Friday 21 April 2023

Like all good stories, this one has a twist!

It is now time to tell the story of why it took me so long (the full 7 years) to finish my PhD. It is not every jot and tittle about my journey researching, analysing and writing the dissertation - that was never the problem as we shall see. 

In 1985, I finished my Master's on a high - Joachim Jeremias prize for best student article coming out of the MA (published in Second Century a few years later). For reasons unrelated to this story, I couldn't leave Ottawa. There was no possibility of doing a PhD in Intertestamental in either university in Ottawa, so I switched gears.

For the PhD, I was going to look at physical child abuse and Christianity. As I started the research, Phillip Greven's book, Spare the Child: The Religious Roots of Punishment and the Psychological Impact of Physical Abuse came out. While I was unimpressed with his Freudianism, the book said everything that I was going to argue in my dissertation. Switch gears!

I decided to focus on the sexual abuse children in Christian environments. "A blessing and a curse!" The kindest thing anyone said was "Go ahead but I don't think there is anything there!" This was the chair of our department at the time (Dr. Roger Lapointe), who was gracious enough to say, "Well I guess you're on to something." when the Mount Cashel scandal broke.

A couple of years in, I had finished course work and needed to do a colloquium about my topic, my hypothesis, etc. The room was packed. One of my professors (New Testament from my MA - a different horror story for another blog) stood up and gave a diatribe about how there was nothing there and I couldn't prove anything, and how did I every think there was a dissertation here. My flippant reply was "Well, if there isn't a dissertation, there'll be a damn good book!" My dissertation supervisor was not very happy with that reply, of course. Other than that, there were positive responses and questions.

Note: everyone including my dissertation supervisor had been trying to get me to do something else, something more palatable, I suppose.

Note: I had already delivered a paper at the AAR and it was published in Patriarchy, Christianity and Abuse: A feminist critique in 1989 prior to the next step. I had also published papers in Second Century and Women at Worship.

The next step was my comprehensive exam. This is where the real problem began. First, you need to understand that I had no say in the composition of my PhD committee, nor would they be readers of my dissertation. It was composed of  a Roman Catholic priest, Rev. (Dr.) Norman Pagé (the chair), an ex-nun, Dr. Elisabeth Lacelle (a Roman Catholic theologian), and Dr. Robert Choquette (ex- RC military chaplain and Canadian religious historian). I submitted the first proposal, then a second one, then a third one. All were rejected by the committee with various unhelpful comments which I followed as best I could. After the third rejection, on the advice of my supervisor, I tried to have a meeting with the chair of my committee. He wouldn't answer emails, phone, etc. I went to see Elisabeth (who was now Chair of the Department). Her response was that she didn't know but Dr. Pagé said it wasn't good enough (and basically that was good enough for her). So I went to see Dr. Choquette. His first response when I asked what was wrong with my proposal, was "Don't know, looked good to me". Then he sort of backtracked and said maybe I didn't show that I knew the difference between Protestants and Roman Catholics well enough. My response was, if I didn't know that, I shouldn't be in this program. He laughed. So no satisfaction.

I then decided that I was handing in no more comprehensive proposals until someone could tell me what was wrong with the preceding three. My supervisor was not happy but I stood my ground. So I continued to write the dissertation, pay my fees, raise my children, interact with my husband and my friends, work in the AIDS hospice, teach part-time, in other words, live my life.

In the 7th year (1993), I let it be known around the office that I was considering suing the department. Lo and behold, I received a letter from the Chair (still Elisabeth) with the date for my comprehensive exam, the names of my interrogators (LOL) and could I please send them in a proposal, which I did. The exam went off without a hitch, I handed in my dissertation with the required 5 copies in August 1993. Then my mother took me on a trip to Israel. When I got back, it seemed that my dissertation had got "lost in the mail" (of course, I had handed it in to the department in person). Never mind, they sorted it out, I got feedback from a couple of readers before the defense. At my defense, I had a psychologist, an anthropologist, a sociologist and a feminist theologian. Highlights were when the psychologist said that she had never thought of it like that but when she started to look at her childhood, she found other examples, like St. Agnes. The anthropologist and the sociologist got into an argument about my analysis of Leviticus on incest prohibitions and blood rights. The feminist theologian was the hardest on me. She said that my theology was all over the place - what could I say, I was raised in the United Church of Canada noted jokingly by all my colleagues as the home of the "bouncing ball of theology". And any specific form of Christian theology was not the point. It was more complicated than that, of course, and my defense of my position was obviously satisfactory.

The decision was that I had to expand my conclusion (which had been deliberately perfunctory for reasons too long to put in this blog) and the PhD was mine. I expanded the conclusion and I received my PhD in 1994. Burnt out was the only way to describe my state of mind. I wanted little to do with formal academia ever after.

Then 11 years later almost to the day of my defense....


Priest charged with sexual assault [1976-2002 Page] - RCC. Boys. Canada flag; Mooney's MiniFlags
CANADA - The Ottawa Citizen by Dave Rogers Saturday, April 09, 2005
A former high-ranking official in Ottawa's Roman Catholic archdiocese charged with sexually assaulting boys has been sent for a psychiatric examination after he grinned and giggled in Gatineau court yesterday.
Police arrested Rev. Norman Page, 73, at his Chelsea home on Thursday. He faces two charges of gross indecency, two counts of sexual assault and two counts of attempted sexual assault on juveniles between 1976 and 2002.
Sgt. Manuel Bandeira, of the Municipalite Regionale de Conte des Collines police, said yesterday the alleged sexual assaults involved boys between the ages of 14 and 18, and took place in Chelsea, where the priest lives, and in the Laurentians.
Before his retirement, Father Page was director of the Office of Liturgy for the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Ottawa.
He also taught religious studies at the University of Ottawa, lecturing on the history of religious architecture and sacred art, from 1965 until his retirement in 1997.

Yes, it's true. The Chair of my PhD committee was a child (juveniles) sexually abusing priest. My best friend notified me of the arrest. My supervisor emailed that it must be nice to be vindicated. Really! Too little, too late! She hadn't been overly supportive of my work (again, another story - won't make it onto a blog though).

I will leave the reader to come to their own conclusions. For me, I had my explanation.

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