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Survivors' Voices: What I Want to Say to Catholics, 2022
When I launched the In Spirit and Truth Survivors’ Voices series in July 2021, I knew that I wanted to create a space for victim-survivors to speak in their own words and tell their own stories. Through my work with Awake Milwaukee, I am honored to be able to personally connect with many people who have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, but I know that many of my fellow Catholics do not have that same opportunity. So, this blog series is meant to be one small way to make sure all people can listen to and learn from survivors - and hopefully be transformed by what they hear.
The first topic in this new series was “What I Want to Say to Catholics,” so I thought it would be interesting to return to this subject one year later. Some of the people who offered responses the first time around have new things on their mind today; other contributors have joined the Survivors’ Voices Panel sometime over the last 12 months. All of them have something valuable to say.
I wish the average lay Catholic knew how exhausting it is to be thought of exclusively as a liability and a threat by your own Church. I wish they knew what spiritual treasure survivors hold within ourselves, like all who have been crucified with Christ. We bear insight and prophecy alongside our anger and zeal.
What comes to your mind when you think about the issue of sexual abuse by Catholic leaders (e.g., the stereotype of young boys being molested by Catholic priests in the 50s and 60s) is not the entire reality of the issue. There are many, many female victims and also many adult victims, as well as many victims who were abused more recently - even after 2002. The "reforms" and practices put into place in the early 2000s and the services provided to victims since then that have been touted by the Church as having "fixed" the problem are not the reality of what victims who have gone to the Church for help have experienced. The true reality is that victims are quite often revictimized upon turning to the Church for help, because Catholic leaders still do not understand the issue of sexual abuse and the impact this abuse has on its victims.
Everything I was taught as a young boy about what it means to be a good Catholic has been washed out to sea because the source of those lessons - the priests, bishops, and the Pope - are the very same people who choose to cover up the child sexual abuse scandal which clearly demonstrates the hypocrisy. I don't need the approval of the church or any religious beliefs to know that I'm a good person. The "approval" comes from within. Self-acceptance.
Last year when Sara asked this question I could have gone on forever. I had so much to say and so much hope. This year, right now at least, I am feeling dejected. While Sara, the people at Awake, and some initiatives around the world seem hopeful, I don’t see any positive changes happening in my location. If anything, the church seems to have tightened up and the hope many of us had in our state attorney general has all but disappeared. I have been dedicated to speaking up, but right now I want to escape to a place without any trace of religion and live free of religious words, news, and conversation, at least for a little while.
Don't be afraid of survivors of clerical abuse. Don't write us all off as having walked away from the Church. Many survivors may have walked away; however, many remain - like me. I'm just a person of faith, just like you. I don't need you to "do anything” for me, except to just listen.
You don't have to believe abuse allegations against a priest you know when they first come out. But you do need to admit that they are possible, and you need to refrain from dismissing them out of hand and/or publicly announcing your support of the accused priest. That alone would make a huge difference.
Recognize that it can happen to you and to your children. No one is exempt from basic personal and professional boundaries, and that includes your parish priest and your spiritual director.
After I went public with my story, many people came out of the woodwork to tell me to leave the Catholic Church, while many other people appeared to tell me that I needed to stay no matter what. Those judgments, cast without asking me what my own feelings were on the Church, make me feel like I can never make the right decision in the eyes of my community. That's an incredibly isolating place to be.
I become infuriated when I hear Catholics and others say that a victim of abuse has come forward because of some kind of financial motivation. There is no amount of money that can heal the damages and take away the pain of sexual abuse.
The institution of the Church doesn’t need your protection, people do.
Thank you for reading. More reflections on this topic next week.
If you have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I would be honored to include your perspective in this “Survivors’ Voices” series. You can find more information here: An Invitation for Survivors.