By Thomas P. Tharayil, LCSW, BCD
When an adult victim-survivor of childhood sexual abuse by clergy comes forward to talk with a Victim Assistance professional, it is a critical moment for both the survivor and the Church. It’s an opportunity for healing but there is also the risk of deepening the wound. It’s a vulnerable moment for the victim-survivor and a big responsibility for Victim Assistance Coordinators (VACS).
We try to make ourselves available from the first moment we make contact with an adult victim-survivor. We strive to listen and be attentive to their story. We provide wonderful resources like therapy, support groups, healing masses, retreats, and meetings with the Bishop to support their healing. We make ourselves available for personal meetings, phone calls and emails to help them make it through another day. But how are all the efforts actually experienced by different victims-survivors? What does it feel like to be on the receiving end of all of this help?
This issue of The Healing Voices Magazine will try to explore this topic. It will present essays from survivors about both their positive and negative experience with VACs. How did the victim-survivor feel responded to when they initially notified the diocese about their allegation? Were there times they felt shamed or reinjured by the VAC? How do VACS discern if therapy, retreats, spiritual direction, or prayer services are what victims-survivors really want or need? Are we asking for enough feedback about our work? Are victims empowered and encouraged to be a part of the healing solution? Are victims-survivors invited to be a part of the Independent Review Board? Are victims involved on committees to develop healing masses? If the victim-survivor met with the Bishop, did they feel like the Bishop could listen to their hurt, anger, and sadness? What things may have been wished for that we never thought of? These are difficult questions that must be asked, even if the answers are incomplete or sometimes hard to hear.
I am grateful to the founders of The Healing Voices Magazine for working with me and teaching me over the years to better understand how to be present to adult victims-survivors. It is remarkable to me that the very men and women who have been harmed by the Church have found the courage, strength, and hope to use their painful past not only to support other victims-survivors, but to teach us how to be better healers.
Thomas P. Tharayil, LCSW, BCD, is the Director of the Office of Assistance Ministry in the Archdiocese of Chicago, Illinois.