Trigger Alert: There is discussion of sexual violence.
“I transformed from terrified victim to a courageous survivor . . .Different than an ‘out of body’ experience, this felt more like an ‘in-body’ experience. I stood my ground and did what I had to do to get the hell out of there.” Jean Hargadon Wehner (pg 89).
In 2017, a Netflix documentary came out called The Keepers. It is the story of abuse and torture that was not only allowed but protected by the Catholic Church. Jean was featured in the series as the linchpin who helped to uncover and bring to light the atrocities. Our own Carol Christ watched the seven-episode series when it came out and wrote a blogpost about it. FAR reposted that blog at the end of February to honor Jean who has now written her own book, Walking with Aletheia. In it she describes her own healing journey or as she calls it her “health walk” out of the wreckage of that horror. For more on The Keepers, you can read Carol’s post here (which also includes Jean answering some questions about her story). This book is Jean’s story which, while intricately intertwined with the Church, is ultimately about her own pathway to spirituality and healing.
It’s hard to imagine the emotional weight of the authority figures that bore down on Jean when she was a student at Baltimore’s Archbishop Keough High School in the late 1960s. Not only did two priests torture and abuse her but they drew in other Church officiants as well as the police. The legal system actively turned its collective back to her. It is a great gift that she has survived and a testament to her strength, inner creativity, and the love in her heart that she was able to navigate such an apocalyptic terrain. The instruments of the torture were horrendous including rape, sex trafficking, drugs, and mind control techniques.
In the end, this is a story about healing, and Jean’s ability to illuminate a powerful road map for others taking this same journey. I found it riveting. Here is a woman fighting to hold onto the best parts of herself, at first alone and then with a robust support structure of family, therapists, and trusted advisors. She takes us along with her on her “health walk.” To survive she had disassociated, walling off parts of herself as containers to hold her traumas until she was ready to face them. These “personas” were individual identities hidden within herself. This was a self-protective amnesia that allowed her to survive but came at the cost of losing pieces of herself. What emerged for me as Jean recovered these lost personas was a portrait of survival under the gravest of traumas. These experiences are hard to read but they are accompanied by moments of love, hope, and profound healing.
One of those personas, Jeannie, particularly caught my attention. Jeannie, as a persona, had been encased in armor and stood guard to protect both the outward Jean as well as the other personas created through the disassociation. As Jean began to embrace Jeannie, she peeled off her armor to find festering sores beneath. As Jean cared for those wounds with such great tenderness, I understood that she was also caring for her own wounds. When reading this I blessed Jeannie for holding those woundings in such sacred trust until the adult Jean was ready to face them. As Jeannie healed so did Jean. Together, they unlocked the secrets and the gifts that Jeannie was guarding with such steadfastness. Those gifts included Jean’s own strength, her vision, her drive to protect others.
Her quote at the top of the post refers to 1994 when Jean was in court pressing her case against the Church even though the statute of limitations had expired. Under the name Jane Doe, she testified that her newly recovered memories should have required the statute timing to reset. She endured terror in not only facing the powerful Church hierarchy which fought to keep her silent but also the risk that her abusers might show up in person (they did not). She also had to face an impervious legal system that protects the abusers. And yet through all that, she stood up for the right to speak her own truth.
She lost that case. Maryland determined that recovered memories were unreliable. It was a devastating decision. It took another almost 20 years before she was able to remove what she calls her Jane Doe “mask of silence” to reveal herself publicly in 2014. She kept fighting even when there were astronomical odds against her. I am in awe of what she accomplished. While her court work in the 1990s failed to exact accountability or legal justice, the seeds that Jean planted for herself and others who have been abused are remarkable. As a fellow survivor of abuse, I saw this as a benchmark moment in a long, arduous process. That early foray into practicing her voice in the world laid the foundation for her to continue to excavate, invigorate, and eventually reclaim, her own very powerful truths.
Aletheia is the Greek Goddess of truth. In Latin She is known as Veritas. Some of the definitions of Aletheia in ancient Greek are disclose, truth, and the state of not being hidden. Trauma and abuse are so common they are often invisible. Systems of our society are built to protect the abusers and silence those who have been victimized. Each case that goes un-spoken or un-heard encourages more cases and silences ever more people. The title of the series The Keepers honors the women of this story who have been holding on to all of those secrets and lies for the truth to one day be known. Let them be known far and wide.
Jean has relentlessly pursued the truth, all the while facing the deep wrenching internal pain that each discovery brought up. And for that Jean is remarkable. She has refused to allow the system to silence her even when it has come at great cost to her and her family. That is the definition of courage. Jean persevered and by writing this book has shared her journey for others. That is the foundation of compassion and love. I highly recommend this inspirational book.
For more information and to buy Jean’s book: Walking with Aletheia: a survivor’s memoir. Jean’s website can be found here. Jean’s book newly came out this week in audio form. You can find it here.
