Lent and Suffering

Many religions observe the liturgical season of Lent, but we Catholics seem to be talked about the most.  Our tradition of having ashes applied to our foreheads on Ash Wednesday, the first day of Lent, is our reminder that we began as dust and to dust we shall return.  We are told to go forth and preach the gospel and into Lent we go. 
“What did you give up?” can be heard throughout parishes around the world.  The idea is that we do some form of penance to acknowledge our sorrow for sin for which we have been freely forgiven.  An additional approach is to do something special, something proactive, that will help us grow.  I like to try to do both. 

This period of special observance of the suffering of Jesus is a time we can focus on how our suffering can be used for His glory.  That always was hard for me to grasp, especially during times of personal suffering.  All the scriptures about “carrying our cross” to follow him seemed to fall on deaf ears when the pain inside was ripping me apart, especially when the “cross” was put upon my shoulder by a member of the clergy who represented Jesus.  I didn’t want to hear about carrying a cross, much less that it was a blessing or something I had to do to follow him.  Oh sure, I knew this was true and didn’t dispute it, but it felt awful during those times when just getting out of bed was a chore.

I told God many times that I could not bear that suffering alone,  I needed his grace and strength, and I offered myself to him to do with me as he needed in order to accomplish his will.  I offered him my pain, my grief, my sorrow and asked him to fill me with his love, his strength, his compassion.  I literally threw myself on his mercy because I realized how utterly helpless I was.

At the same time, I was doing what I could on the human level: seeing a therapist, taking antidepressants, talking to friends and a spiritual director, and allowing my husband in.

Well, God is infinitely merciful.  An Ash Wednesday miracle took place in my soul.  I went to Mass to receive ashes and begin Lent. I had been suffering a terrible depression earlier in the week but was feeling a bit better.  As Mass progressed, I sensed a surge of love for God in my soul, so much that I felt like I was going to explode.  I didn’t know how to contain it, so I loved him back.  We had such a strong communion as one, and sitting in his presence, as one with him, was the ultimate gift.  There were no words for those moments, only love.  There was no sadness, only joy.  No pain, but peace.  It was pure grace that God poured out upon me, something that he made happen and for which I was totally unworthy. 

That has stayed with me, and when times of sadness come along, I am now able to thank him for them, to thank him for the honor for suffering with him.  It is a genuine gratitude because it is a genuine honor to be asked to carry a cross alongside him as he carries his.

This is my message:  implore the Lord to work in your heart.  Offer yourself to him.  Empty yourself of and ask him to fill you, and for that which you are unable to do, ask him to make it happen.  I did this for years before there was any drastic change. 

Have a good Lent.  May the Lord help you carry your cross with his.


Web sites and books and blogs, oh my!

Support in recovery is so important. Education is as well. It was through reading articles, books and stories of other survivors that I realized that I wasn’t alone in what I felt. I was amazed at how universal the effect of abuse is on people. It doesn’t seem to even make a difference what the actual abuse was or how old one was when it happened. I was 18 years old when my abuse began and it affected me deeply. One doesn’t have to be a minor for it to be devastating.

There is so much support and information available to people who are trying to recover from abuse by members of the clergy. I am beginning to gather names and addresses of web sites, blogs, books and articles. They will be posted on this blog.

If you find any of these ministries helpful, please consider supporting them financially. Most of them are non-profit organizations and exist only to help us. Most of these sites have a vast wealth of information and resources on them.

It is critical that we maintain hope.  I want to share that with you.  I’m sure you would rather hear more inspiration than my tales of woe!  Hopefully I can find a balance between the two so that we can all learn and grow.

The web sites that I am posting I find helpful and hope that you will, too.  Many of them are faith-based and specifically Catholic.  I will throw in some other kinds in the future, so keep checking the list for updates. 

If you would like to see something specific, or would like me to consider putting your blog up, please let me know.  I’m finding that there are networks out there.  I would like to pull in those who fit into a circle of female survivors of sexual abuse by priests.  A neighboring circle would include other types of abuse, other faith traditions and men.  To offer resources for the faith aspect of healing, the Catholic web sites are listed as well as other blogs.

Posting of these resources does not imply endorsement or approval of the contents therein.

Trigger … or life?

