Staying in the Church After Being Abused

Last night was the final time our women’s group at church met for the year. It was basically a gab session with good food and drink – a time to celebrate. We did, however, discuss the rather serious subject of millennials leaving the Church. Not just the Catholic Church, but all churches. They are walking away from faith, period.

As we were cleaning up, one mother and I began talking. Mostly she spoke of her four young adult children and where they were in their faith. Her son, who is in his early twenties was no longer a practicing Catholic because of how he feels about the Church and the priest sexual abuse problem.

My friend’s young son is not alone.

It caused me think, “How would I explain to him my reasons for staying in the Catholic Church after actually experiencing abuse at the hands of a priest?”

I loved and needed the Church to help me heal.

When I began processing what had happened to me, spiritually I was in a place where my relationship with Jesus was at the center of my life and everything that I did.  The Catholic Church was home.  I felt blessed to be a member of the body.  I was active in church, director of the parish youth group,  and sustained spiritually by prayer, Word and sacraments. I went to Jesus in prayer and the sacraments with all of my pain and suffering. It was only natural that I go to him and the Church when I began experiencing the most intense suffering of my life.  When I could put no words to the pain I felt, when I could only be, I could still receive Jesus in the sacraments.  In the Eucharist, I could welcome him into my very being, and sit with him in a very real way.  At a time when I felt like I was in a cocoon isolated from the rest of the world, Jesus was inside my cocoon with me.  For a short while, we could coexist in a way only possible in the Catholic Church.

In addition, I was meeting with a spiritual director, who is a priest, another healing agent of the Church. Whereas I had experienced a horrible breech of trust with a priest through the abuse, I was able to trust this particular priest, so much so that he was the one to whom I was able to disclose the abuse after years of silence.  I had watched him for several years prior to entering into spiritual direction with him.  I watched him with children, and adults. I watched him implement safe environment standards in a parish and consistently follow through.  I experienced his empathy.  He gained my trust. I knew he was safe and that he was a healer.

The sacraments and this priest of the Catholic Church have helped me heal from the wounds of abuse.  I can’t imagine trying to get through this time without the Church.

The Church is not the priest. Or a bishop.  Or a pope.

people

My abuser was  just a priest.  A human with faults. All priests at times stand in persona Christi; bishops and the pope make up the magesterium of the Church.  They are not by definition exclusively “the Church” though the Church could not exist without them. 

The Church is mystical.  VERY simply put, she is the clergy, the faithful, the Trinity and the Word of God. 

She is the body of Christ present here on Earth. The body of Christ!  How beautiful is that! She leads us to heaven through baptism.  Made up of many members – you and I – she is living and breathing.  Jesus lives and breathes in her, in the Sacraments.  He comes to us in Holy Communion and in the confessional through the priest or bishop or pope.  She is one.  She is holy, catholic and apostolic.  She gives us God’s Word, the wisdom of the saints and the Blessed Mother.

The Catholic Church is so much more than an abusive priest.  Yes, egregious sins have been committed within the stone walls by human beings.  That is being addressed, sometimes well and sometimes not so well, but they are trying.

The beauty of the Church is what has kept me faithful.  In my moments of greatest doubt and anger, when I most passionately wanted to walk away in hurt or anger about sins or incompetence of men, I couldn’t.  I couldn’t leave what I love.  I couldn’t imagine life without her, without the sacraments, without the Mass.

The Catholic Church is a part of me and I a part of her.  It will always be that way, abuse or no abuse.

I don’t know if my friend’s young son would understand where I am coming from or if what is shared would be helpful.  There are many like him out there.  We as Church must reach out to them in some way or we will lose them forever. More gravely, they may be lost forever. 

Day of Prayer

April 26th was the Annual Day of Prayer for the Protection of Children in the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph (@DioceseKCSJ). This year it was observed at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception with a Mass celebrated by Bishop James V. Johnston, Jr. (@BpJamesJohnston) with priests con-celebrating.

