Rick Springer

Two abuse survivors and an advocate peacefully protest outside the Chicago Archdiocese HQ
Therese Albrecht, left, is at Rick's bedside today. Beautiful!

The Future I Never Had

By Rick Springer

(Attribution to Crosses: Portraits of Clergy Abuse by Carmine Galasso)

The most painful state of being is remembering the future; particularly when it is one you can never have. I sit here and look at these drawings… I think about what I might have been if it hadn’t been for what he did to me.

My name is Rick Springer. I’m sixty-eight years old and I live in Chicago, Illinois. When I was a kid growing up – I wasn’t born Catholic; my family was Lutheran but they really didn’t practice much in the way of religion so I was kind of a free-wheeling kid. I was pretty wild. It was a time of excitement for me, and I had a lot of talents and I was very artistically inclined, as well as athletically inclined. My father was an Olympic swimmer. I cam from a long line of athletes as well as artists and architects, and that sort of thing, and so it appeared that I had a pretty good future. I was a go-getter, probably the fastest kid on my block. I could out-swim everybody; one kid once told me many, many years later that I had the makings of a triathlon athlete.

When my parents broke up in 1946, I desperately needed something for solace, so to speak. About a year or so after that, my best friend took me to my very first Catholic Mass, and I can tell you that it was a magic show that really impressed me. I embraced that religion right then and there. I really felt that Jesus was right there in that church with those people singing the hymns in Latin. The priest was changing water and wine into the blood of Christ, and the bread into the body of Christ, and all the other happy horseshit.

Around this time it was determined that my mother could no longer keep us at home so the family decided that we would have to go to boarding school. I ensured that we would go to a Catholic boarding school. We were received very well and the nuns were very good and kind with us. I had a lot of things to overcome when I went in there and my goal was to become a Catholic.

I was baptized a Catholic in eighth grade. I got my first Holy Communion. I went to my first confession, and I began to serve as an altar boy. About that same time, I determined that I had the calling to become a priest.

I believe I was thirteen when I entered the seminary. At first, everything was new; I was really into this religion thing and I was really very excited about becoming a priest. I was also very attracted to girls. Well, you can’t overcome impure thoughts when you’re going into puberty and I found myself in confession more than any other place, confessing my sins over and over again.

I was beginning to have doubts about my so-called vocation as well. I was very uptight, a train-wreck at the ripe old age of fourteen. There was a church down the street from where I lived, about two blocks away, and I started going to confession there. I poured out my sins in the most graphic detail and eventually this priest told me that he could help me better by coming to see him in the rectory. We made an appointment and I remember leaving the house that morning. I was full of hope that this priest was going to magically take away my evil thoughts, and I would be free from them forever. I went there and knocked on the door. The Father answered the door and took my upstairs to this tiny room.

He heard my confession. I remember I was kneeling before him on that hard floor, and he was sitting in his chair, listening. When we were through with the confession, he absolved me. He said, “I want to demonstrate something with you. I want to see if you are holy enough in the eyes of God.” He told me to take my pants down and I obeyed. I just obeyed. he took his thing out, and he began to rub my penis with his, and telling me, asking me, didn’t that feel good? Didn’t it give me pleasure?

It was horrible, but I had to say it was pleasurable. He wanted me to stroke him, and I refused. I couldn’t do it. So he continued to stroke me, and finally he got down on his knees and began to suck on my penis and, I don’t even know how to describe how I felt. It’s almost like I was up on the ceiling and I was looking down. This can’t be happening, but it is happening, and it can’t be, but he’s a priest, and I can’t say no, yet I know it’s wrong, and yet he’s a priest, and it was just back and forth, and it was horrible. I was fourteen when it happened. And when he finished, he stood up and he pronounced my body holy enough to go on to study to be a priest. And then he said that he would want to see me again, and then we would do some more counseling.

I was condemned to hell!

I knew that my confessions and graphic descriptions of my fantasies had caused this priest to fail.

It was my fault!

When I left that rectory and went down those stairs and back down the street to my home, I was a totally different person from what I was when I walked there, less than a half-hour before. And from that moment on, my life was destroyed. Absolutely destroyed.

I couldn’t tell anybody at home what happened. I had to keep it inside of myself. I think that what sustained me was that I knew that when I got back to the seminary I could tell a priest there, and he’d know what to do. I think that’s one thing that kept me going. I just prayed to God that I wouldn’t be struck by lightning. I prayed for forgiveness and all these other things, but I avoided that church like the plague.