It is well known that when someone experiences trauma, they can be snapped back to that place of pain when “triggered” by something of similar nature that happens today.

I have been having some very rough days. Days turned into weeks. I thought perhaps it was because I was spending time working on this blog – thinking about abuse, researching it and writing about it. I decided perhaps I was aggravating my own healing journey by working on this, so I backed off.

In the time since I last posted here, much thought, discussion and prayer has gone into the issue. Is the blog a trigger for me? Possibly.

Could my recent difficulties have been due to something else? Possibly. From a combination of things? Definitely.

There are no hard and fast answers. The truth lies with Jesus. The Truth IS Jesus. Going to Him in times of need is automatic for me. I ask His Holy Spirit for discernment, which at times seems elusive, especially in times of darkness. I depend on many sources to help me in this process of move through the fog to find the answers, namely the wise counsel of a few key people.

A headline about abuse does not always bring on depression, sadness, pain, or angst. Sometimes it does. But I really do not believe that simply working on the blog is the cause for such a thing, so I’ve decided to get back to work on it.

One thing I have learned is that I have to pay careful attention and take care of myself. Garbage in, garbage out. I cannot listen to the hateful, broad generalizations against an allegedly evil church. It is sickening to hear people blindly defend a priest, a bishop or another person involved in a situation. An empassioned absoluteness and unwillingness to hear the other side are huge red flags. And guess what? There is a lot of that going on.

I don’t know what the answer is. Well, I do… it is Jesus. But I don’t know how people who have been so hurt can receive what He extends. Is it possible? (All things are possible to those who love the Lord…) When someone feels betrayed by God, can they ever trust in Him again? I think it takes a tremendous amount of grace from God, and a willingness to receive it. But, wow.

Pray for these people, and if that is you, know that you are receiving prayers. If you find that offensive because you find God offensive, well, I’m sorry.

Our hope is in the name of the Lord who made heaven and earth.

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Were we vulnerable to clergy sexual abuse?

Clergy sexual abuse comes in many forms, from the sensationalized priest-and-altar-boy scenario to a pastor trying to seduce a woman. It is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust.

Perpetrators often target victims who will cooperate and not tell anyone of the abuse. A person who needs to feel wanted, loved, and accepted and who easily trusts is easily victimized. The abuser can easily swoop in and begin the grooming process – showering gifts, becoming a friend and establishing trust. Once the abuse begins, a person with weak self-esteem finds it very difficult to break free.

A child’s ability to avoid the intrusion of a sex offender may very well rely on his or her acceptance of an intrinsic sense of self esteem.

This was the case with me. I was in high school when I met my abuser, who was over 30 years older than I. In my short life I had experienced much rejection and felt very unloved. When Father Aloysius came along, opened his rectory, began baking pizza and telling jokes, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. A father-figure who not only accepted me, but treated me nicely and seemed to respect me. Besides that, he was so very smart. He had his licentiate in Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Theology. He led pilgrimages to the Holy Land. He translated documents into other languages. I mean this guy was no small potatoes, and he was paying attention to ME! I felt like I had such a good friend. He even took me into his family circle. I knew his mother, went to his sister’s family’s house, played with his nieces and nephews. I was “in”.

When he backed me up to that wall that first time, I was absolutely flabbergasted, totally confused and embarrassed. I quickly divided him into two separate men – my good friend, Father Aloysius, and that priest I hated and learned to defend. During the 19 years of abuse, neither one of us ever uttered a word about his treatment of me. He took it to his grave.

I have to heal from the abuse. I have to heal from that which made me vulnerable to the abuse. I am very much a work in progress, and grateful to God for His mercy and grace. He has poured it out to me through His treasury in the Catholic Church. There have been so many dark days, but Jesus has always been there with me, whether or not I felt Him. I’ve always been able to stay close to Him in the Eucharist and Confession. There are so many priests in the Church who have helped me along the way. I just wish everyone could know the compassion I have known by priests.

My husband and I have made sure our children know they are loved. Every day ends with a hug and an “I love you”. They have gone through the safe environment training programs at church and Boy Scouts. We have talked about appropriate behavior with adults and peers. I don’t want them to EVER, EVER go through what I have gone through.