Bishop Johnston’s homily was a reflection of Jesus’ words on the cross as he was dying: “My God, My God, why have you abandoned me?” and the experience of those children who have been sexually abused by priests. He also reflected on healing, hope and how victims can become survivors. I urge you to read the homily. As with his message at the Service of Lament last June, the bishop struck just the right tone with an unmistakable contrite heart.

AISOIR_Horiz_Scripture

A display board stood on the left front of the altar that said “Abandoned in Suffering – One in Renewal,” yet another nod to survivors acknowledging their pain while extending the hand of the Church asking for forgiveness and offering the hope of resurrection as the church community heals together from the evil that visited upon them. The “hope box,” a wooden box that contains prayer intentions of those who were at the Service of Lament last year, was placed beside the sign. The Cathedral is a beautiful place to begin with, and the Easter decorations made it all the more so.

The Office of Child and Youth Protection published the following prayer on prayer cards. Everyone received a card as they entered the Cathedral and prayed the prayer together after Communion.

Lord Jesus
My heart belongs to you.
I come to you needy and afraid.
Your light draws me close.
It lifts the shroud of darkness
That has enveloped me so long.
You, O Lord, call me by name.
You reach out to me in my time of distress.
Shame, guilt and confusion swirl about me
As I fight the evil of abuse.
You offer me the hope of healing.
With an act of the will
I try to forgive, to move towards freedom.
Today I ask for the grace
To forgive my abuser, his enablers,
The Catholic Church
And yes, Lord, to even forgive you
For I feel betrayed by all.
Bring me peace and healing.
Give me the grace to
Help protect the innocent
To love the wounded who feel alone
To let your light shine in the darkness
And to hope for a new dawn.
Amen.

I have posted the prayer on the sidebar of my blog, where it will remain. It is vitally important that we survivors stay close to the Lord in prayer. Prayer is where relationship with Jesus takes place. It is where we get to know him, where we can be real, where we hear the soft, sweet sound of his voice. Prayer is where healing takes place.

This Annual Day of Prayer for the Protection of Children is a step in the right direction towards healing in the Church. With a humble and proactive bishop who supports an incredible team in the Office of Child and Youth Protection, things are looking up in Kansas City.

(photo credits: kcsjdiocese.org)

A New Beginning

The “Healing of Sexual Abuse by a Priest” blog at csahealing.blogspot.com is closing its virtual doors. Most of the content has been moved here to “Touching Jesus’ Garment” where there is a new beginning.

The new name reflects more comprehensively what the blog is about – reaching out for the healing of Jesus in great faith after suffering a long illness … and receiving His healing.

And behold, a woman who had suffered from a hemorrhage for twelve years came up behind him and touched the fringe of his garment; for she said to herself, “If I only touch his garment, I shall be made well.” Jesus turned, and seeing her he said, “Take heart, daughter; your faith has made you well.” And instantly the woman was made well. Matthew 9:21-22

Very often survivors of clergy sexual abuse carry their pain and grief for a long time, sometimes decades. When movement towards healing begins, it can seem so far off. Unreachable. After “wearing” the abuse aftermath for so long, it can seem to become part of us.

The above scripture gives us hope. After suffering for a long time, the woman in the verse was healed by Jesus by simply reaching out in faith and touching his garment. In their culture, her illness deemed her as unclean. As such, she was cast out from society and lived in shame. She literally had to sneak through the feet of the people where they wouldn’t see her to be able to get to Jesus.

It is not that difficult for us. Jesus is available to us in a very real and tangible way in the Eucharist. We can receive healing every time we receive Holy Communion. The Sacrament of Reconciliation is a direct encounter with Jesus and is a healing sacrament. Jesus reaches out to us and heals our woundedness. He doesn’t wait for us to reach to him.

Meanwhile, know that you are in my prayers. Please follow the blog to keep advised of new posts, and follow me on Twitter as well.

A Survivor’s Triduum with Pope Francis

The Sacred Triduum begins with the Lord’s Supper the evening of Holy Thursday, includes the liturgies on Good Friday and Holy Saturday and ends with the Mass of the Resurrection on Easter Sunday. It is the most solemn time of the Catholic Church’s liturgical year as we remember the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus – the central mystery of our faith.  It is upon this mystery that everything else is built.  It looks forward to the coming of Jesus – the final resurrection.

