JoAnn Wypijewski, in her March 16 “Carnal Knowledge” column, tells us that Paul Shanley’s “defense counsel offered not a single study or witness to rebut” the legitimacy of repressed memory. Is she unaware that the highly aggressive discreditor of repressed memory Elizabeth Loftus was put on the stand by Shanley’s highly aggressive (and expensive) lawyer? Or did Wypijewski repress that memory? Also, I would find it amusing if it were not so ludicrous that Wypijewski thinks this is “a case that some powerful interests no doubt hoped was as settled as the grave.” And exactly which powerful interests might that be: survivors/victims of Paul Shanley?
New York City
As a longtime Nation reader I was surprised and profoundly disappointed to read the piece of propaganda by JoAnn Wypijewski. It is filled with unsupported statements that reveal a bias against research and a failure to appreciate the complexity of the long-term consequences of violence against children. There is an abundant neurobiological literature that documents and explains the mechanism of dissociative memory and a growing appreciation for the difference between dissociation and repression. While we understand now that memory is unreliable, we also understand that traumatic memory from childhood haunts people and can wreak havoc with their lives as adults. Dissociative amnesia, along with other dissociative disorders, is a researched, documented diagnosis in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders. False memory of childhood trauma remains a polemical tool in the hands of a few angry individuals.
KAREN HOPENWASSER, MD,
Associate clinical professor of psychiatry
Weill College of Medicine, Cornell University
New York City
How touching that Lucia Mudd believes that the Boston priest scandal was a simple dispute between victims and criminals. That was always a comforting fiction, as if the media, which boosted their sales; and the Boston Globe, which wangled a Pulitzer for its Spotlight accusation team; and the personal injury lawyers, who made millions; and the DA, Martha Coakley, who advanced her political career; and the memory therapists, who spouted their cockamamie theories and collected their fees; and the advocacy groups, whose members brandished images of Satan and (as I witnessed) spat on people who disagreed with them outside churches, were all selfless actors in the public service.
The Catholic Church must be most glum about renewed attention. Having formerly shunned real victims of abuse, it made itself a cash register for anyone with an allegation, just to make the scandal go away. Its estimated $1.4 million check to Gregory Ford was the largest individual payout of the scandal. Ford had started the chain reaction of nearly identical recovered memories that landed Paul Shanley in prison, but he was dropped from the criminal case after prosecutors discovered that, as a teenager, he’d accused family members and a neighbor of rape, accusations his family never had an interest in pursuing.