The other child of mine – the one within – rests in the arms of Jesus. Healing continues. It is my prayer for you today that He wraps His arms around you and whispers His love to your heart. If you have been abused, please be sure you have a support system. If you haven’t told anyone, find someone you trust and tell them. When you break the silence, your healing will begin.

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Know of any good books?

One thing that has helped me most in my walk out of the dense fog of confusion is reading. The dynamics of clergy sexual abuse are so complex! The average person isn’t aware of most of them. In addition to simply needing to learn, I had to continue to sort out the truth from the lies.

The one book that helped me the most was

Sexual Abuse of Women by Members of the Clergy by Kathryn A. Flynn. It is a result of a research project she did for her graduate degree. She interviewed 25 women who had been abused by a member of the clergy, asked them all the same set of questions, analyzed her findings and developed her conclusions. These women were abused at various ages and the nature of the abusive acts were different (and not revealed.) Yet most of them were affected the same. I was amazed by this.

I thought I was going crazy before I read this book. I had seen a psychiatrist to determine what anti-depressant I could take. After the Q & A, he told me I had many characteristics of PTSD. I was shocked. That had never occurred to me as a possibility. The first thing I did was read about it when I arrived home. Sure enough. I was all over the pages of the descriptions of PTSD.

That is what prompted the purchase of the book. It was recommended to me because she talks a lot specifically about PTSD in women who have been abused by clergy. I had seen it before, but the darned thing was so expensive ($45.00 on Amazon) that I refused to buy it. This time I decided it was worth it.

I could not put the book down. Flynn described me over and over throughout the book. She helped me understand that the things I thought and felt and the way I acted were perfectly normal for a woman who had been abused. It wasn’t normal for the average person, but I wasn’t average.

When my eyes grew tired, I passed the book off to my husband. He struggled to understand everything. Looking from the outside in, none of it made sense to him either. Once he read the book, he, too, began to see the light. It was one of the best things I did during the healing process.

I read many other things as well, and they were all instrumental. Knowledge is powerful. Knowing the truth helps diffuse the lies, which helps bring peace.

I have given the book to several key people because I’ve thought it was so valuable.

What has helped you on your journey? Is there one particular book that has been of greatest benefit? A song? An article? I would love for you to share it with us. Who knows. It might be just the thing that one of us needs. While we may come from different backgrounds, have been abused at different ages in different ways, if you are a female and have suffered at the hands of a clergyman, you can bet we share many of the same thoughts and feelings. We can learn from one another. Another survivor told me about this book. Has something helped you in a big way?

Thanks for stopping by.

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It has always been important for me to feel like I belong. I’ve experienced so much rejection in my life that I yearn to be accepted and to know that I belong somewhere.

That is what the attraction was with my abuser. I felt unconditionally accepted by him. I was comfortable with him and enjoyed spending time with him. That is, until he started making advances. Even then, I quickly figured out how to manage him so that I could maintain the good relationship and pretend the like bad part didn’t exist.

Fast forward to today. As a survivor, I don’t feel like I belong anywhere. I’m different than everyone. I don’t feel like I can be myself with anyone. I feel like I have to guard what I say because I might offend someone. The complex set of feelings I experience are maddening. I’d just like to know, “Does anyone else go through this?” But who do I ask?

The psychologist. The spiritual director. The husband. The friends. They are all supportive and helpful in their own ways, but they haven’t experienced anything similar.

Do I go to a SNAP support group? Where people hate the Church I love? Probably where there are people who know exactly what I’m going through? It’s a little intimidating.

I could wait for the diocesan victim support that is coming together, and I plan to, but I need something now.

Once again, in vain do I look for kinship. Gratefully I have a solid network of family and friends to carry me. Most importantly I have my faith. Jesus has carried me constantly. I give myself to him daily and ask for his grace to get me through another day. He always supplies it. One thing I’ve learned through this process is that everything I have is pure grace, a gift from God. I can do nothing without him. These essential elements are in place.

Someday maybe God will send me someone who has experienced clergy sexual abuse who can totally relate to me. And maybe then I won’t feel like the total oddball.

For now, it’s one step at a time, walking in darkness with God.

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Bonanza of Info on Clergy Sexual Abuse

OK, so I’m surfin’ the web, checking out all of my “favorites” and deciding what resources I consider valuable enough to share with you through this blog. Did I ever stumble upon a gold mine!

