Audiences offered a transformative experience of healing and forgiveness
Published in the September 14, 2016 edition
By MAUREEN DOHERTY
LYNNFIELD — The title says it all. Raw and succinct, it does not pull any punches: “Conversations with My Molester: A Journey of Faith.”
Anyone who has difficulty believing that a victim of childhood sexual abuse at the hands of a trusted priest can find it within himself to truly forgive his molester has not met Michael Mack.
And they haven’t experienced the one–man, 90–minute, award–winning performance written by the MIT–educated poet and playwright that has received wide acclaim from secular and non–secular audiences alike.
The public will be given the opportunity to experience this performance at Saint Maria Goretti Parish, 112 Chestnut St., Lynnfield on Saturday, Sept. 24 at 6:30 p.m. to decide for themselves if such forgiveness is possible.
The natural, gut reaction upon learning that something so terrible happened to Michael Mack – and hundreds upon hundreds of other Michael Macks – is horror, coupled with sadness for the loss of innocence, and revulsion toward this nameless, faceless perpetrator.
That perpetrator wasn’t a man lurking in the shadows waiting to snatch an unsuspecting boy or girl off a street corner. He was hiding in plain view. Revered within his community, he was fun to be with – someone you wouldn’t hesitate to invite to family dinners – and above all else, he was trusted by the adults and the children in young Michael’s world. This is the picture Mack paints with his words.
As audiences get carried into young Michael’s world of devotion to an awe–inspiring God, to his childhood dreams and his antics, they learn that his molester would take him to his first basketball game. And that his own dad called him “Father” even though they were the same age. He was a surrogate father of sorts during those long absences when Michael and his three younger siblings were sent hundreds of miles away from their home outside Washington, D.C. to live with their aunt in North Carolina while their beloved mother received treatment in a mental hospital for schizophrenia.
His dad, who had to stay behind to work and support his family, would make the long drive down every other Saturday to spend the weekend with his children. As an altar boy at the tiny Catholic church in this idyllic town nestled in the foothills of the Blue Ridge Mountains, Michael looked up to the man who helped people get closer to God; the man who had the job he aspired to have one day – to be a priest!
Somehow, through a meandering journey that would last the next 40 years, and still continues today, Mack has been able to transform the pain and anguish he suffered at the hands of that priest when he was 11 years old back in 1968 into a ministry all its own – one that offers the healing power of forgiveness for those willing to consider opening their heart and their mind to such a possibility.
“A Year of Mercy”
So how did Saint Maria Goretti Parish come to be the host of “Conversations with My Molester: A Journey of Faith?” It has been a year in the making. Last fall, Pastoral Associate Donna Hegan was sent an email about the poet by a friend of the parish who thought she would be interested in his story.
“The more I read, the more reviews I saw, the more convinced I became that we needed him to visit Lynnfield,” Hegan told those gathered at a press conference held at the church last week during which Mack performed the first act of his play, presenting a sampling of what audiences would experience, and answering their questions.
Given the universal appeal of Mack’s message, Saint Maria Goretti is opening its doors to all community members beyond the boundaries of Lynnfield for this performance, regardless of religious affiliation, if any. Hegan has also spread the word by reaching out to churches throughout the North Shore, extending an invitation for parishioners from other communities to attend.
Mack’s enthusiasm for the project won Hegan over when they first met to discuss the logistics of performing an uninterrupted 90–minute play in the parish hall. Hegan subsequently received a letter of authentication from Cardinal Sean O’Malley’s office about Mack’s story.
“We are lucky to have the blessing and support of the archdiocese. I knew that this man could be responsible for bringing healing, forgiveness, and peace to parishioners, victims, and their families who may still be suffering. As a survivor recognized by the archdiocese, Michael’s hope is to give people something to think about,” Hegan said.
The parish had already decided to bring the play to Lynnfield, she added, when Pope Francis declared 2016 to be “a year of mercy for the Catholic Church worldwide.” Saint Maria Goretti parish subsequently developed projects in support of this mission. Hegan believes that Mack’s story, as told through his performance of “Conversations with My Molester: A Journey of Faith,” will be the high point of SMG’s Year of Mercy.
“After all, his true story is not as much about molestation as it is about mercy. It is not about pointing a finger and seeking revenge. It is about doing what God wants us to do; to forgive others and to find our peace in the process,” Hegan said.
“We hope that some of the victims and their families will find the courage to attend,” she said. And there is another audience Hegan hopes to reach as well – those who “walked away from their religion because of how the church handled the scandal” after the story of the Boston Archdiocese was broken by the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team. She especially invites them to consider attending Mack’s Sept. 24 performance because she believes his play has an important message to offer them as well. Preceding Mack’s 6:30 p.m. performance will be a Mass of Forgiveness and Healing at SMG at 4 p.m.
Destined to help others heal
Why does he do it?
Simply put, to reach out to others and help them along on their own journey of healing. Many survivors of childhood sexual abuse have told him after a performance that his play helped them heal in some way.
Mack has found that holding Q&A sessions whenever possible following a performance “really opens up the conversation and gives everybody a chance to participate to whatever degree they’re willing or interested.”
The experience can be profound. He recalled the “most profound moment” for him followed a performance at a theater festival in Western Mass. After the Q&A had ended and everyone had left the room, he noticed a young man lingering in the hall.
“He came back in and he began to tell me his story,” Mack recalled quietly. “He started sobbing and broke down in my arms. And I felt this profound sense of privilege that I could, in some way, offer this to him because he had said he hadn’t shared this with any other guy.”
After so many decades of his own silence, Mack wants those who plan to attend his performance to know exactly what it is about.
“The main thing I want everybody to know about the performance is spelled out in the title,” Mack said, explaining that he does not want someone to wander into the hall excited to see a play who does not understand the subject matter to be presented.
“I want them to know what it’s about. It’s about the issue we’re wrestling with but also it’s about this being a faith journey. For me the essential part of this story is how I re-found my faith through this, and also found that through this suffering that I was able to give something to others. I really see that as emblematic in the cross. It’s about suffering and a profound love, and if I can participate in that love in some way then that is a great gift to me.”
Hegan said they will leave it up to the discretion of parents whether their children are mature enough to attend. Mack does not put an age limit on who may attend his play, but said he has not had children “younger than teens” attend past performances.
An audience talkback will immediately follow his performance. Admission is a free will offering.