AMESBURY — Since coming forward publicly in 2002 to discuss his abuse at the hands of a Catholic priest, Gary Bergeron has seen a marked improvement in people’s attitudes toward victims of childhood sexual abuse.
But while people have become more aware of the problem, one aspect that he said is still often overlooked is life after abuse, and how difficult it can be for victims to come to terms with their experience and live the rest of their lives as survivors.
“One of the things I’ve learned over the past decade is that there is no easy life, there’s only life,” Bergeron said. “And I think it’s important for all survivors of childhood sexual abuse to understand that what happened to you is a part of who you are, but it doesn’t necessarily define who you’re going to be.”
Bergeron, who runs the Mill 77 consignment store on Route 110 with his wife, has become one of the nation’s most outspoken proponents of childhood sexual abuse awareness since the clergy abuse scandal first exploded in Boston 12 years ago.
He said that at this point the most important thing he can do is continue to raise public awareness, and to help do that, he recently filmed a documentary that delves deeper into the issue from a survivor’s point of view.
“One of the things I’ve found was that [most documentaries] really focus on what happened to you as a child, and I think that’s a major piece of my story,” Bergeron said. “However, there’s also life after abuse, and I don’t think anybody has really looked at it that way.”
The documentary is titled “Basta,” which is Italian for the word “Enough,” and it focuses on the aftermath of the clergy abuse scandal, Bergeron’s own personal journey and how adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse increasingly began to speak out once it became apparent that they weren’t alone.
The film is composed primarily of news broadcasts, statistics and footage taken by Bergeron during his trips to the Vatican in 2003 and 2010, with the intent being just to tell the story without trying to sensationalize it.
“I’ve always said just tell the story, let the public judge what they take away from it, but tell the story as it is,” Bergeron said. “It doesn’t need to be sensationalized, it doesn’t need to be changed, just tell the facts. And that’s what I’m hoping to do with this film.”
The film opens with a series of reports about Father Joseph Birmingham, an abusive priest who left behind a trail of victims as he was cycled from parish to parish over the course of three decades. Birmingham died in March of 1989, but not before sexually abusing at least 54 children in six different communities, including Bergeron.
The film then cuts to a series of news broadcasts detailing the crisis, including the day Bergeron first stepped forward and spoke publicly about Birmingham’s abuse, and then a large portion of the film is devoted to Bergeron’s trip to the Vatican in 2003, when he, his father and another survivor unsuccessfully tried to discuss the issue directly with Pope John Paul II.
While Bergeron was met with a wall of red tape upon arriving at the Vatican, his efforts that week and over the next few years did not go unnoticed. He was able to successfully secure a meeting with the Vatican secretary of state after several days of getting the runaround, and when he returned seven years later to organize the first international gathering of childhood sexual abuse survivors, hundreds of people from around the world showed up.
“There were hundreds of Italian survivors, and the American survivors, our T-shirts said ‘Enough,’ and we had T-shirts made of all the different languages,” Bergeron said. “And at one point the Italians started saying ‘basta,’ and I thought that was a great title for the film.”
Bergeron recently screened the film at the Lowell Telecommunications Corporation, where all of the production work was done and not far from where Bergeron grew up, and he said his intention is to submit the movie into some film festivals as well.
Beyond that, he hasn’t decided what the next step would be, but for now his goal is simply to help change the way people think about the issue and hopefully help other survivors know that there is hope.
“I’m just one person and I’m just one voice, but my goal is to let other survivors know that they’re not alone, that there’s hope,” Bergeron said. “And hopefully my film will help lend a voice.”