FaithTrust Institute is full of great information. Period. From their site: FaithTrust Institute is a national, multifaith, multicultural training and education organization with global reach working to end sexual and domestic violence.

But I discovered something new since my last visit to their site: a 900 page listing of resources about clergy sexual abuse available to us. Go check it out for yourself. This is a real gift!

What follows is taken directly from the site: FaithTrust Institute Clergy Sexual Abuse Bibliography

This extensive annotated bibliography on clergy sexual abuse provides resources on sexual boundary violations within the religious community. While the bibliography focuses on the position and role of clergy, the concept of sexual boundary violation by someone in a religious role is applied here to include other positions that also involve fiduciary trust and power (for example, a missionary or youth worker).

The bibliography is divided into four parts: Introduction, Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3. Materials are arranged primarily by type and then alphabetically by author. The annotated entries are descriptive and intended to summarize the contents of the work in relation to the focus of this bibliography.

Introduction (PDF, 20 pages, 127 KB)
Description of the Purpose, Scope, Sources, and Content
Part 1 (PDF, 326 pages, 2.4 MB)
I. Non-Fiction Books, Book Chapters, Monographs, Booklets, and Packets
Part 2 (PDF, 332 pages, 2.3 MB)
IIa. Academic and Religious Articles and Papers from Academic and Religious Journals, World Wide Web, and Religious Magazines, Newsletters, News Services, and Pamphlets
Part 3 (PDF, 249 pages, 1.8 MB)
IIb. Law Review, Legal Journal, and Legal Resource Articles
III. Unpublished Papers and Presentations
IV. Articles from Secular Newspapers, Newsweeklies, Magazines, Newsjournals, News Services, and the World Wide Web
V. Reports Issued by Formal Inquiries
VI. Novels, Fiction, Plays, Cinema, Art, Photography, and Poetry
VII. Theses and Dissertations
VIII. Videotapes, DVD Videodiscs, and Audiotapes
IX. Training Materials
X. Non-English Books and Articles, Not Annotated
XI. Archival Materials to Locate
XII. Materials to Locate

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Suffering, Death … and Resurrection!

They lead Jesus to the courtyard of the palace, and there call together the whole troop (Mark 15:16). The brutal soldiers strip his most pure body. They drape a dirty purple rag about Jesus. They place a reed, as a scepter, in his right hand. The crown of thorns, driven in by blows, makes him a mock king … “Hail, King of the Jews!” (Mark 15:18) And with their blows, they wound his head. And they strike him… and spit on him. Crowned with thorns and clothed in rags of purple, Jesus is shown to the Jewish crowd. Ecce Homo: “Here is the man!” and again the chief priests and their attendants raise the cry, saying, “Crucify him! Crucify him!” John 19:5-6)

He allowed this to happen. Jesus is God. He could have stopped any of this at any time and simply said, “Enough!” But he didn’t. He sat there and took it. He took the torture and the mockery.


His Father, God, willed it. Earlier in the evening Jesus prayed in the garden and asked his Father that if it was his will, to take this cup of suffering from him. God did not take it away, so Jesus took it willingly.

The suffering, death and resurrection of Jesus – the Paschal Mystery – was all part of God’s plan. Jesus lived it out in humble, loving obedience. Because he offered himself in love, he gave us the opportunity to spend eternity with him.

Jesus was fully God and fully man. He had free will and in those moments of torture and mockery could have said, “I just can’t do this. The pain is too much.” But he didn’t.

In the times when my inner pain screams so loudly that it cripples me, it’s hard for me to remember that God can, and will, use all things for his Glory. Jesus suffered and died on the cross, but he overcame death in his resurrection. I, too, suffer and feel like I have died many deaths. Out of the evil perpetrated can come good.

I think the key to the outcome lies in my response.

If I succumb to the temptation to withdraw, obsess over the abuse and neglect, get angry or any number of other unhealthy responses, I will not provide opportunities for God to do his work in and through me. I’ve already seen this happen.

When I become the center of my universe – my pain, my angst, anger, depression, sorrow, confusion – it is nothing but trouble.

When I offer myself to Jesus and put him in the center, it’s all good.

