Love Will Heal All Wounds
Most Holy Father,
As you prepare for the extraordinary meeting on sexual abuse with the presidents of the world’s conferences of bishops, I am compelled to write to you as a survivor of sexual abuse from a Catholic Priest. I am one of many, and I hear that you regularly meet with other victims. I don’t know any specifics about your meetings with survivors, but I hope that you listen to the suffering behind their words, that you can see the little boy or girl abused by someone whom the Church ordained to love as Christ loves, but who instead treated us as objects. I hope that you respond with the love of Christ the healer, who sought out the sick and hurting souls and offered them the peace that comes only from faithfully picking up our own heavy crosses, and following Christ’s teachings. I hope you seek to redeem the spiritual fatherhood that the abusers used to deceive and manipulate each of their victims. Lastly, I hope you love them with an unconditional love that perhaps they felt didn’t exist, didn’t think they deserved, or thought only others were worthy of receiving. We, victims, seek to rise above our abuse and be more than survivors. We seek to restore our dignity as beloved sons and daughters of our loving Heavenly Father. We seek to never again have anyone violate our trust or our dignity. We seek to reclaim our lost childhood, our original innocence, and our dignity–all of which were stolen by our abusers. Money, justice, and revenge, none of these will satisfy our needs, only the love of Christ.
Co-Workers in the Vineyard, the Laity
If there is one message that I hope you clearly communicate to those who attend the “Protection of Minors in the Church” meeting, it is that the laity are the only ones who can fix the problem of clerical sexual abuse. We need strong holy leaders too, but they alone cannot fix such a deep-rooted problem, it is too broad and too ingrained in the structures of the Church. In the case of my sexual abuse by a priest, my parents did what they thought the Church expected of them. They enrolled me in Catholic Schools, and when the opportunity presented itself, they encouraged my relationship with Fr. Andy Willemsen. They could think of no better way for me to become holy and embrace our Catholic faith than to spend a lot of time with a priest. My parents didn’t think they were equipped, or even qualified to pass on the faith to me, so they paid the Church to do it.
Encourage your brother Bishops to teach parents to accept their roles as the primary teachers of faith to their own children. It is the job of the Church to provide the parents with the tools they need to do so. A parent should feel as though they are qualified to evangelize their own children. Likewise, children are entitled to parents who provide witness to the beauty of the Catholic faith. By empowering parents to take responsibility for their children’s religious formation, the Church has succeeded in its primary mission to evangelize the world. If we can’t evangelize adults, then we have failed the Lord’s great commission (Matthew 28:16-20).
The Restoration of Authentic Fatherhood
The Church needs the strong witness of faithful priests and Bishops. Those sexually abused by priests trusted the very people who were supposed to protect us from evil. The abused suffered in several ways; they experienced physical abuse, endured emotional abuse, and were indoctrinated into embracing sexual sin. These wounds last a lifetime for abuse victims. They were taught a counterfeit version of love, and many passed on that counterfeit love to their own communities. The unselfish love of Christ can set us free from sin, but a selfish love will only torment and hurt us and the community in which we live. The faithful who choose to remain in the Catholic Church have made a heroic choice– it is not easy to remain in a Church that has betrayed their trust. The faithful trusted their spiritual fathers to protect them from evil and to protect the most vulnerable people in our society.. Our trust was betrayed by the cover-ups and even more so by the unprecedented protection of the abusers. It will take a long time for the Church to rebuild that trust.
We need strong and holy Fathers to boldly proclaim the truth that we were taught by Jesus Christ, to protect the most vulnerable among us, and to seek out and provide healing for the wounded. We don’t need Church politicians, we don’t need Bishops who are only concerned with themselves, instead we need Bishops who are willing to give their lives for their sheep. We need Fathers who will die for their flock, who will make difficult choices that will inspire the faithful to follow them, and provide an environment of healing and comfort for the victims of sexual abuse. We need saints.
1) Train Bishops and Priests to speak with love and empathy, and challenge them to offer healing to those who have been sexually abused.
2) Boldly proclaim the truths of the Catholic faith, especially in the area of sexual morality, for this is what victims of abuse need and deserve for their own healing.
3) Empower the Laity through a robust Adult Education Program to be the Primary Evangelists of their own children.
I am writing a book to bring healing to victims of sexual abuse, their families and the Church, please visit AbuseofTrust.org for more details.