By Victoria S. Schmidt
Everything seems too complex, too beyond reach.
Constance Fitzgerald, OCD
When I found a counselor 100 miles away, I felt I could begin to understand how this all happened. I could have never pieced together an understanding of this life-long story without having someone who could objectively lay it out for me. My counselor was invaluable, and I would see her regularly for the next four years. Because of the shame and guilt, it took me almost a year to even tell her about the sexual abuse by a priest.
My relationship with the Church has been a rocky one. I’ve immersed myself into understanding how the Church could allow this misuse of power. I’ve read extensively about it. Sometimes I wish I didn’t understand the long history of abuse in our Church. Sometimes I wish I was just the average person sitting in the pews on Sunday who has not a clue about any of this. Clearly, there is a disconnect in the hierarchy’s understanding of human sexuality and how utterly devastating sexual abuse can be for children, teens and young adults, causing a lifetime of emotional struggle.
How do we stay with a faith based institution that has allowed its most vulnerable people to be used and discarded as if we had no value? How do we reconcile remaining a Catholic when we know this? How can we trust them to do the right thing? For many of us we grew up with a deep respect for priests and religious, because we had been told they had sacrificed their lives for us. Part of my healing process was coming to understand that they have human weaknesses too. Yet their collective power to protect the Church from scandal was used to hide these human failings and lead to an international scandal for the entire Church.
My faith in Jesus Christ never faltered. In fact, I leaned more heavily on my relationship with Jesus and the Holy Spirit. I was deeply hurt by and very angry at the institutional Church and viewed most priests with distrust. So, why did I stay? I stayed because of a commitment to living Gospel Values. I stayed because the Catholic Church is still a voice of hope for the poor and marginalized. I am very committed to the social justice teachings of our Church. They have informed much of my life, and this calls me to stay and to serve.
Working with the poor has given me first-hand experience with their struggles for daily living. The horrific abuse of women is endemic on every continent. Mothers watch their children starve to death for lack of food and medicine. Refugees struggle from displacement and human trafficking occurs in every country. It overwhelms all of us. There are so many broken human beings. As Constance Fitzgerald says above, “we give into a passive sense of inevitability and our ability to figure things out is eliminated.“ We all need help. We need direction to move beyond the feeling of being unable to figure things out. We want to rekindle hope for ourselves and the world. My desire to stay in the Church also comes from a deep need to help others heal. I first had to do my own healing in order to help others. I had access to counseling while so many others suffering in the world do not.
I have found that contemplation has helped me to hold the tension of the incongruity within the Church and its praxis. Teaching one thing and doing another is a grossly inconsistent model for God’s people. We know we can do better and should.
Julian of Norwich (1342-1416), wrote a lovely prayer, “All shall be well, and all shall be well, all manner of things shall be well.” I believe she was reminding us how important it is to embrace mystery and trust in the slow work of God.
Victoria S. Schmidt lives in Springfield, IL. She considers working with Mother Teresa of Calcutta from 1981 to 1995 to be the highlight of her life. She has been involved with ministry with the poor most of her life and currently serves as Executive Director of Theresians International, an international Catholic ministry for women. icki was a contributing author to Broken Trust: Stories of Pain, Hope, and Healing from Clerical Abuse Survivors and Abusers by Patrick and Sue-Lauber Fleming (Crossroads, 2007). She co-authored a second book with the Flemings entitled Shattered Soul? Five Pathways to Healing the Spirit from Abuse and Trauma (Wordstream Publishing, 2011).They are currently working on a third book of daily reflections based on the Five Pathways to Healing the Spirit. It is due for publication in 2017.