How an abuse survivor found strength to return to the Church thanks to a bishop
Susan was 15 years old when she was abused by a priest and became pregnant. Until then she volunteered at the parish and played the organ occasionally at ceremonies. The traumatic abuse experience kept her away from the Church for several decades.
Fifty years after that crime, with the personal support of a bishop, she was encouraged to rethink everything.
“He asked me, 'What do you want me to do for you?' I was floored. I was taken aback. I was just in awe. This is because it took such courage on his part, such reliance on God in the response, not knowing how I might respond to that question. It took a lot of faith and humility on his part to ask that question. This is the question that we all have needed to have been asked of us. But I was asked that personally and that changed everything for me.”
The Centre for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome emphasizes the importance of putting victims first.
Centre for Child Protection
"In addressing the problem, the first question is the victim. How is he or she doing? What does he or she need? How can we help him or her? How can we make sure there are no other victims? Even before the interest of the institution, how should the institution change? What should we do? The first is to change the mentality. It's about looking at the victim. From there, creating a environment in which he or she feels free to share and talk about the problem.”
VICTIMS ARE LATER IGNORED OR REJECTED
The pain of many victims like Susan has been exacerbated by an attitude of rejection and denial by some priests or religious.
“The fact that we were considered a threat to the Church, that our quest for spiritual healing was a threat to the Church. It was almost as painful as the initial abuse.”
MONEY HELPS, BUT SOMETHING ELSE IS NEEDED
Susan says although money helps pay for therapy, it doesn't heal wounds. There is a response much more important.
“That is helpful, but what was lacking is the pastoral response. Thinking that we would not want to come back to the Church, we would not desire to return to the Lord's table. We would not want to be part of the Catholic community. That kind of response has been absent. We're out there. Like me, sometimes early on driving in the parking lot of a Catholic Church watching people go in, but feeling it wasn't the place for me.”
In the U.S. diocese of Pittsburgh, those in charge of assisting victims are facing the same challenge.
Director of the Office for Accompaniment
“The Church here in the United States has changed. As far as in some ways, as far as looking for the clearances for people, helping people to understand more what this is all about, and responding to the different accusations or allegations that have arrived. Does that mean it's perfect? Absolutely not. It's growing. It's much, much better than it used to be. But the Church still needs to grow. One of these areas is the pastoral outreach, is reaching out to accompany these people and helping them to find healing.”
Many victims of abuse do not find this support available to them and lose hope.
“I've lived in isolation and secrecy. At my advanced age, that's a terrible loss for me. I think how beneficial it would have been if these groups had been available earlier. I wouldn't have been so alone, so isolated.”
Susan's healing came 50 years after she suffered abuse. She hopes sharing her experience will help other victims regain peace in less time.