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Survivors' Voices: Betrayal
The topic of betrayal obviously struck a nerve with many of our Survivors’ Voices Panelists. Their responses are honest and heart-wrenching.
Please take the time to reflect on the experiences of these women and men who have been abused by Catholic leaders - and consider sharing their words with others.
Betrayal was just about the ONLY thing I felt about my abuse for so long…betrayed by the Church I’d trusted to look out for me, betrayed by people I confided in who didn’t support me the way I’d hoped, but mostly betrayed by God. I felt like I’d given Him my whole life and He’d spat it back out at me. It took me so long to learn that God and the Church were not the same thing.
For me, betrayal affected me more deeply than any other aspect of the abuse. The religious community to which my perpetrator belongs is a small society of apostolic life headquartered in my diocese. Their proclaimed charism is that the vocations are equal and should work together to further the work of the gospel in "areas of deepest apostolic need." My family and I had been in deepening friendship with the society for years before the abuse took place. In retrospect, it was probably part of the community grooming dynamic. When Father singled out me and my family, we were betrayed not only by our pastor, but by a priest we had known and loved for years. When I reported Father to the general superior, we were subsequently betrayed by the entire religious community: priests, sisters, and lay people. It left a huge hole in our lives and led me to doubt every aspect of my faith.
One of the most healing things, and something that I think has enabled me to continue as a Christian, was realizing that I wasn't the only one betrayed that day. It was fairly early on that I was able to connect my experience of betrayal with Christ's experience in the garden of Gethsemane, but later on I realized it went even deeper than that. The sacrament of Holy Orders is supposed to be, like all the Sacraments, a way that Christ directly ministers to His people. When the priest who abused me misused the authority and the faculties that came with that (my abuse occurred in a confessional), he was directly committing an offense against Christ as well as against me. It was an offense like spitting on the Eucharist: a direct offense against God. It was Sacrilege. It's hard to explain, but realizing that helped heal my relationship with Jesus in a way nothing else has. It clarified which side of the confessional He was on that day.
When I spoke to my bishop, he promised to get to the bottom of it. He didn't. He said to my spiritual director, "She's seems truthful." The director replied, "That's because she is." He had a copy of another victim's letter. And yet he went along with the Vicar General's latest lie - blaming me for the situation. He says to me now, "I want what's best for you." No he doesn't. You can't stand with a lie, allow them to take vindictive retaliation against me for reporting, and claim that. He has simply further damaged my sense of the Church.
When I found out the scoutmaster had previously been arrested for sexually abusing three boys I felt betrayed. That's when I realized I was nothing more than a sexual commodity; the betrayal of trust cut deep. The long-term effects are: I don't trust men, and I have no interest in having male friends. I've been in psychotherapy for 20 years and in drug rehab 21 times, so I've done the hard work to get where I am today, which is self-acceptance.
My parents didn't know what was happening to me as a child, so they couldn't betray me, though I felt deeply betrayed. Some in my congregation knew what was going on. Whether they tried to stop the abuse or not, it continued and we were betrayed. After a conversation with some of the the sisters from my school decades later, I realized they felt their own betrayals and disempowerment; one seemed more scared than me (maybe she held her own secrets). They didn't intentionally betray me, but I felt betrayed. The theological school I attended later in adulthood, which was supported by the same religious order of my abuser, was life-giving, but in the end, they have done nothing to support us or acknowledge the abuses of that order. Their inaction feels like a betrayal. Many of the local clergy and hierarchy, some with good intentions, betrayed me, some were very personal betrayals. I thought God betrayed me and eventually felt rage toward God. But God, who I don't think is particularly a He, hasn't betrayed me but took my rage and loved me more. I wonder if God, perhaps Jesus, and the good women and men who first began "church" feel the church has gone astray and betrayed its own people.
Betrayal feels like such a big, hard word; I find myself reluctant to use it to describe my experience. As I’ve sat with that, and tried to understand why, I finally see that to feel betrayed, I have to believe I deserved better, I deserved to be treated better. My hesitance to use the word betrayal reveals another layer in my heart that still feels it’s my fault. How could I be betrayed when I caused it?
If you have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church and would like to share your own reflections, I would be grateful to include your perspective. You can find information about joining the Survivors’ Voices Panel here: An Invitation for Survivors.
I will have the second half of this post next week, so please subscribe here if you’re not already signed up.