Every human lives their experience in light of the cross.  We all suffer our own passions, our own deaths and our own resurrections. This drama is replayed over and over throughout life.  The powerful message in this is that in our sufferings and through our deaths comes resurrection.

As survivors of clergy sexual abuse, this is so important to remember.  We suffer a most profound form of suffering that can endure for a very long time.  The cross we carry during our passion can become so heavy we feel as if we will be crushed under it.  There are times when we encounter a Simon who helps carry the burden.  Jesus takes it when we are no longer able to move.  We might hear the silent jeering from our own self.  There could be condescending shouts from within that are meant humiliate and shame as we struggle to make our way through our hell.  We cry out and beg for help, trying hard not to despair.

Pope Francis captured the pain of Good Friday in a prayer that he shared this year.  Part of it follows:

O Christ! Abandoned and betrayed even by your own and sold for next to nothing.
O Christ! Judged by sinners, handed over by those in Authority.
O Christ! Suffering in the flesh, crowned with thorns and clothed in purple.
O Christ! Beaten and nailed in excruciating pain to the Cross.
O Christ! Pierced by the lance that broke your heart.
O Christ! Dead and buried, you who are the God of life and existence.
O Christ! Our only Saviour, we return to you this year with eyes lowered in shame and         hearts filled with hope:…
Shame for our silence before injustices;… for our feet that are quick to follow the path of evil and paralyzed when it comes to following the path of good;
Shame for all the times that we Bishops, priests, consecrated men and women have caused scandal and pain to your body, the Church; for having forgotten our first love our initial enthusiasm and total availability, leaving our hearts and our consecration to trust.
So much shame Lord, but our hearts also feel nostalgia for the confident hope that you will not treat us according to our merits but solely according to the abundance of Your     mercy; that our betrayals do not diminish the immensity of your love; your maternal         and paternal heart does not forget us because of the hardness of our own;…
The hope that your faithfulness is not based on our own;
The hope that the many men and women who are faithful to your Cross may continue to live in fidelity like yeast that gives flavour and like light that reveals new horizons in the body of our wounded humanity;
The hope that your Church will try to be the voice that cries in the wilderness for humanity, preparing the way for your triumphant return, when you will come to judge       the living and the dead;…
O Lord Jesus! Son of God, innocent victim of our ransom, before your royal banner, before the mystery of your death and glory, before your scaffold, we kneel in shame and with hope and we ask that you bathe us in the blood and water that flowed from your lacerated heart; to forgive our sins and our guilt;…
Amen.

We survivors keep moving because there is hope, hope that our passion will end, hope that the turmoil within will someday turn to peace.  We have to hope, to hang on to something, or the future seems bleak.
At the Easter Vigil on Saturday night, Pope Francis spoke of the two women who returned to the tomb, sad because of what had happened and a bit trepidatious in anticipation of what they might find.

“Two women who did not run away, who remained steadfast, who faced life as it is and who knew the bitter taste of injustice… If we try to imagine this scene, we can see in the faces of those women any number of other faces: the faces of mothers and grandmothers, of children and young people who bear the grievous burden of injustice and brutality… By paralyzing and barren bureaucracies that stand in the way of change….In our hearts, we know that things can be different but, almost without noticing it, we can grow accustomed to living with the tomb, living with frustration. Worse, we can even convince ourselves that this is the law of life, and blunt our consciences with forms of escape that only serve to dampen the hope that God has entrusted to us. So often we walk as those women did, poised between the desire of God and bleak resignation. Not only does the Master die, but our hope dies with him.”

Eventually, our resurrection comes.  Healing comes.  Maybe not all at once; maybe just a little relief at first.  Suffering again and then peace returns, but this time perhaps for a longer period time.  It is enough to cause our hope for total healing to grow. 
Our journeys as survivors are as individual as we are, but we have one thing in common:  we all have the hope of an Easter.

