By Deborah Rodriguez, MD
In telling my story, I draw upon the Scriptures–especially the Gospels–for meaning, context and strength. The story of Mary Magdalene at the tomb (John 20:11-18) is one that has helped me tell my story. Mary Magdalene had been healed by Jesus (Luke 8:2) and, after experiencing her healing, never left Christ’s side, even walking with him to the Cross. Her story gives meaning to my own.
But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb,
… and as she wept she stooped to look into the empty tomb.
Tears and the empty tomb.
I am an adult survivor of child sexual abuse. My abusers were Roman Catholic priests. Like many survivors, I have shed tears of anger and of sorrow. I’ve wept in despair and shame. During my childhood I learned it was no use to cry over what was happening to me. My cries, like my voice, were silent. And, in silence my cries and my memories remained for years, sealed off as if in a tomb. The tomb was sealed with shame, guilt, and hidden pain.
They said to her, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
She said to them, “Because they have taken away my Lord,
and I do not know where they have laid him.”
Where was God?
As an adult, I reported the abuse to church officials. A new nightmare unfolded: It was revealed that one of my abusers was a known pedophile priest. With the opening of my memories, I opened up a history of lies and wounds committed by those who were supposed to protect me. Everything I believed in–family, church, priests, even God–seemed like a lie. Like Mary Magdalene, I searched for Jesus in the tomb of my abuse. I only found emptiness. I felt alone and abandoned.
Saying this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing,
but she did not know that it was Jesus.
Jesus saw me.
I could no longer see Jesus in the Catholic Church, particularly in priests. Those Roman collars the priests wore were reminders of exactly who inflicted so much pain on me and on so many others. I had been hurt by the priests in my childhood and by the cover-ups that had occurred in the following years. I thought I had no other choice but to leave the Church. I was ready to give up on God, but He was not ready to give up on me.
It was a Thursday morning, Holy Thursday in fact, when I heard the words that would change my life. Like a sweet mother, Mary, the mother of Jesus spoke these words to me in the midst of a deep prayer: “Walk with my Son.” My pain and suffering were not mine to endure alone. I needed to join my sufferings with Jesus’s sufferings. Only in the Cross did I find meaning in my pain. Jesus hurt with me and for me. Jesus wept with me. And Jesus would bring me healing. Jesus was always with me, I just didn’t recognize Him.
From that moment on, I walked closely with Jesus. I could never leave His side. And I deeply desired to experience His Presence sacramentally, which meant I needed priests in my life. This was so hard. The hands of the priest that triggered such horrible memories from the past were the hands that would now bring me Jesus in the sacraments. I even reached out to a few priests with my story. I was blessed to have priests in my life who heard my story and joined in my healing process. They wept with me and expressed sorrow for the sins of their brother priests.
I was now able to see Jesus through the priests. “I may not trust you,” I told a priest, “but I trust Jesus IN you.” And thus began my true healing in the Catholic Church. I will be honest; it is not easy to remain in the Catholic Church. But I will remain in the Church. For it is here, in the Catholic Church—with the sacraments, the Scriptures, the saints, good holy priests, and fellow sojourners—that my healing continues.
Mary Magdalene went and said to the disciples,
“I have seen the Lord,”
and she told them that he had said these things to her.
A message of healing
Mine is but one story of many, all of us finding healing in various ways. I pray my story will empower and encourage others. Like Mary Magdalene, I proclaim to others that I have indeed seen the risen Lord and He brings healing.
Remaining a practicing Catholic has given me access to the sacraments, to the communion of saints, and to a supportive community. One of the saints journeying with me was a little Italian girl named Maria Goretti, who at age 11 was mortally injured as she fought a man who tried to rape her. Hers is a story of pain, but, more importantly, it is a story of forgiveness. This forgiveness transformed her attacker. Her story transformed me.
I now work with other abuse survivors as they journey on the road to healing. Each one of us survivors has faced the tomb. We’ve sometimes felt trapped in the tomb of our past. I’ve been given a great gift of opening that tomb and, with Jesus, finding my way to healing. God bless us all.
Deborah Rodriguez MD is a wife, mother, lifelong Catholic, and pediatrician. She is a survivor of clergy abuse as a child. She is the Regional Representative of the Maria Goretti Network, Seattle Chapter, a support group for survivors of abuse. Contact Deborah at Debbie@mgoretti.org