The tragedy of clergy sexual abuse leaves in its wake a trail of lifelong pain. However, those who have been abused are not the only ones who suffer as a result of their perpetrator’s sin. Every man in the priesthood and diaconate suffers.
First of all, as they sit with victims and listen to their stories, their hearts are wrenched with the pain they sense from the empathy they have. They see before them an innocent little lamb that had entrusted itself to the care of a gentle shepherd. As it had followed with docility, its shepherd turned and savagely injured the little lamb. Just as the Lamb of God was led to his slaughter, this one was as well.
Priests know better than anyone the magnitude of their sacred office. They know such a violation on the spiritual level is akin to rape by God. Although some victims cannot put that into words, they feel it. That is one reason clergy abuse is so devastating. This man who stands in persona Christi, “Father”, perpetrated a most egregious harm to the most intimate aspect of our being, reserved for our spouse alone.
Having empathy for a victim, broken and angry, who comes to him for help, brings the priest into the circle of pain.
However, where the priest himself is a real victim is the automatic scrutiny under which he comes simply because he wears a collar. The world tends to paint priests with one broad brush. Because there are abusive priests, they must all be abusers. It’s an absurd assumption. Some people simply hate priests because of what others have done. They are yelled at, cursed at, have children protectively pulled away from them on sidewalks, are spit at in airports and much more.
This is the price they pay for wearing the Roman collar.
And they do it in silence for the most part. There is a level of sensitivity they maintain, as they suffer inside.
Those of us who have been abused by a priest have suffered. Some of us have sat across from a faithful priest and worked through the issue with him, and have seen the pain in their eyes as well.