When I went to see the Father at seminary I was crying. I was just crying my eyes out, and I said I had to talk to him about something that happened. He was profoundly shocked at what I was saying, just a huge sigh came out of him. He tried his damnedest to tell me that this was not my fault, that the priest had committed a grave sin, and that I was not at fault. It was of some solace, but I was convinced I was going to hell.

He went to the bishop and the decision was made that I should be counseled and that there was not much they could do, because, believe it or nor, if it had happened before the confession, we could go after the priest and we could do something. Since it happened afterwards, [he said] it’s a different situation and it might be bad for the child if we had him go to the cardinal in Chicago and repeat his story. It might re-victimize that child, so we better not do that. So, essentially, the decision was made that I should be counseled.

At first I tried to stay in the seminary. Eventually Father told me that I would have to leave, that I probably was not good priest material. It seemed to be that because I was abused, I was essentially radioactive material. That was a big blow to me. I remember crying and asking him, “What’s going to happen to me now?” and Father said, “I’ll pray for you.”

In school my grades just went down the toilet. I couldn’t study. I couldn’t concentrate very well. I was not a good student. I was either drunk or hung over and I acted out an awful lot in angry bursts of rage. There was something inside of me, that, I always had this horrible fear that I might be homosexual. So I would make every effort to prove to myself that I wasn’t and that meant girls, which was not a problem because I was strongly attracted to girls anyway. So, I, uh, you might say I was almost like a sex addict. But I couldn’t sustain a relationship. There was just no way a relationship was going to last long in my emotional state.

By the time I got to my new school, I believe the memory of the abuse was repressed. My parents didn’t know that I was abused. Nobody in my family knew. My repressed memory syndrome kicked in within a week or two after I left the seminary. I had to do something about this memory and it seemed like the only thing I could do was to just shut it out, just squeeze it out of my head.

Although I had no memory of what the abuse had done to me, the residual effects of it were devastating. There was a sense that I was doomed, and even though I had no memory of the abuse, there was something in the back of my head saying, “You’re doomed, you might as well just live it out as long as you can.”

It’s an interesting dynamic that happens to people when they’re abused. Some will come right out, and they’re absolute, they’re raging maniacs and they can do great wonderful things right off the bat. And there are others of us, like myself, we’re just terrified. We’re just too frightened. Fear absolutely dominated my life in every area. I knew I was going to be rejected. The fear of rejection was very high in all areas of my life, from girlfriends to jobs to friendships.

I got drafted in 1960 and I went to Korea. My drinking even go worse when I as in the army overseas. I never was court-martialed for some of the idiotic things I did, and the outbursts that I had against authority. Which was another thing in my life – authority figures.

In 1979 my life began to unravel. I just loved my job at that time, but I lost it because of booze. Shortly after that, the booze really took over and I became unemployable. By May of 1981 I was homeless and I was drunk almost around the clock. I would have seizures. On the day before Thanksgiving of 1981, I had my last drink and I went into a detox center. I’ve been sober ever since.

And one night, in October 1983, when I was on the verge of a nervous breakdown, or going back to drinking or killing myself, I had the flashback of what the priest had done to me back in 1952. It was just devastating! But I remember, when I had the flashback, the first thing that came to my mind was – “So that’s what’s wrong with my life! That’s what’s wrong!” That one moment of revelation seemed to explain everything that was wrong with my life. The fucker took everything away from me. He took everything away from my family. I mean, not just me – he just ruined it for everybody. My mother, my father, they never knew what was wrong with their son.

I never married; never had any kids. I’m sixty-eight years old now, and the chance of ever being married or any of that, any of those perks that everybody else has, there’s nothing there. And that’s why I keep going back to that quote that I mentioned in the beginning about the future I never had. That’s the most painful part about my life today, knowing the potential that I had and what I could have been if I had not been abused.

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Almost every cabbie has a story; here’s one of self-redemption

Rick Springer holding youth photo

Rick Springer holds a photo of himself at a church service before he was molested by a priest.

by Brianna McClane
June 08, 2010

When you climb into Rick Springer’s taxicab in Chicago, you meet a friendly man with a raspy voice. The usual light conversation that occurs between rider and driver can turn serious if Springer, 72, hands his passenger a pamphlet.

The pamphlet is from the organization Bishop Accountability, which compiles data concerning sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. Springer, who was abused by a priest, is one of the cause’s greatest advocates.

“There’s not a day that goes by that I don’t think about the abuse and how it’s affected my life.”

Springer’s parents’ divorce in 1945 left him devastated, but after attending Mass with a friend in his Rogers Park neighborhood, he thought he had found a way to bring his family back together.

