In the Fall of 2018, I was overwhelmed by headlines of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church following the release of a grand jury report in the state of Pennsylvania. These headlines are enough to make anyone sick to their stomach. But for some of us they do a lot more than just make us sick. I was abused by a volunteer in the Catholic Church as a teenager. At a time when my family was separating and I was greatly struggling with chastity, as normal for many teens, I was taken advantage of. Someone with distinction in the parish and diocese at large took advantage of my vulnerability. Someone who was friends with Church leadership. Someone who took on liturgical roles. Someone who I wanted to trust.
I know what it’s like to live every moment of the day in hiding. To wake up in the middle of the night in cold sweats. To constantly have a burning head and elevated heart rate because your body doesn’t know what to do with the memories. What I went through is nothing compared to some of these victims whose abusers were listed in the Pennsylvania grand jury report. But I know their pain to some degree. The fear of someone finding out about what had happened led to strained relationships and a desire to escape life. Amidst all this, something was always searching for me. And no matter how much I tried to avoid the pain this something was asking me to confront it. I never strayed away from the Church but lived my faith with a mask on. A mask that said I had everything together and was truly thriving. Amongst this I began living a double life. One that was a “faithful” practicing Catholic and another who was exploring the hedonistic lifestyle of an unchaste and far from temperate college student. I found only more hurt and pain in the latter.
An Imperfect Spouse
Although I had been gravely wounded by members of the Church, I found the Church was the only entity on this Earth calling me to total healing. It was members of the Church, the bride of Christ, who were calling me to take off this mask and patiently waited with me until I was ready. Most of all, Jesus, was waiting for me to give it to Him completely and surrender my control of this knowledge to those who could do something about it. I was saved by Christ through the Catholic Church from a lifetime of letting this memory overcome me. With the help of FOCUS, the Paulist Fathers and the great Dominican Order I experienced the love that the Church is called to give to the world. A priest from none other than Pennsylvania itself is a huge part of the reason I am on the path of healing.
I was randomly placed in confession with him at a FOCUS conference. (Go FOCUS!) His spiritual fatherhood encouraged me to come forward and let all in the light. When I finally did this, there was some in the church that did not act appropriately. One even being a member of the clergy, whom I considered a dear friend. They wrote off what had happened to me for reasons that greatly anger me to this day. However, the diocesan officials did everything in their power to help me and protect the church from further damage done by my abuser. One in particular stood by me as I filed police reports and checked in with me repeatedly to ensure I was getting the help I needed. While the police were keeping me waiting in the dark, the diocese was constantly pushing for progress in the case. I’ve experienced a church who takes care of its abused despite a few of its members not doing so. Not one that is passive and decisively ignorant as a whole.
A Call to Faithfulness
Although this isn’t true in every time and place, it rings true in my case. This experience not only brought me closer to our Lord but showed the humanity that comprises the Catholic Church. Some people chose not to act appropriately by not protecting me and others. But most others did. This is a reflection of humanity as a whole. Regardless the Church should be held to a higher standard. By standing firm to its own teaching and working to root out sexual immorality and confusion in the clergy and the laity, this will happen. It will not happen through the means of our sexually confused culture which the abusers within the church have bought into.
What I’ve experienced outside the Church was not a call to healing. The Church offered healing to me despite individual men who led me to need it. Let us not forget the men who committed these grave acts were not born sexual abusers. They came from families. That’s where their formation started. We must change the culture which church leaders are born in. This culture is comprised of you and I.
As an abused I ask you to not let these scandals take away your faith but rather see it as a call to keep our leaders accountable. I ask you to seek truth in all situations and not let the emotions that these cases stir up in us skew your mind from seeking true justice. I ask you not to punish innocent church officials for the actions of a few. I ask our priests to protect and care for the wounded in these scandals. I ask you to listen. Renunciation of the Church and its teachings will only lead to less grace in the world and more abuse, as I have experienced through my experimentation in the secular culture.
I am writing this blog to share my love for the Church and how Christ has used to it to pull me closer to Him. I am writing for all those who are looking for healing, in hopes that Christ in my life will give hope and grace to those who need it most.
In love and truth,