By Michael D. Hoffman
To the Victim Assistance Coordinators at the Savannah Conference at the end of February 2017, I hope each of you are well and I am thankful you are together. As a victim survivor of childhood sexual abuse by clergy, it is helpful for me to know you meet like this, working together to arrive at best practices of helping healing wounds caused by abuse of children. It is vitally important work in which you can make a real difference in the lives of individual victims, their families and our larger church family.
For me, telling my story to Ms. Leah McCluskey, LCSW, the Director Child Abuse Investigations and Review, and Dr. Michael Bland, PsyD, D Min, the Victim Assistance Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago at the time, was a watershed moment in my healing journey. It was at that meeting, and the subsequent professional follow-up, where the emotional content, beyond the simple facts of my story, of faith, trust in others, my dysfunctional past, and knowing deep inside that I wanted more out of my life, all came together.
To be sure, there were tears shed at that meeting, and many more tears shed in the weeks, months, and years that followed. I knew holding back my story for over 30 years was holding me back from personal growth. I trusted that was the moment, and these were the people, for me to unburden myself from my past. I told them things I had never told anybody before. I felt the depth of my sadness was heard. It may sound strange, but the timely, professional and compassionate follow up to our meeting was extremely helpful to me as well.
The Review Board process followed its course and for me it was concluded fairly quickly, in my opinion. This helped me. This prompt and professional handling of my story made me feel the Archdiocese was serious in responding to victims. I was glad about that. During this time, I accepted counseling paid for by the Archdiocese. This helped me. I remained in individual counseling for over 4 years, and in a support group for 18 months. In looking back, I have fond memories of this time. I was growing, and feeling, and becoming a better person inside and out. I was able to feel the pain of the loss of the innocence of my youth, and come to some reconciliation about it in my heart and my mind. To be sure, I still struggle with painful memories but I have come to some understanding of how all of that has made me into the husband, father, son, brother, uncle, co-worker and friend to others I am today. It can be a mess, but it is what it is, and the counseling paid for by the Archdiocese was helpful to me on my healing journey.
Since that time, I have accepted virtually every outreach service offered by the Office of Assistance Ministry of the Archdiocese of Chicago. I appreciate Matt Hunnicutt, LCSW, previous VAC, and now Tom Tharayil, LCSW, current VAC, who try, and try again, and try a third time and try even harder the forth time, to reach victims where they are at, at that particular time. It is hard work, but they have been thoughtful enough of me, and I am aware of their thoughtfulness of other victims, to help me in my on-going attempts understand and reconcile myself to the traumatic loss that I experienced at the hands of my abuser. I cannot tell you what works for me. I don’t think any victim survivor can – we don’t know what works until we try. With this in mind, I have participated in clergy abuse survivor retreats, which I thought was very helpful; A Day of Reflection, which was terrific; Peace Circles, which are very good and I am still involved in, and the annual Mass of Hope and Healing which I attend each year. All of these ideas have been heartfelt and emotional moments of healing and reconciliation for me. I am grateful for these opportunities to heal.
Furthermore, these are ways to bring people together, around a terrible issue that has torn people apart. If individual survivors, family members, priests, leadership and others who are interested, can come together, with the common goal of healing – then there is hope for healing and hope for a better future. Much of this takes outside of the box thinking, knowing there are various difficulties in every diocese – but it can be done. This kind of VAC outreach has made a real difference in my life.
I wish each of you every possible success at your conference and back at your diocese as you help heal the wounds caused by childhood abuse. Yours is a very special and vital ministry in our church. My thoughts and prayers are with you.