I came to the role of Victim Assistance Coordinator with the Diocese of Arlington Virginia thinking my training as a social worker would be central to helping victims and survivors of abuse by clergy and others in authority in the Church. What I quickly learned was that, while my training was important, prayer would be the most important thing I would do. In that way, the demands of my job reached—and tested—my faith far back into the roots of my own childhood.
When I was three years old, my father joined the Navy and served in World War II. He was Commander of a ship traveling back and forth from Norfolk to Holland carrying soldiers and supplies. Germany was torpedoing American ships in the Atlantic at the time. We prayed daily for his safety and for the safety of our uncles and those defending the United States. Thankfully, my father came home to us. It was my first lesson in the importance of prayer.
As time went on, I attended Catholic grade school, high school, college and graduate school. My high school and college were staffed by the Daughters of Charity at Immaculate Conception in Washington D.C. and at St. Joseph College in Emmitsburg, Maryland. The Daughters were instrumental in my faith formation and my decision to pursue a Masters in Social Work at Catholic University—a degree that prepared me for my work with victims and survivors.
After I graduated high school, my father suggested I call Catholic Charities and see if they had any summer jobs. I was hired as a receptionist/typist for summers, Christmas and Easter vacations. Eventually, I was hired to work in the Children’s Services program of Catholic Charities. The program included Crisis Pregnancy Counseling, Foster Care and Adoption. This job was another occasion for prayer. I worked with pregnant, unmarried women in need of medical care, housing, and a plan for their expected child. For most, it was a time of embarrassment, even shame. Many of these mothers-to-be made attempts to keep the pregnancy secret, and some suffered with depression. We prayed for these young Moms and encouraged them to seek spiritual guidance. Many devoted foster families cared for the children after birth until a permanent plan could be made. This often involved nights in the hospital with a sick baby as well as long hours with a crying baby. We prayed for our babies and for our foster parents—and for the Moms. When adoption was involved, we then prayed to find those special adoptive parents to care for this child’s needs. The prayer was often short, “God, please help me with this child,” as we rushed from one task to another. But prayer was part of everything we did. We even developed a fairly unique adoption placement ceremony where birth parents, foster parents, adoptive parents and agency staff came together in Church to pray for these children, and their birth, foster and adoptive parents. Looking back now, I remember how prayer unified us as it helped everyone who was struggling with their own challenges to also rejoice over those precious children.
That same prayerfulness played a role years later, after I had been become the Associate Director of Social Services for Catholic Charities. In response to the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Bishop Loverde and Rev. Mark Mealey, O.S.F.S., who was Vicar General for Administration, asked me to take on the job of Victim Assistance Coordinator. I was a bit overwhelmed at the thought. The first thing I did was pray. Could I help adults who, as precious children, had been so wounded by the Church? Would my faith survive the challenge?
After prayer and much discussion, I accepted the position and asked Bishop Loverde and Father Mealey if we could begin with a Mass to pray for healing for victims/survivors of abuse. It was a suggestion that was echoed by some of Bishop’s advisers. Bishop was scheduled to leave in just three weeks, but he asked me if I could plan, organize and publicize this Mass in that short window. Without hesitation, I said “yes.” I really didn’t know much about organizing a diocesan Mass, but I understood the importance of when starting any endeavor.
Our first Mass was held on June 30, 2004 at the Cathedral of St. Thomas More with several hundred people in attendance, including many of our diocesan priests, sisters and lay faithful. Bishop Loverde’s homily included the following:
I am sorry, profoundly sorry for the terrible pain you have experienced because of sexual abuse. It is a pain which lingers in the lives of those who have been abused. I am sorry – deeply sorry – that you endured such abuse because someone you trusted implicitly betrayed you… With all my heart, I apologize for the pain and hurt inflicted upon you as a result of the abuse.
Bishop Loverde, Father Mealey, and his successor Father Thomas Ferguson have repeated this sentiment at the 45 Masses, 34 Prayer Services, 32 Support Groups and 7 Retreats we have held to pray for healing for our victims/survivors. Prayer is truly the life of this ministry, and I pray regularly, daily for victims/survivors around the world, that they may find God’s love, peace and healing in their lives.
Patricia Mudd received a BA from St. Joseph College in Emmitsburg, Maryland and MSW from Catholic University of America. Pat worked for Catholic Charities in Arlington as Program Director of Children’s Services and Associate Director of Social Services. In 2004, she was asked to take on the role of Victim Assistance Coordinator. Pat is married, the mother of three adult children and six grandchildren.