you come to understand the truth of what really happened here.”

Jane Doe paints an ugly picture of the past 10 years, years during which she said her dignity, her worth and character were repeatedly and actively stolen from her by, as she puts it, “a priest, a Catholic community, and two institutions who were more concerned about hiding the truth and protecting themselves than protecting me.”

Morrier left the university in 2013 — around the time Jane Doe said she started disclosing to friars and other campus leaders what had been done to her, though TOR’s Minister Provincial says the friar had requested the transfer for personal reasons. He was treated to tearful goodbye parties and photos. The following year, 2014, the university had said Morrier was banned from campus, though that post has since been deleted. But by then the Third Order Regulars had already dispatched him to Texas, where he was named parochial vicar at an Arlington church. Meanwhile, Jane Doe was left in Steubenville, feeling even more alone in a Catholic community that didn’t want her, didn’t believe her, blamed her and shamed her. She grappled with anxiety, nightmares, flashbacks, panic attacks, depression, dissociation, and suicidal thoughts.

He’s literally had his every need taken care of — a roof over his head, a bed to sleep in, food to eat; She, on the other hand, is struggling to do all those things, thanks to the whopping $350,000 in student debt she was saddled with when she “finished a graduate degree I did not choose.” With interest, her student debt is now in the $750,000 range.

“I work a full-time job with a livable salary, yet I barely scrape by each month, often being forced to choose paying other bills to keep basic utilities on over food to eat because of the student loan payments I am responsible for after 10 years at the University,” she told Bruzzese. “I have been forced to remain in a community that all but turned it’s back on me because I financially cannot afford to leave.”

The Third Order Regulars in Loretto, Pa., finally broke their silence Monday, posting a statement on their website describing sexual battery as “not only a crime, but a grave offense in the eyes of God and the Catholic Church. The Province is sorry for the heartfelt pain and suffering endured by the victim, and all others involved in this case, and continues to atone and pray for their comfort, peace and healing.”

The university, too, issued a public statement, saying the school’s community is “sorry, saddened, and angered by the harm Father Morrier has caused. The University prays for peace and healing for the victim in this heartbreaking situation.”

Peace and healing are needed, to be sure. Anyone who was present when Jane Doe told her story in court realizes the lifelong damage inflicted by Morrier and those who abetted him in his perversion of faith.

So, too, is some serious self-searching.

It seems to us that the TOR and a college community that failed this woman so miserably during the past 10 years — trivializing what he and those on the university staff, students and in the greater Catholic community who helped him perpetrate his abuse had done — should at the very least erase some, if not all, of that student loan debt to heal her financially now.

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