Survivors' Voices: Forgiveness, Part 2
Wow. The reflections about forgiveness submitted by those who have experienced sexual abuse by a religious leader have been really powerful. You can find the first set of responses here, and the rest are below. I am so grateful to everyone who shared their heart in this way.
Childhood clergy sexual abuse robbed me of knowing I was good, sacred. Forgiveness came more naturally and easier when I began mindfulness and self awareness practices, and when I could finally begin to treat myself with kindness and compassion. In light of this love, I can't speak much of the tender, intimate journey of forgiveness briefly, in a short paragraph, without cheapening my life story and the relationships I’ve had with so many. I can say that it would have been so much easier if the church taught me, as a child, that I was love, holy, chosen, godly instead of pointing to the priest as Christ himself (in the person of Christ, another Christ). I've forgiven much, including my abuser, but this doctrine and the practices and crimes associated with it are not something I feel a need to forgive, only to speak up about the dangers and devastation associated with upholding this ideology.
Forgiveness has been an issue of extremes for me. Intense memories of repeated rapes during my childhood did not surface until I was in my 60’s. After the shock and denial stages passed, anger set in, actually rage, in nuclear measure. My off-the-chart anger at what was done to me, and how it had destroyed my life, left no room for forgiveness. My psychiatrist and therapist tried to tell me that forgiveness was a necessary step in order to heal. I would have NONE of that! I told them “how DARE you suggest that I forgive the criminals who raped me – in preschool, in grade school, in high school!” After years of being stuck in my anger (and all the emotional, mental and medical fallout it created), I tried an in-person forgiveness class, then watched videos, and read a number of books… without success. It wasn’t until I read a book, “Hitler Went to Heaven,” then pursued spiritual groups, that I learned to infuse compassion into the mix. What had actually happened to these rapists that made them into what they became? In many cases, it appeared that they themselves were molested, criminally assaulted, and/or battered with horrific treatment at very young ages. An ounce of compassion was not going to hurt me – it was a gift I could give, from my heart, to heal ME, while I left the punishment/retribution in the hands of a Higher Power, who knew ALL aspects of that person’s life, unlike I could. Did I excuse their behavior? Absolutely NOT! But eventually I was able to let go of the caustic rage that was tearing ME apart. That letting go process catapulted my own healing process in ways that nothing else could have.
Forgiveness seems to have multiple levels for me. At one point I prayed that I would go to hell so never to see my abuser again. His abuse - beginning at age seven and lasting several years - led to some horrific experiences. At this point in time and healing, I have forgiven him. The greater struggle has been in forgiving myself. What did I do? How did I let this happen? Who am I? The shame, hurt, and fear of someone finding out consumed me. Truly, with the grace and mercy of God I am now in a much better place in my own forgiveness. As much as I may live toward heaven at this point, I don’t plan on having coffee with my abuser.
If you have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I would be grateful to include your perspective in this series. You can find information about joining the Survivors’ Voices Panel here: An Invitation for Survivors.
I’ll have the April Reading Roundup for you next!