God is love. Listen to that: God IS love. God = love. God >is the same as< love. When I sit with that for a while, it envelopes me. He envelopes me. I am not alone.

We are not alone. There are many others who have experienced similar things as we have. There are people who love us for who we are. No one can know what we feel like inside. That can be the most difficult thing and where we feel most alone: with ourselves. The sweetest thing of all is that Jesus can be with us interiorly. In a very real way, we are not alone. If we sit very quietly, we can hear him, even through the chaos that sometimes resonates within.

Lean on him. Lean into him. Rest in him.

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Clergy abuse prevention starts at home.

Abuse does not happen in a vacuum. Most of the time, we who have experienced it were vulnerable to it because of prior life experiences.

Mine was a childhood filled with emotional neglect and fear. When I was born, the oldest in the family was 11 years old. I was the 8th child. Do the math. That’s a lot of kids for a mother to take care of. My dad was building his business, getting ready to build a house and already an alcoholic. He was of little help to her.

He scared me to death. There was a look in his eye that sent chills down my spine. I, along with my siblings, scampered to bed and shut the light off when he came home late at night so he would think we were asleep. A punishment from Dad was harsh – a hard spanking or a whipping with a belt.

I felt like I was in the way and a huge burden to them. My siblings didn’t want me around and let me know it. My best friend was a cat. We often went off together and I would tell it my problems. It never rejected me, listened intently and loved me just as I was (I thought).

I was convinced that if I ran away from home, no one would realize that I was gone, so I never bothered.

I never received physical or verbal affirmation of love from my parents or anyone in the family.

When the priest abuser came into my life, accepted me unconditionally and made me laugh, I was hooked. I not only had a friend and a father-figure, I had someone who loved me. And he knew it. He saw his openeing when he met me and he went for it.

I believe the first line of defense in clergy sexual abuse is giving every child a solid emotional start in life. Making sure all their relationships are solid – family, friends, school – will make them less appealing to a predator, less likely to be drawn in to one, and more likely to stand up to one.

Clearly some child abuse actually begins at home, but for the majority of children, it can be prevented from within the home.

Love your kids. Make sure they have good friends. And see to it that they are treated right at school and elsewhere. Diocesan safe environment programs are necessary to protect children. Educating them on self-protection is essential. However, the foundation you lay in their formation is the best prevention there is.

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Welcome to my world.

It’s a new year and seemingly a good time to begin a new blog.  Welcome.  I am a survivor of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest.  My children, parents or most of my siblings do not know for varying reasons.  When, and if, the time comes for me to tell them, I will.  For now, however, it is a journey I make with friends and now strangers on the internet.

When I was considering starting this blog, my primary goal was to reach out to others and guide them to places where they might receive help and healing.  I hope that happens, but it is no longer my main focus.  Perhaps it is a little narcissistic, but I need to concentrate on self-care.  If I want to survive, I have to take care of myself. For me, writing helps.  That said, knowing what the struggles, joys, thoughts and feelings of other victims are have  been extremely beneficial for me.  Education has been as well – reading books and articles.  Maybe, just maybe, by me sharing some of mine with you, it will help you on your journey if you or someone you know has experienced something similar.

With time, I will add resources for you to consult – web sites, blogs, books, articles.  For now, I want to welcome you.  If you are reading this, it’s a start!  Please share this with friends.  I have a Twitter account and would love to have you join me there.  I discovered it is a great way to network with others dealing with the same issues.  By following me, I hope that you may be helped by someone you find through the account.

I’ve never done anything like this before, so you will probably be mildly entertained by my ignorance.  Hey, I have to start somewhere!  I welcome your suggestions about how to make this more useful to you and others.  If I can do it, I will.

While I was abused by a Catholic priest, the Catholic faith is very much the center of my life and will be reflected here.  Today is a Holy Day, the Feast of Mary, the Mother of God.  There have been many times when I have experienced such deep pain from abuse that Mary is the one from whom I could feel love because I could not accept the love of any male spiritual being.  She prays for me, and I’m sure she prays for all the abused.  As the “mother of priests”, think of how her heart must grieve when one of her “children” offends a child or another vulnerable person so deeply.  And now the mantle of her love wraps gently around us and holds us as we try to accept the healing touch of God.  Holy Mary, Mother of God, pray for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death, Amen.

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