“In all those places where the grave seems to have the final word, where death seems the only way out. Let us go back to proclaim, to share, to reveal that it is true: the Lord is alive! He is living and he wants to rise again in all those faces that have buried hope, buried dreams, buried dignity. …May we allow his tenderness and his love to guide our steps. May we allow the beating of his heart to quicken our faintness of heart.

Child Abuse Prevention Month – Progress in the Church

It is good to pause and reflect on a specific cause or issue from time to time.  It gives us the opportunity to raise awareness, to educate, to take action, and to move towards achieving a goal.

And so it is with National Child Abuse Prevention Month. We have much to learn, but we have learned so much. There are things we can do after we have identified that a child is being abused, but we must continue to work towards preventing it.

Preventing abuse in the Catholic Church is the goal of the Vatican. An outline for doing so in the United States was drafted by the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops  in their Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.  It was written in 2002 on the heels of the revelation of the sexual abuse problems in the Church and later updated.

At their Child and Youth Protection web site, they offer many resources to work towards this end.

 

Churches have implemented programs that ensure safe environments for children. Bishops, priests, teachers, staff and volunteers have to pass background checks and go through a program that helps them prevent and identify child abuse.  For me, this was extremely helpful when working with children. It put me on alert in the School of Religion program and high school youth ministry where I watched for signs of abuse in kids. Sadly, the home is not a safe place for some.

In addition to the adult training, children receiving any form of Catholic education are taught how to help keep themselves safe.  What grooming looks like.  To trust their gut.  To have a trusted adult in mind that they can go to with concerns.  As a parent, I was pleased to have this reinforcement from the Church to what I had taught them at home.

I firmly believe the worst days of sexual abuse by priests are behind us. Our bishops are trying their best to handle unbelievable circumstances, but there are some that just don’t get it.  The drip-drip-drip of reports of priests who have abused (generally years ago) and bishops failing to respond appropriately serves as a reminder that they are still in the pipeline.  I think, sadly, it would be negligent to believe there are no bad apples in the bunch.

This journey is a difficult one.  The personal journey of the survivor.  The ecclesial journey of the Church.

The pain and agony that a victim feels in indescribable.  It doesn’t feel like carrying a cross. It feels like being thrust upon the cross and left there in agony for a very long time.

The humiliation and shame felt by innocent priests, we cannot imagine.  On top of that, they have to minister to those who have been broken by abuse.  The falsely accused priest will never get his reputation back.  The people of a diocese that has been bankrupted because of the actions of abusive priests are victims in a different way.  Faith is tested and too often lost.  A bishop bears the burden that no one knows.  And the pope simply stands alone.

Sexual abuse causes incredible pain that reverberates throughout the Church and touches every single person alive.  It is the devil at work trying to destroy the Church that Jesus founded.  He has inflicted great damage.

The good news is that he has been discovered and is being stopped.  Evil will not win.

This journey through pain is one towards healing.  Through forgiveness. Towards hope.  It is taken one day at a time, one challenge at a time.  Inevitably, it requires forgiveness of the offender which summons a courage that is only possible by the grace of God.  With prayer, Reconciliation and the Eucharist, God provides it if we but ask.  It is with forgiveness that we can celebrate true freedom.

April is National Child Abuse Prevention month.  Every month is child abuse prevention month.

Joy in Suffering?

As a practicing Catholic, I try to live my faith.  Essentially that means I try to love and serve God and others.  Although I fail at times, God gives me the grace to get up and begin again.

One theme that appears over and over is that of suffering.  “Redemptive suffering.”  “Joy in suffering.” “God will bring good out of suffering.”

As a recovering perfectionist, if I do not do something well, I think I am a failure.

Living through the most painful days of addressing the abuse, I experienced intense suffering.  Gut-wrenching, I-don’t-want-to-live suffering. Getting through the day was an overwhelming concept at times, so I would focus on just getting through an HOUR.  There was just no way I could look ahead to the future because all I saw was pain.  It was unbearable to think it would always be there.

In my head, I knew that some day it would end.  My heart did not get the message.  So I suffered sometimes to the point of despair.

