I recently went into a church for the first time since I was abused. It wasn’t as hard as I thought it would be, considering the church was in Mexico and well they all spoke Spanish. I did have this very weird feeling walking into a church and not knowing what to expect. I believe I handled it quite well. With that being said, I have made the commitment to let my children pick their own faith and join them when the time is right, if needed. At the moment, I will not be part of any institution for quite a few reasons. There could be a day where I step back in and join. With the continued support of the Healing Voices fellowship, along with friends and family, I may. Letting everyone know about my abuse was very tough with emotions, but I have recently come further into my healing process because of doing so, with all the loving support I have. This process is all finishing up, and now possibly with this closure I might eventually join another parish soon enough. For now … I will hang out with my family and friends 🙂
After the trauma of abuse, we usually must ourselves loose from its grip. We often must wrestle to correct decisions we made as adults while still in a hobbled state. Yet, with all the sound therapies and restorative practices and self-help reading and journaling, we still come to some end of our abilities with the work undone. Like everyone else, survivors need a Savior. That redemption became my primary experience of God.
There was a time when I sat nearby as church-goers comfortably passed through the front doors on Saturday night. Missal in hand, I imagined following Mass at a safe distance from the Church which had placed a wall between me and her sacramental life. There is where I was amazed to learn the Eucharist is not constrained by walls. God parked the Israelites on the brink of the Promised Land and made them choose between life and death. I found myself doing the same, tentatively emerging from yet another spiritual desert, sitting in an idling car with dogs at my side. Even though the Church had judged me inconsequential in the equation of conspiracy, had since continued to reject survivors like me, I was being forced to think for myself. I was being forced to choose. Was Christ the Victor over evil, or not? Yes, or no? The answer was life and death for me. My mental and emotional and spiritual well-being were staked upon my reply.
Many times, long ago it seems, I tried to leave the Church, seeking God in different churches and denominations and traditions. Nevertheless, I was restless and felt homeless without the Eucharist. It came down to another fundamental question, as Peter answered Jesus, where else is there to go? (John 6:68) You could say I stayed Catholic for the same reason all survivors have something critical to contribute to Church renewal, if you define “renewal” as conversion from a pastel to primary love for God.
Why I am Catholic? Seems in the last month or so, when this Round Table topic was assigned to us, my head has spun round and round trying to answer with something more than the word just “because.” My conclusion is that there is no simple answer. However, what brought the stress of this assignment was not in how to answer, but rather that my explanation could really awaken the mind and hearts for those who read it, that readers might move, like my own journey, from focus on the sin and crime that shut me out to appreciate the healing that brought me home.
So I will try to explain. I am Catholic because I never was not Catholic. Did I leave the Catholic Church? Well for years I felt like it left me. Truthfully, I felt like the Church had abandoned me and kicked me to the curb. But those times when I laid curled up by the curb, I was still Catholic. I was still Catholic with a very wounded soul who deeply missed the God I was angry at, the God whose presence remains in the Holy Eucharist that I kept myself from receiving. The pain from abuse was overwhelming. Emotional bankruptcy and entanglement issues still keep me at a distance, but my hunger for God was then and still remains stronger. I now feel closer to God than ever. He is the Orchestrator of all that I do.
Through the work of a very special therapist, Dr. Juliette Martin Thomas and the support of a few chosen “earth angels” whom God placed in my life, we worked through this healing process. That process continues to this day. A woman of deep faith herself, my therapist carefully wove various therapeutic practices that could touch deeply the physical, the emotional, the mental damage which is caused by abuse. She skillfully entwined my belief in God with my recovery as she walked this journey with me. As I healed, I came to see that my anger toward God was misplaced. It needed to be directed toward a man who vowed to serve God and then broke those sacred vows when he, as a “priestly imposter” hiding behind the pure white collar that represented my God, chose to abuse me.
So back to the question, why am I am I still Catholic? Because I always was and forever will be Catholic. I am a child of God. And yes, I am actively devoted to my Catholic faith. Am I actively involved in our Catholic Church ministering to others as I feel God is calling me to serve? No, and why is that? I know now, as a survivor of abuse by clergy, I bring a different person to our Catholic Church. Sometimes, me, this person I bring to our Catholic Church still feels like a leper. Why? Because my faith is contagious, not the scars of abuse.
People are sometimes puzzled by my volunteer efforts to raise awareness of child abuse and to support the efforts to prevent abuse within our Catholic schools. It seems odd to them that I participate in a committee of abuse survivors, priests and staff from the Archdiocese of Chicago which reaches out to clergy abuse victims and their families. Mostly, people just don’t understand why I have remained Catholic at all.
My first response to those who ask is that my parents raised me Catholic, and instilled in me a deeply seated Catholic identity. Even though I was sexually abused by our Catholic priest when I was young, as an adult survivor, I consider myself to be blessed beyond all measure, and blessed to be able to participate fully with others in my faith community of St. Mary of the Woods. I am grateful for my faith.
In addition, I want people to know that we are the Church. It is us in the pews who are the people of God. It is a community of faith, including our priests, who walk with each other through the difficulties in life. Despite being abused by a priest when I was a little boy, as an adult, several priests and many others have walked with me on my healing journey and I can only hope that I have been able to walk with others through difficult moments in their lives. It is my Catholic faith which causes me to do this and I am blessed to be able to practice my faith.
Many years ago, abuse took place for me not only in my home but also in the Catholic Church by a trusted priest. The Church, often being my place for comfort and peace, now became a place of fear and pain. Being only a child, not only did I wonder where God was at this time, I was also still forced to attend Mass weekly as my family or nobody knew about the abuse that was taking place. As I started high school, I was asked to help teach CCD for the second graders. Knowing my abuse began at home at that age, I agreed, in hope of being able to be available to those children if needed.
As I continued to grow up, I learned to bury the hurt and pain that was brought to me, still thinking about it, but also realizing that I needed God in my life more then ever before. As I became an adult and began to raise my family, I knew I had to put that abuse in the past and continue to raise my children to know our God. I truly believe it was God’s grace that continued to watch over me and guide me not only to remain in the Church, raise my children in the Church, but also to be involved in several ministries at the Church.
However, the church that the abuse actually took place in, is still a place of fear and pain for me. Yet, I’m hoping soon, that church as well will again bring peace and comfort to me as I continue to find healing on this difficult journey. I trust our Lord, and I trust that he is placing me on this new path that will lead me to hope, forgiveness, and healing.