By Sooz Jeson
When I look back experiences I have had with Victim Assistance Coordinators and those others have had, what takes precedence over all the other assets of a “ideal” VAC are two things: (1) listen with an open ear, and (2) do not assume or be concerned about money, because money is not the healer.
I find this assignment difficult because no two victims are the same. Each person’s story, their pain, their injuries, including their relationship with the Church and God, is their very own. Also, the person in the VAC role is very different. Some are therapists with their own style, their own relationship with clergy and our God. Others bring other professional backgrounds and life experience. So, this essay is just what it asks for – one survivor’s own personal experience.
After many years, I was blessed with a VAC who had the professional training and experience she needed to hear me on two levels: a professional level but also on a spiritual level. Were mistakes made? Yes, by both of us, but we were able to learn together. Because we both tried, we were able to establish a mutual respect. It meant a lot to me that she made a point that she had to learn from me what helped and what added to my wounds.
It was excruciating to give my first report to the first Victim Assistance Coordinator. I say first report because the day after I gave my report, as I was still reeling with emotion, the VAC called apologizing that she had lost all her notes. I was rattled, wondering if those notes were lost where they could be read by strangers. She said we would have to start over, and for several reasons my alarm bells went off. Could she be trusted with a second round of notes? Would she understand I was entirely spent by the first interview and disoriented in terms of repeating myself? Was this a legal ploy, to see if I got all the details exactly the same the second time? In any event, I gave a second report. It is also no surprise, as I look back, how that connection with the Church did not bear fruit. No relationship was forged with the diocese or the VAC. Instead, I worked with a private therapist who could not provide help keeping within the Church’s constraints for frequent reporting and updating, in particular projecting an “treated date” that my therapist believed was not possible or responsible to predict.
For various reasons, I reached out to the diocese again some years later. A different Victim Assistance Coordinator reached out to me. At first the report write-up from my second phone interview years before could not be found. Indeed, my whole file could not be found.
My heart sunk. Had they been lost and possibly exposed to unknown persons? Had my ordeal of being interviewed not warranted special care? Eventually (a year later), the notes were found, and I read them with the second VAC. It was terribly difficult for me. I was looking forward to healing, but reliving the story in detail unleashed what I sought to leave behind.
Yet, that is when my relationship with the Church took root, because the new VAC apologized when I remarked about the process and because I really wanted to find a way to feel at home in the Church of my childhood. This VAC was empathetic and openly appreciative, noting that I was helping her learn how to help me and others. We both were learning together. While it was very difficult, based on the VAC’s sincere concern and humble openness, I did not feel betrayed or rejected. I felt welcomed.
This VAC’s actions from that point onward made me feel empowered, valued and important to her and to the Church. My role as a survivor could start developing meaning and purpose now. Through our work together, through this process, I learned from that difficult healing journey God was working through her and me and that healing message was for both of us, and with those with whom we can share our lessons.
In closing, I feel compelled to explain one other point of view. Again, this is my opinion, based on my experiences. I believe there are many exceptional VACs in places all over the country and our world. Many acknowledge the abuse and are truly dedicated to bring healing to those looking for it and those afraid to look for it. They make specific efforts to reach those who feel lost and unreachable, and they understand our anger. However, VACs can only do what they are directed to do. Many restrictions are put on them by the restraints of their own diocese. Survivors, as we interact with those VACs, can tell that they are constrained, silenced, unrecognized, and unappreciated. Their voices have been silenced too.
We need to pray for our Church to be indeed UNIVERSAL. We all believe in one God. We know Him in our daily lives. Would the God we know and love and serve really want this heinous crime and sin by our Church’s clergy to be handled without commitment to healing? To be dealt with without compassion, attention and action? Different VACs are put in difficult positions by dioceses that hold back on caring for survivors of clergy abuse.