As I experienced this pain, the concept of having joy in suffering was incomprehensible.  Anything  about suffering was off the table.  Not only did I not have joy in suffering, but I fought it. I was mad at it.  I tried to escape the pain, usually in harmful ways.  I did not embrace the cross I had been given but tried to throw it off my shoulders.  This was all Catholic lingo for my world of hopelessness, and it was useless to me.

Yet I knew that it was correct, that our faith was centered on it as part of the Paschal Mystery:  the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  If I united my suffering with that of Jesus, it had redemptive value.

Those words were empty and quite frankly they angered me.  I hurt so badly and then I was supposed to accept it?  I did not understand this but I did understand that so-called “good Catholics” found this to be an essential part of their faith.  They seemed to find solace in it.

I didn’t, because I didn’t get it.  Therefore, I felt like I was a failure and I was a failure at being a Catholic.  I was embarrassed because of it. This caused a burden to be heaped upon me that I was already experiencing as a result of the abuse.

Two things regarding this that my spiritual director told me stand out.  One was that I was persevering through the suffering, so that said something.  The second was at a time of desperation and I asked “Why hope?”  He said, “Because Jesus rose from the dead.”  The message I received was that I should just hang in there, I was doing the best I could and that was good enough. There would be an end.

While I wasn’t necessarily encouraged by that, I felt my burden lift.  I was grateful.  He had a way a saying so much in very few words.

With a combination of a lot of things, the pain has finally lessened, though it is triggered by certain things.  Recovery continues through many efforts.

In my daily spiritual reading recently, I read something that stopped me in my tracks.

“Therefore, since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.  Through him we have obtained access to this grace in which we stand, and we rejoice in our hope of sharing the glory of God. More than that, we rejoice in our sufferings, knowing that suffering produces endurance, and endurance produces character, and character produces hope, and hope does not disappoint us because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit who has been given to us.”  Romans 5:1-5 (emphasis added)

There we go.  Scripture spells it out so very eloquently.

So if you are suffering today, open your bible to that scripture.  If you don’t have a bible, write it down.  Read it slowly and repetitively. Let those words soak in.  If they do not resonate in your heart, just think about it and know it is true.  It is the Word of God, the absolute truth.  Suffering really does produce endurance. It also makes you stronger, and more empathetic.

Today go to the Lord, if you can, and open your heart, spilling out whatever is in it.  He is there to listen.  He is there looking upon you with love.  Waiting. Longing. Loving.

(image from Wikipedia Commons)

 

Grace

“Grace is the initiative of God, his self-offer that is prior to any kind of movement towards him by the creature.” – The Coming of God by Maria Boulding.

“Grace is the initiative of God…”  God is the one who puts grace into action.  He gives himself in the form of grace before we are able to approach him.

The life of a Christian is full of choices – choosing good over evil, again and again in a multitude of situations.  This life is not for the faint of heart, for choosing good often comes at a cost.  From a human perspective, we make these choices with our free will. In many cases, we are pleased with ourselves for “doing the right thing” rather than being grateful to Jesus for the grace to help us choose good.

Sister Maria challenges us.  She says that “prior to any kind of movement towards him” – to good – God must initiate the action through grace.

We cannot do it alone.

When we choose to have patience rather than lose our temper, it is an act of the will only made possible by the grace of God.  If he does not offer himself in this way, we are unable to make that choice.

Free will proceeded by the grace of God makes moral decisions possible.

In our lives as victims, choices were made for us.  Evil was chosen over good.  As humans, our abusers had free will and they chose evil over good.  We just happened to be the object of their choice for evil.

God’s grace was available to them.  In that moment when they chose to betray a sacred trust, they  could have called upon God for help to control themselves and taken that grace that was so freely available to him.  But they didn’t.  Why?  Only they and God know.  I imagine a perpetrator’s selfish desires are so overpowering and their egos so huge that God is the last thing that enters their mind.

Often we ask, “God, why did  you let this happen?”

Sometimes we will be given the “all things work for the glory of God” line, or perhaps “God can bring good out of evil.”  While these things may be objectively true, God was only part of the equation.  Free will was the other part.

God gave us the gift of free will when he created us.  He loves us so much that he gives us the freedom to choose.  He will never force himself on us.

