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Jessica's Story: "How Could I Say No?"
Dear friends, I am deeply honored to introduce you to my courageous friend and sister in Christ, Jessica Jung. Jessica is a survivor of childhood clergy sexual abuse who is telling her story for the first time today, after nearly thirty years of silence.
I trust you will read this story with the care and compassion Jessica so richly deserves.
Please note that this piece includes a graphic description of childhood sexual assault and may be difficult or triggering for some readers. To preserve her privacy, Jessica has chosen to share her name but remove other identifying details in this narrative. Jessica lives in the United States, but is not from the Archdiocese of Milwaukee.
Jessica was seven years old, a quiet little girl who loved dogs, art, and playing basketball with her brothers. While she attended Catholic school, her family had not been to Mass often enough for her to understand the role of a priest. But when the children in her class, lined up to go outside for recess, started shouting out to the young parish priest and seeking his attention, she knew there was something special about this man. “All my classmates flocked to him, wanting to be seen, acknowledged, spoken to,” she recalls.
Jessica came from a wounded family, leaving her with a deep desire for attention and affirmation. So when she found herself alone in a storage room with this important man, the man that every child wanted to be noticed by, she felt special, honored.
That is how it began.
Jessica explains: “I would have done anything for him. So when he undid his pants and wanted me to touch him, how could I say no? Within me, alarms were going off and everything felt wrong, but I didn't know then how to pay attention to those things. I just knew that if I refused, if I caused him any trouble, he wouldn’t like me anymore. And my little girl heart was holding on to his attention and care with everything that I had.”
“By the time he was finished, his whole demeanor had changed. He was angry, and maybe disgusted with himself. And afraid, I think. He said that we shouldn't have done that, that what I had done was wrong, that we couldn't tell anyone what had happened. I remember feeling so shaken, confused, and afraid—afraid someone would find out, afraid of what he would do, afraid that he wouldn't care about me anymore.”
Jessica kept the secret.
When she found herself alone with the priest again, in that same storage room, she felt uneasy. But she was also relieved and grateful that this busy man still wanted to spend time with her. Then the priest reached for her leg, pulled her closer to him, and tried to undo her pants. He said it was “only fair,” but she was terrified and tried to pull away.
Jessica remembers that moment clearly. “In an instant, his whole presence changed. He was angry. The shift was so dramatic, his anger so palpable, that I ran. I made it to the door and partway up the steps outside before he grabbed me from behind and pulled me back toward the room. I was terrified and struggled against him, but it was no use. He pushed me back into the room and up against some extra desks that were there. I remember the desks: the sound of the legs scraping across the floor, the feel of them rocking and sliding, the edges cutting into me when they wouldn't go any further. I remember the feel of him up against me, behind me. He was angry. All of his movements were fast and hard and painful. I remember the feeling of being trapped—his body was all around me, too big and too strong.”
On that day, Jessica was raped by this special, important man. She remembers fear and confusion, then physical pain and a sense that everything was falling down around her.
“When he was finished, he pushed me away from him like I disgusted him, like I was nothing. His anger was gone, but he was not happy. He seemed…defeated. He said it shouldn’t have had to be that way and asked why I made him do it. Then he told me to go. I was scared and shaking and confused. When I didn't move right away, he got frantic, insisting that I get out.”
Jessica went back to class that day and, like so many victims of abuse, never told anyone what had happened.
At some point, Jessica says, she pushed the memories from her mind completely. But that did not prevent the effects of the trauma from rippling throughout her life. Carrying the secret burden of her abuse, Jessica felt overwhelmed by feelings of loneliness, confusion, guilt, and shame. Over time, fear, despair, and anger took over her heart. She spent many nights crying herself to sleep, begging God to let her not wake up in the morning.
For Jessica, there was much darkness in the years ahead, but there was also light—a life-changing conversion in high school that drew her into a deep experience of God, a degree in theology and psychology from a Catholic university, a successful career at a restaurant, where Jessica now directs a large crew of employees who affectionately refer to her as their “momager.”
Although Jessica’s memories remained buried, the effects of her childhood trauma never completely disappeared. Then four years ago, in 2015, the abuse from Jessica’s childhood began to surface once more.
It was a normal day of work for Jessica: a hot, busy afternoon in early June. The lunch rush was just ending, so she was hurrying around and giving directions to keep everything moving. But then, everything changed.
At that moment, a priest walked into her restaurant and ordered a meal. Even before she recognized him as her childhood priest, Jessica experienced an immediate, intense emotional reaction to his presence. She spent the rest of the day feeling deeply shaken, although she could not explain why.
A day later, Jessica’s unexplained distress continued, so she sought refuge in prayer at a familiar church. “Almost immediately, as I entered into prayer, telling the Lord that I did not understand what was going on, I had what I now know to be a flashback. It was just a piece of memory: the face of my childhood priest, his hands on me, his body too close to mine. To say that it freaked me out is an understatement. I fled from the church in dread and panic. It was such an intense, terrifying, disorienting experience that I left feeling even more shaken.”
Over the next few days, Jessica continued to pray, pleading with the Lord, begging for these memories not to be true. While she desperately hoped that there was some other explanation for her experience, she came to trust that God had a way forward for her, whatever would come next. Later that week, she told her story to a trusted therapist and began the long process of remembering and processing the trauma she had buried for so long.
The journey was slow and painful, fraught with anxiety, panic attacks, and flashbacks, as details of the abuse became more and more clear in Jessica’s mind. PTSD is a messy condition that can be difficult to treat, but with the help of an experienced therapist and the support of her spiritual director, Jessica began to move toward healing. Ultimately, Jessica placed her recovery in the Lord’s hands, trusting Him to heal her wounds. “The Lord has been my constant companion,” she explains. “I asked Him to pour His light into every part of my heart and past.”
As she prayed for the guidance of the Holy Spirit, Jessica eventually felt compelled to speak up and report the abuse to her diocese, a process that proved to be much more painful than she could have imagined.
This is the first installment of a four-part series sharing Jessica’s story of abuse and healing. The next piece describes Jessica’s painful experience of reporting the abuse to her diocese, shedding light on what this process can be like for survivors, even those who deeply love the Church. Part Three shares information about where Jessica's case stands today, and the series concludes with a question and answer piece, where Jessica responds to questions submitted by readers.
If you have a question you would like to ask, or you would like to reach out to Jessica in any way, you can do so by posting a comment below or sending me a message that I can pass along .
If you would like to offer a gesture of support for Jessica and all survivors, I encourage you to consider signing the Open Letter to Survivors written by Awake Milwaukee.
In the meantime, I invite you to pray for Jessica and for all who have experienced the trauma of abuse in our Church. As we prepared to share this story, Jessica and I have been praying this prayer together, entrusting our words to the care of the Holy Spirit, who is renewing the face of the earth.
Come, Holy Spirit,
Fill the hearts of your faithful and enkindle in them the fire of your love.
Send forth your Spirit and they shall be created.
And you shall renew the face of the earth.
O God, who by the light of the Holy Spirit did instruct the hearts of the faithful,
Grant us in the same Spirit to be truly wise and ever to rejoice in His consolation.
Through Christ our Lord.