BIO: Janet Maika’i Rudolph. “IT’S ALL ABOUT THE QUEST.” I have walked the spirit path for over 25 years traveling to sacred sites around the world including Israel to do an Ulpan (Hebrew language studies while working on a Kibbutz), Eleusis and Delphi in Greece, Avebury and Glastonbury in England, Brodgar in Scotland, Machu Picchu in Peru, Teotihuacan in Mexico, and Giza in Egypt. Within these travels, I have participated in numerous shamanic rites and rituals, attended a mystery school based on the ancient Greek model, and studied with shamans around the world. I am twice initiated. The first as a shaman practitioner of a pathway known as Divine Humanity. The second ordination in 2016 was as an Alaka’i (a Hawaiian spiritual guide with Aloha International). I have written three books: When Moses Was a Shaman, When Eve Was a Goddess, (now available in Spanish, Cuando Eva era una Diosa), and One Gods.
14 thoughts on “Walking With Aletheia by Jean Hargadon Wehner – Book Review by Janet Maika’i Rudolph”
Oh, such a powerful post Janet. I was riveted. I shudder reading your words because they speak to Truth with a capital “T” ” Systems of our society are built to protect the abusers and silence those who have been victimized. Each case that goes un-spoken or un-heard encourages more cases and silences ever more people.” Frankly, with so many abuse issues as part of my own journey, I am not certain I am up to reading this book – because I break down reading about abuse of any kind – human, animals, trees, you name it. It’s gotten worse as I’ve gotten older – and with ever present horrors on our horizon – some days it feels like too much. With that much said I applaud your courage and that of any other woman who can read this book… I am going back now to read what Carol had to say. Blessings to you.
Yes, Sara we are sisters in this are we not? I hear you about how hard it can be to read book’s like these. In her foreword, Jean suggests having a trusted friend or therapist read it first and note the parts to skip.
I do think if its at all possible that it is an important book to read because the story is true and there are so many threads to unravel about society, authority, how we as a culture treat people and finally the pathways of personal healing.
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agreed – it clearly is an important book – but I would need someone to witness and don’t have that person.
As always, it’s worth re- reading what Carol has to say. So called celibacy is a joke. Oh, children need to be WARNED that these “heads” of the church are a danger to all children – female and male. I am just sickened.
I agree Carol’s post is a powerful one. And oh yes celibacy. As far as I know some religions feel this is a pathway to “enlightenment” but in my own experience and readings it is a denial of our humanity and our underlying biology. And if you aren’t allowed to do things in a healthy way, they will too often come out as destructive. I can only speak anecdotally as I haven’t studied the issue in any formal manner.
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enough antidotes and we have a truth – there must be billions – and then there is now. the use of the word enlightenment to describe this HIDDEN reality is an abomination. Yes?
denying our biology is the worst crime of all.
I am blessed never to have belonged to an abusive church or been targeted by such men. For this reason, I found this post not only interesting but also really scary. Thanks for writing about Jean and her memoir. Bright blessings to her and you and to all survivors everywhere.
Barbara, I agree with Sara. I am so glad you haven’ t had those experiences. Thanks for reading and supporting.
oh Barbara, I am so glad that you have never been subjected….. and yes, it is important to recognize just how SCARY this is.
Thank you, Janet for this thoughtful and honest review. It is so easy to forget that for millennia the sexual abuse of women and children by men, especially men in authority, was kept hushed up and accepted. Only very recently when brave women like Jean spoke up and brave women like you amplified their voices has anything changed, though, of course, not enough yet. These books are hard to read, but we can’t turn away from the reality they show. Any readers who see this review who are experiencing or have experienced abuse now have reinforced that they, too, deserve safety and care.
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Good point Carolyn. I love that you have expressed how others can be reinforced in their own journey for safety and care and how everyone deserves that. Yes, Jean is a beacon of bravery for us all!
Writing my book, Walking with Aletheia (Greek Goddess of Truth), was another powerful period of entering into my integration and healing process.
My intention was not to focus on the horrible abuse and coverup, even though for us to truly understand how far a person has come we need to know where they have been. My goal was to let other victims, not just survivors, enter into the amazing healing journey I have been on. With that, I wanted others of any kind of trauma, to know they were not alone; that they too could depend on that inner wisdom within each of us to help guide them through, around or over obstacles thrown on their inner paths.
I hope when others read my book, they will feel the power of the human spirit within my amazing ongoing healing!
“In the end, this is a story about healing, and Jean’s ability to illuminate a powerful road map for others taking this same journey. I found it riveting. Here is a woman fighting to hold onto the best parts of herself, at first alone and then with a robust support structure of family, therapists, and trusted advisors. She takes us along with her on her “health walk.” To survive she had disassociated, walling off parts of herself as containers to hold her traumas until she was ready to face them. These “personas” were individual identities hidden within herself. This was a self-protective amnesia that allowed her to survive but came at the cost of losing pieces of herself. What emerged for me as Jean recovered these lost personas was a portrait of survival under the gravest of traumas. These experiences are hard to read but they are accompanied by moments of love, hope, and profound healing.” Janet Rudolph
Janet, I cry every time I read your review. Knowing what it took as a sister survivor to read my memoir and to come away “getting it” touches me deeply. Thank you from the bottom of my heart!! Sending love, Jean
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OK you just made me cry Jean – tears of the most cleansing variety. Oh my, when we walk hand in hand, we strengthen each other and amplify each other’s voice. Thank you for being a beacon.