He won’t even force a priest to stop hurting a someone. I can only imagine the pain it must cause the Lord as he watches evil perpetrated upon the most innocent of his children, and by men who serve in his name.  How much worse can it get?  How much sadness can this choice of man’s free will cause our Lord?

Perhaps we feel the grieving of Jesus in our spirits in addition to our own.  We mourn the loss of innocence.  Our hearts wrench in pain. Only Jesus can touch that woundedness within with the grace he so freely gives.

Grace is a gift of God.  Healing is a gift of God.  The Holy Spirit is the gift of God.

Let us pray for one another that we are able to receive the gifts that our Lord extends to us today and always.

Service of Lament in Kansas City

It had been advertised for months, even before the new bishop was named for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.  A “Service of Lament” on Sunday, June 26, 2016 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Missouri.  The bishop would preside.

Those facts alone communicated, “This is going to be a big deal.”

The Office of Child and Youth Protection of the diocese, with the blessing of the bishop, organized it, as well as several healing services in parishes in the months leading up to it:  “HOPE: Healing Our Parishes through Empathy”.  The healing services were strategically planned to be held in parishes where known predators abused victims in the past.  Each service was different, but there was a common theme of the Church’s humility and sorrow for sins of the past, music, readings and litanies that ministered to broken hearts; priests lying prostrate before the altar, then offering genuine words of sorrow; asking for God’s healing; tangible ways for those affected by abuse to express their pain (putting prayer intentions in a box, dropping a small bit of incense in a smoldering pile of incense offering smells wafting through the church – and to the heavens – things of this nature.)  These healing services were truly moving experiences and no doubt healing for many.

I attended the first service and left as quickly as I could.  I was very sad and didn’t want to speak to anyone.  In retrospect, I see that I was focusing on my pain and abuse rather than entering into the healing components of the service.  At the second service, when I found myself leaning towards the same sadness, I was able to turn my thoughts to the present moment, the healing moment.

By this time, the new bishop had arrived.  This was his first service.  It was quickly evident that he was keenly aware of the deep wounds that had been inflicted by members of the clergy and Church officials, and in Kansas City in particular.

As the months of periodic healing services progressed, I kept my sights focused on the June 26th Service of Lament.  Being held at the “Diocesan Parish,” the Cathedral, gave it a particular significance.  Instead of a priest-presider, the bishop would be the presider.  Another indication of its importance.

And this was not a healing service where the focus was asking God’s healing on the brokenness of the victims and others affected by abuse.  This was a Service of Lament. where the focus was asking God’s forgiveness for the sins of the Church’s officials and clergy, which in and of itself is a healing thing.

I anticipated the service with great hope, yet some questions.  How would Bishop Johnston handle it?  The ultimate question in my mind:  Does he get it when it comes to clergy sex abuse?  As the service unfolded, it was quickly evident that he does.

Bishop Johnston delivers homily at Service of Lament.
Photo by Sally Murrow.

The service began with a Litany of Voices, short statements of actual victims read by different individuals followed by a response from a priest.

“I was only mad at him, but now I am mad at God, and at you too.”….“I do not merit forgiveness, but I hope you are able to grant it in your time.”
“I cannot trust.”….“I am sorry for robbing you of your trust.”
“The pain was so intense that I didn’t want to live.”….“Your life matters to me.”
“When I came to you, vulnerable and abused, you turned me away.”….”I receive and hear you now….Please forgive me.”

Bishop Johnston’s homily was very good. I thought he struck the right tone, said the right words,  showed that he understood and that his heart was with the victims and always would be.

Quite naturally, as the homily progressed, Bishop Johnston talked a great deal about
* child sexual abuse by clergy in the
* Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.

My situation did not apply to either.  I was not a child when my abuse began.  I was 18 years old, an adult by legal standards.  However, I can assure you that I was very much a teen emotionally.

In addition, my abuse did not take place in that diocese.

Suddenly, I began to feel very alone and out of place.  As I listened to the bishop, I found myself being so grateful for the advances in the Church when it comes to protection of children, accountability of priests and diocesan officials, and support for the victims.