“I was looking, trying to find something to hold onto, a surrogate family,” he said; “something to help me.”

His faith turned into devotion when he attended a Catholic boarding school. At 14, he entered a seminary with the goal of becoming a priest.

The summer of 1952, after his first year of seminary, he returned home to Rogers Park and encountered difficulties for a young man seeking priesthood.

“All I can think about is girls, and that’s wrong,” he explained. “In the Catholic Church, even the slightest impure thought is a moral sin.”

A priest in the neighborhood promised to help him and invited him to the rectory. The priest offered to give him a physical exam to determine if he was a viable candidate for priesthood.

“I felt like I was on the ceiling, watching what was happening,” Springer said. “I was powerless to stop, I knew it was wrong, but he was a priest.”

Returning to seminary weeks later, he told the priest over his grade what had happened to him. The priest consulted with another and they determined the act was not against canon law.

Springer began to lose interest in his studies and a priest at the seminary suggested he find another profession to pursue. He returned to Rogers Park, burying the memory of what had happened to him. He turned to alcohol and became “an around the clock drinker.”

“I drank my life away,” he said. “You might say I got my Ph.D. in alcohol”

In 1981, Springer made the decision to seek help for alcoholism.

“I couldn’t go down any farther,” he said. “There’s a saying in AA where you get sick and tired of being sick and tired. You’re at a point where nobody wants anything to do with you anymore.”

Sober but still struggling, Springer went from job to job. In 1983, he was delivering pizzas in Evanston when he said he suddenly remembered what had happened that day in the rectory. He compared it to an end-of-life experience, with the memory flashing before his eyes.

“You say to yourself, ‘That’s what was wrong. That in a nutshell is why my life is such a mess.’ It was such a revelation,” Springer said. “And I thought, ‘I can really move on from here.’”

The moment, Springer said, arose from a difficult emotional time in his life. He realized the abuse had been holding him back for years.

“I really thought I was on my way to a great recovery, my life was going to turn around at this point,” he said. “But it didn’t. For a good long time, at times it got worse. I was an emotional trainwreck.”

What Springer experienced, according to a psychiatrist, is not unusual. Many people suppress horrific memories, Carole Lieberman said.

“Memories can be repressed and remembered years later because they are pushed down into the unconscious mind,” Lieberman said. “It’s the way the mind tries to protect itself from being overwhelmed by psychological pain.”

The realization gave Springer an understanding of his past behavior and his lost interest in Catholicism. Alcoholics Anonymous taught him about a different approach to faith, Springer said.

“It opened my eyes to a different spirituality,” he said, “a different path to God that I didn’t need some kind of rituals or a very fancy church to be able to pray to God.”

Lieberman has worked with numerous patients who were abused by priests and said that religious views often change after an experience such as this.

“Sexual abuse by a priest destroys the victim’s spiritual commitment because the victim feels so betrayed and can’t help but question all he believed in before the abuse,” she said.

Springer began therapy after his realization and only stopped after learning about support groups for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. He became a member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. He leads a support group for other survivors and joins other SNAP members when they pass out literature outside of churches, demanding action on the abuse.

“It takes me out of me,” he said. “It takes me out of my self-pity.”

There were four steps that Springer said he had to take to overcome what had happened to him. He had to get sober, remember, meet other abuse survivors and help them.

His volunteer work is noticed by SNAP President Barbara Blaine.

“He could have chosen to stay trapped in shame, secrecy, self-blame and hopelessness,” Blaine said. “Instead, he’s decided to do all he can to help heal the wounded and protect the vulnerable.”

Springer said, “It took a long time for me to move from victim to survivor. And I still fall into the victim mode sometimes.”

“I get into a funk, I beat myself up but I realize, I can’t stay in that hole. I’ve got work to do. I’ve got other survivors who I can help get out of their hole and get on with their lives.”

Filing process for sexual abuse allegations

by Brianna McClane
MEDILL/NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY

– The Archdiocese of Chicago’s Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review receives and reviews sexual abuse allegations of children.

–  The allegations are formalized through meeting with the director or assistant director of the office. A representative of the Office of Assistance Ministry is also present during the meeting including a person to provide support if the accuser desires.

–  These allegations can be a part of the healing process or may be used to collaborate other allegations and to protect other children. Individuals are encouraged to come forward no matter how it has been.

–  If the accused priest or deacon is alive, then a separate meeting will be scheduled by the office to present the allegation for response. The information concerning the allegation will be presented to a review board appointed by the Cardinal to determine if it should be recommended to the Archbishop.

–  If the accused is deceased, the allegation will be placed in the file of the accused.


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