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The Bristlecone Project

Portraits and Biographies of Male Survivors

Peter Gahlinger

If Peter’s story is a tapestry, then two of its main components are his Swiss family upbringing and the Catholic Church. Peter’s father was a Swiss Guard who for years worked at the Vatican, and for many more years devoted himself to spreading the Pope’s message. His many absences strained his growing family and contributed to a rupture of Peter’s relationship with his mother, who would periodically banish Peter from the home.

After moving the family to a small Ontario farm, Peter’s father died when Peter was nine, leaving his mother alone with nine children to raise.

Fatherless, and shunned by his mother, Peter was targeted by Father Harper, the junior priest at their church. Grooming was followed by periodic sexual abuse. Worst of all was the “mind fuck.” Harper would sexually abuse Peter, then force Peter to confess his “sinful behavior” to Harper in the confessional.

There were years of intermittent drug use, unrealized potential, failed relationships, and inadequate counseling. But Peter is persistent. He found good therapy and committed himself to it. He discovered yoga and meditation, and spent 18 months in residence at the Kripalu Center in western Massachusetts. He found a kind and sensitive partner and has just celebrated his 15th anniversary with her. Four years ago, they adopted a 13-year girl who has gradually knit herself into the family fabric. A wonderful dog and delightful cat create a rich family tapestry.

And Peter decided to hold the Church accountable. He brought his case to the police, and prosecution followed. He sued the Church, received a settlement, and promptly shared the Church’s money with three fellow survivors in need.

The self-improvement has not ceased. Peter has built a workshop behind his house, organized like only a Swiss-born could make it. And Peter has many projects in mind. Some involve wood, and others involve his ongoing pursuit of ever greater self-awareness.