By Sooz Jeson
I don’t believe for this topic of clergy abuse there can be one right way to approach and work with survivors. However, one constant behavior that bears attention is for all VACs to be open to LISTEN, and to listen without judgement.
Apologies are important. They have a purpose and right timing. However, it was important to me to be heard first. It is important for all of us to be heard. What many of us have years needing to say about our pain has held us captive. Silence can kill. Speaking is a way to fight for life by asserting truth. I felt myself getting my words out as fast as I could once I was sure I was being listened to. Don’t rush that. Let us be heard.
What I needed as my words poured out, like a tsunami of unspoken truth, was someone who could offer honest, compassionate eyes to be open to my words. They were still and receptive, not trying to reply or pretending there was some easy answer.
My words included the wrath of pain that I still struggled to understand. I needed someone who could listen even to anger. I needed someone who understands the isolation of being a victim that they listen without pretending. That is why I did not anticipate or wish to hear, “I understand.” This is not the truth responding to my truth. It is a lie. Unless you’ve been abused you cannot possibly understand.
Abuse gives birth to enormous mistrust, but that mistrust isn’t completely wrong. We mistrust words with good reasons. Words had lost their importance in my abused mind, body, and soul. After all, someone’s “holy collar” wasn’t. They offered a pretense of concern as an ugly disguise. What happened to me was a devious, thought-out lie. Of course, words lost their credibility. Of course, I would just question whatever interrupted my storm of truthful words.
While there is no one right way to approach and work with survivors, the ability to be compassionate while listening without interrupting is important. Survivors know too well how you can speak compassion but not feel it. The Church can too. To build trust, please “be” attentive and compassionate.