Around the country, some dioceses are seeking new ways to reknit the wounds of abuse, reaching out to survivors to care for their healing through services and gatherings. Survivors report finding peace they did not expect possible after all the years of feeling forgotten and betrayed. As this news article reports, for example, survivors also play a role in creating the events that bring solace and healing not only to themselves.
For this reflection about ministry to survivors, we are featuring an event recounted in a way that speaks about how often, once a diocese begins to find ways to collaborate with and listen to survivors we not only are helped–but so are many other Catholics, including priests who are also wounded by what has happened. Please consider these excerpts from “Healing Rites Held Throughout Helena Diocese for Sex Abuse Victims,” by Dan Morris-Young in National Catholic Reporter, December 4, 2015. We urge you to go to the site (link above) and read the whole article. Can there be new common ground in your diocese or parish or life through prayer and collaboration?
Helena Bishop George Thomas, who presided at each, described them as “one of the most difficult and challenging tasks in my 40 years of priesthood….”
Thomas said he was “surprised and overwhelmed by the number of people at every venue” who, following the services, shared with him that they had been victims of sexual abuse.
“For many it was the first time they had spoken about sex abuse in their family or at the hands of a priest or church leader,” he continued. “It had been hidden and painful — for 30, 40, even 50 years. Their hearts had been deeply touched by the prayer experience, and it gave them permission to open up their hearts.”
“For many it marked a new beginning, not closure,” Thomas said. “There was an outpouring of grace and gratitude.”
The prayer service “was very carefully and prayerfully prepared,” he said, noting that input from victims themselves was incorporated. Nearly a third of the homily was brief statements read from victim survivors who had “stepped forward and opened a window to their souls.”
Thomas’ homily was consistently lauded by participants. “It was very heartfelt on Bishop Thomas’ part, and I am sure it was a difficult thing for him to do, but he knew he had to do it and stepped up to the plate very graciously,” said Lori Maloney of Butte. She described her overall takeaway from the rite as “one of comfort.”
In particular, he said, he was moved by a “diminutive and courageous woman (who) rose to the microphone” and spoke about “the life of a particular person she knew who had been abused at the hands of a priest. She described in detail this woman’s downward spiral of shame and blame, of continued betrayal, with subsequent hospitalization and financial ruin.” That woman was the speaker herself, Thomas told healing service participants.
We survivors do not “graduate” from our respective paths toward recovery, but at some point we are freer to look beyond our wounds, for they are healing. We begin to notice that others suffer in ways we have known and are best able to help tend. And, there, our call begins. Why would the Church not find a place for us in service and care?