But at the same time, I thought about the women (and men) in the Church who are abused by priests, who have this man of God in a position of power push himself on her sexually. There are many variations of abuse and misconduct with the priest as the perpetrator and a woman as a victim.

There are no official Church-wide policies to deal with this.  So it remains shrouded in secrecy.  If it happens, there usually is no crime.  There rarely are lawsuits.  And the priests predominantly remain in ministry, maybe to offend again.

In the mean time, what about her?

I’ll tell you “what about her?”  Take a look at this blog.  You can see the effect it had on me.  The outreach of the Church amounted to a spiritual director who walked me through it when I reached out to him.  He recommended me to a good Catholic therapist.  The Provincial Minister said “I’m sorry.”  Actually, many priests and a couple of bishops have apologized as well.  The abuser died, so there was no justice (in this world.)

The Church has made great strides with children.  Now she needs to turn her attention to adults.

Although the service was beautiful and needed, I left it feeling very alone and sad.

There was a very good article about it in The Kansas City Star and a YouTube video they posted of clergy in the entrance processional.  As you read the Star article, be mindful of the fact that this newspaper has had an anti-Catholic bias in the past.  It was refreshing to read an unbiased article about the Catholic Church in The Kansas City Star.

Our Church and her clergy have hurt so many people, most egregiously children.  What happens in childhood becomes a footprint for life.  What happens in adulthood can be very traumatizing as well.  We have come a long way since 2002.  We have a long way to go.  I think this Service of Lament in Kansas City was an exceptional step in the right direction.

The Rollercoaster ride called "Healing"

Today I looked back at blog posts since I opened up shop.  Wow, what a ride it has been!  You have seen, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The grace, the sin and the darkness.
It made me think about you. The survivor. What has your rollercoaster been like?  Where has it taken you?  Have you had companions who have supported you in a positive way?
I have often asked myself and others, “What does healing look like?”  
Having an understanding of the dynamics of abuse is important.  I read a lot and was constantly surprised that you and I – all survivors – share so many of the same thoughts and feelings, and that our abusers used many of the same tactics.
Perhaps knowledge is part of healing.
The abuser. The bishop or religious superior. The Church. The difficulties -and graces – that surround those relationships.  Working through the shame, anger, shame, pain, shame, self-loathing and shame. Possibly dealing with criminal justice.  Possibly dealing with civil justice.  Realizing that there is no real justice for what has happened to you.  There just isn’t.  The gut-wrenching pain that the thick of this process brings is the worst. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  The pain does lessen. And forgiveness can be considered.
Perhaps the decision (not the feeling) to begin to forgive is a part of healing.
Does one come to a point when they do not think of the abuse or abuser much, if at all?  I have wondered if a survivor is forever at risk of being triggered (like PTSD) by a story of clergy sex abuse.  It seems like just when I think I am “over it”, I go into a tailspin because I have read something ugly. 
Perhaps the lessening of instances of being triggered is part of healing.  
Depression has been such a big part of my life since I disclosed the abuse in 2008.  I had suffered bouts of depression off and on throughout my life. Some periods were worse than others.  The period of the most intense abuse and a time when we moved out of state were times when I should have sought medical intervention because I was so depressed. 
I entered a deep depression immediately after I told my spiritual director about the abuse and struggled with it until very recently.  I think we have hit on the right medication and dosage and have it under control.  I think!
Beginning to work through the abuse brought on depression.  I also have a melancholic temperament, so am naturally disposed to it.  Pangs from a difficult childhood fed into the depression sometimes. We have discovered that I have a mental illness, a mood disorder.  A drug-induced depression was caused from receiving the wrong type of medication.  A change in the “drug family type” caused that depression to lift immediately. So the point I am trying to make is that while I have suffered with depression, it is not all related to the abuse.  Being “not depressed” does not mean that I am healed.
But perhaps peace is part of healing.
We have had a couple of healing services in our diocese for those affected by any kind of abuse.  The services are sponsored by the Office of Child and Youth Protection.  There will be another one this week.  I went to the first one and I will go to the one on Wednesday. 
I tongue-in-cheek call it “chasing healing.”  The first service I went to left me feeling very sad and empty…and confused as to why I was feeling sad and empty.  I am looking forward to this week’s service.  I think it is important to join with others who have suffered in some way from the effects of abuse, to offer yourself to God in that moment, and say “I am yours.”
Perhaps healing from abuse it is something natural and it is something supernatural – and a lifelong process – despite our wish to “get over it” for good.  
At a human level, we do what we need to do psychologically, mentally and emotionally.  At a spiritual level, we open ourselves to the grace of Jesus to work in our hearts.
I am not healed.  However, Jesus has granted me a great deal of healing – through the human and spiritual means. Ultimately it is all in his hands.
Moving towards healing is a rollercoaster ride alright, a wild one, especially at first. As time has moved on, I think the dips are not as steep and curves are not as sharp.  Who knows.  Maybe someday it will just be a nice leisurely ride, coasting along in the breeze.

