Jim Parker, 55, has lived in Tucson since December 1999. Married with four kids and three grandkids, he is a Michigan native. He's a coach/mentor/consultant and has his own business, The Mentor Connection. But right now, he's on a crusade: to help victims of abuse at the hands of priests. He recently started a Tucson chapter of SNAP (Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests). The group meets the fourth Monday of each month at the Arizona Small Business Association, 4444 E. Grant Road, Suite 119. Their September meeting will mark their third get-together. Parker agreed to sit down with The Weekly over a cup of coffee and tell his story. Be warned: It isn't pleasant.
Tell me about SNAP.
Barbara Blaine founded it (in Chicago in 1992) because there was a real need for support for people who were abused. She herself was abused in the Toledo diocese. It really doubled in size at the beginning of last year when all of this (the Catholic abuse cover-up) came out in Boston. It triggered many, many people to remember their abuse.
And you brought SNAP to Tucson?
Yes. Actually, another woman tried to start it, but she didn't get anywhere. In June, in St. Louis, Mo., they had their national conference. That was my first SNAP meeting of any kind. It was so important É I agreed to be the Southern Arizona leader. Also, it was the first time I publicly told my story, to about 200 people, including the press.
If you're comfortable sharing it, what is your story?
Let me start with how this all started with me. In February, I was at a writers' retreat in Sedona. I knew I had a book in me, and it was time to address it. I didn't view myself as a writer, so the leader put me in a meditative state to start the writing process. I think he had us write 4,000-5,000 words before we talked about it. What came out was the topic of my abuse. I am now writing a book on the topic. Right up until the writing retreat, I felt pretty alone on this issue.
I can only imagine.
In 1961, in the diocese of Lansing, Mich., I was an altar boy. I was 12 at the time, and I'd been an altar boy since I was 8. Father Geral Boyer--he was our priest--held a weekday mass. He asked me to stay after and talk. He proceeded to undress me and to just rape me. He held my face down, and then he entered me from behind.
It was quite a shock to my system. It was more complicated by the fact that my parents asked me to keep it quiet.
Did it ever happen again?
No. I wouldn't allow myself to get put in that situation. Basically, I lost my church and I lost my family. I didn't have any support. From there, I went downhill as a student and became very rebellious, very angry. I don't know how long it took, but I actually suppressed it, and didn't remember it after a while.
What happened to the priest?
He shot and killed himself, I believe in 1973.
Did he have any other victims?
I am still trying to find out. The Lansing diocese doesn't think they have a problem. É In July 2002 É my wife and I were in Michigan. We stayed a night at my mother's. Her health was failing. I woke up to an article in the Lansing State Journal about an individual coming out about being abused. In essence, the article said it was unsubstantiated and that (the diocese) didn't think there was a problem. I got upset and said to my mom, "I think it's time for me to go public." She said, "Let sleeping dogs lie." I essentially went through the same thing as I did when I was 12.
SNAP's had two meetings in Tucson so far. How have they gone?
Very well. Five people came to the first, and five also came to the second, along with four members of Voice of the Faithful. That's a group of concerned Catholics that doesn't like how the Catholic Church is handling the issue. É Some of them hadn't heard a survivor's story before.
What do you hope to accomplish?
On the individual level, whether you're male or female, young or old, if you were abused by clergy, I want people to know they have a place to go where they'll be believed, understood and safe.