An accusation of clergy sexual abuse has been made against your pastor (or another beloved priest). The alleged victim, “Jane Doe”, said she was abused 30 years ago, and had filed a lawsuit against him and the diocese.
What do you think? He’s your pastor, a great guy, very charismatic and loved by all. He involves himself in parish activies, especially at the school. He is invited to dinner at parishioners’ houses regularly and makes people laugh. And those homilies. Oh, those homilies! They are spot on, inspiring and uplifting.
But now this “victim”, she calls herself, is saying he is not the man he says he is. In fact, he is quite the opposite. She claims that he pushed himself on her and gets very specific about the things he allegedly did to her that were unimaginably horrible.
No way. Not Father. He would never do anything like that! He loves the Lord so much and it is evident. And he denies it totally, saying he doesn’t even know who she is, but that there are so many parishioners that he has met while he has served as a priest, he very well may have met her and just doesn’t remember it. He would never lie about that.
Besides, if she had been abused, why didn’t she say something when it happened? She’s just money-hungry now and knows the Church has a lot of money.
Folks, the above scenario has been played out over and over in the Catholic Church, and variations of it in Protestant churches, schools and sporting associations. People believe that since a priest is supposed to be so holy, surely it must be the victim’s fault. Besides, no one would EVER believe that a priest who was so loved would ever do anything like this.
The sad thing is that in most cases, the alleged abuser is in fact, an abuser and the victim, in fact a victim. Faithful Catholics support Father, do not believe victims and are angry at them for wanting to “take down the Church”. When the facts slowly come out, there is disillousnment among the faithful, and then they blame the victims for “bringing it on themselves.”
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Often victims do not speak up for many years because they repress the memory (yes, this IS a psychological phenomenon) or are confused, ashamed, blame themselves, and in fact hate themselves. Sometimes they simply cannot believe it was abuse. Keeping the abuse to themselves is perfectly normal because they are so ashamed that something sexual happend with a “man of God”.
And many times, this is the case.
When a claim of abuse is made, keep an open mind. Do not immediately blame a priest, because false allegations are made, but do not defend him, because the vast majority of the time, allegations prove to be true. Just let it play out, and it is very important not to slander him or the victim.
Clergy sexual abuse is a horrid thing. It affects a person for life. This is difficult for the average person to comprehend. One cannot simply “get over it” or “leave it behind”. It is etched in the psyche. Healing is needed and that takes time, effort and prayer.
While we have great programs in place to prevent sexual abuse, the enemy will compel sinners to circumvent them. We have seen this take place.
Support victims. Believe them. Love them. Pray, pray, pray for them, as well as the priest and bishop (or provincial minister if he is a religious). If an allegation is untrue, a reputation has been severly damaged. If it is true, the priest needs help and must never minister again.
God help us all.