Reading a New Book

It has been a while since I have read a book regarding clergy sex abuse.  I reached a saturation point with my reading quite a while ago and didn’t want to have anything to do with abuse material any more.

Someone called my attention to Veronica’s Veil: Spiritual Companionship for Survivors of Abuse.  It was written by survivor T. Pitt Green and Father Lewis S. Fiorelli, O.S.F.S. (Oblates of St. Frances de Sales).  

I heard about the book quite a while ago but didn’t have the emotional energy to invest in it.  Upon hearing about it again and with feeling so much better, I decided to order it.  I am so glad I did.  This is the description of the book as written on Amazon.com:


VERONICA’S VEIL 

Spiritual Companionship for Survivors of Abuse A Guide for Integrating Faith with Recovery 
Veronica’s Veil is a watershed in offering spiritual support to a growing number of adults who wish to integrate their Christian faith into the arduous psychological recovery from child abuse by clergy and other persons in authority. Veronica’s Veil can help transform encounters with survivors of this trauma into turning points in healing. This is an essential guide for priests, sisters, deacons, other ordained and lay ministers, and therapists-as well as families and friends of abuse survivors. Recreating the point/counterpoint style of the authors’ workshops, Veronica’s Veill features over 175 essays on topics that commonly arise in therapeutic work or other recovery settings. With many tips for sensitizing one’s language and approach, Veronica’s Veil inspires enlightened dialog about faith with adult survivors of abuse, violence and post-traumatic stress. With additional notes by a psychologist, Veronica’s Veil is an excellent aid to informed spiritual dialog that runs parallel to professional counseling, with insights for Catholics and non-Catholics into a uniquely faith-based struggle overcoming childhood abuse. Veronica’s Veil draws on the gentle spirituality of St. Francis de Sales to create an invaluable tool for all people seeking to integrate Catholic and Christian faith with a survivor’s recovery program.

I not only bought a copy of the 400+ page book for myself, but one for my therapist and spiritual director.  I don’t know if they will read it, but they will have it as a resource.  My spiritual director said that perhaps this is a book that every priest should have.

Father Fiorelli teaches spiritual directors how to help abuse survivors, right down to the types of words to use and the manner in which to speak to them.  I was pleased, but not surprised, that my spiritual director has helped me in much the same way as Father Fiorelli suggests.

Teresa shares her experiences and insights in a very gentle way.  As I read it, I feel like I have a companion on a very difficult journey.  Much healing has taken place in my life, and I no longer live in the darkness that was so pervasive for so long.  But reading her words help me feel like I am not alone. While I know there are many others out there who have suffered the same fate as I, since I have no regular contact with any, it is easy to feel alone.  Reading the book softens that blow.

She has a web site, Restoring Sanctuary, that I strongly encourage you to visit.  A wealth of information awaits.

I have no way of knowing, but I assume many of you do something similar as I – you do what it takes, when and how to help move towards wholeness and holiness.  It can feel a bit like groping around in the dark, but that is why a support system is so important.  When we are in those areas of darkness, someone can guide us through and help us maintain hope.

I am grateful for those who have helped me find my way to peace.  It is my prayer that the Lord leads you to those who will help you do the same.  God bless.