A Diocesan Victim Assistance Coordinator’s Role in Shrinking the Monster

colourbox-paid-edited-for-hv-v2-n1-feb-vac-resized-smallerBy Norbert Krapf [1]

In 2007, I composed a letter to the Bishop Gerald Gettelfinger of the Diocese of Evansville, Illinois, where I had been abused as a young boy by our parish priest 50 years earlier. I had just begun to talk openly about what happened to me and had begun to turn to my poetry to let the memories and feelings out of the places where I had buried them. Now I was turning to the Church to support my therapy and spiritual direction. My concern was not to gain revenge or to punish anyone, including my abuser, who was long deceased. My purpose was then, and has always been, to begin to heal myself and to help other survivors of abuse heal by whatever talents I have. But, first, I had to focus on my own process for healing.

     Before long, the Victim Assistance Coordinator of the diocese, to whom I refer as Madeleine in my new memoir Shrinking the Monster to respect her privacy, was in touch by telephone. As she documented my story and got to know me and my family, Madeleine was always warm, compassionate and appreciative of my decision to help others find a way through the difficult process of telling the truth about childhood abuse by writing about it. She praised what she called my courage and supported my efforts. She valued my honesty.

     Now, when a poet is writing poems about such a traumatic and difficult subject as being a survivor of child abuse, a subject that to many is still taboo, there are many obstacles to be overcome. If you start censoring yourself early in the process, you short circuit what you are doing and can easily prevent yourself from writing a poem that could be an effective and powerful one because you no longer trust yourself. Madeleine’s appreciation of this poetic process in all her communication with me was an important affirmation of what I had done and was in the process of dong at that point, when there was still a lot of uncertainty, insecurity, and sometimes anxiety in what I will call my “Catholic Boy Blues experience.”

     I knew it was way too early to share my poems on abuse with Madeleine. In fact, I trusted and respected her, but the time was not right to share these poems with her or anyone else from the diocese or from the hierarchy of the Church that had, in effect, protected my abuser and many other abusers in so many parishes in so many countries.

I knew that some readers, including editors, would reject the poems I was writing, which would evolve into my collection of poems published in 2014 as Catholic Boy Blues. Editors and others in the publishing business have problems dealing with the subject of child abuse. And some readers, who are tired of hearing about the “abuse scandal in the Catholic Church,” have closed themselves off to hearing or reading any more—even a story of hope, like mine.

But I also knew that the kind of story I feel obliged and committed to tell, my own personal story, has to be heard. I had a conviction that such a story, as told by a survivor of clergy abuse, if done well, could be an important testimony that might encourage other survivors to report the abuse they suffered and perhaps even encourage some to write about it. As I say at the end of “This Is Not the End,” which is found on page 126 of Catholic Boy Blues:

 

Nobody in any of these stories,

wherever they take place, will

 

live happily ever after, but if people

can summon what it takes to tell

 

the truth, they can live together

and help others find their voice.

 

One voice singing by itself can

sound awfully small, but several

 

voices lifting as one can make

a chorus that sings a mighty song.

 

Madeleine’s encouraging and affirmative voice as victim assistance coordinator helped me hear in advance those voices, which may include yours, dear reader: “lifting as one,” helping others, including our children and their children and their children’s children. I believe that when a trained professional says genuinely complimentary things such as Madeleine did to me, it can make survivors of childhood abuse feel that what they are doing in telling their story is not only worthwhile but important and helps give them the courage to continue and persist. I know it did for me.

Norbert Krapf is a loving husband, father, son, brother, friend, a former Indiana Poet Laureate, and award-winning author of twenty-six books. He is the survivor of clergy abuse, as portrayed in his award-winning Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing, and a guest contributor to The Healing Voices Magazine.

[1] Adaptation of Norbert Krapf, “The Affirmative Voice of the Victim Assistance Coordinator” in Shrinking the Monster: Healing the Wounds of Our Abuse (ACTA Publications, http://www.actapublications.com), pages 57 to 62. Copyright © Norbert Krapf 2016. Excerpt published by permission of the author and the publisher. All rights reserved.

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