Sitting in the front row close to the bishops at the Mass at the Cathedral of Saints Peter and Paul for the Conference of U.S. Catholic Bishops, I felt that I was a representative of all my fellow survivors, though no one had appointed me or selected me for that purpose. Yet, I could identify, of course, no other survivor who was attending and was very conscious of the wounds I brought with me—and the burdens my wife, Katherine, carried as she sat beside me.
The idea that I might represent other survivors in any way was very moving, a big weight, because this Mass, its prayers, the homily, its many gestures, including bishops kneeling in penance, was such a large moment. To be so close to the full weight of the United States Catholic hierarchy, while almost none of them knew who I am, or what I am, was both isolating and even more defining. I knew my story, told in two books, and brought it to the altar, too.
In the fifty years that I was, in one way or another, preparing myself to write a book or two on being a survivor, I could never have imagined this moment, this occasion, this responsibility. And, that’s why I was glad I had a handkerchief in my back pocket. I could tell that Katherine was feeling something very similar, because she also was profoundly moved by the moment, the occasion.
I must admit that I kept wondering how many of the bishops agreed with what Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta preached in his heartfelt homily. He spoke a defining statement, as it struck me, about what a responsibility the bishops have to make this whole situation right so that we can all heal – and move on.
Usually survivors hear “just get on with your life” as a dismissal of our very real need to endure the process of healing, but Archbishop Gregory turned that dismissal on its head. His was a commitment to the process and the hope that we not only heal as individuals but also heal together as a Church. If only all the bishops could embrace that idea.
I drew courage and strength from knowing that Joseph William Cardinal Tobin of the Archdiocese of Newark and Archbishop Charles C. Thompson of Indianapolis were in attendance. Based by how they treated me and my Catholic Boy Blues poetry collection and Shrinking the Monster prose memoir,” they have proven to me they would agree with this powerful homily.
Nevertheless, I still felt quite vulnerable at the same time. Isn’t that, though, what it means to be a Catholic survivor of clergy abuse?
With the help and care that nurture healing, we can bring our wounds back to the Church and recover our place and faith in it, though we remain survivors all our mortal lives.
Norbert Krapf, former Indiana Poet Laureate, was born and grew up in a small German-American town in southern Indiana. He is the author of twenty-six books, including Catholic Boy Blues: A Poet’s Journal of Healing, his eleventh full-length poetry collection. Krapf has received the Lucille Medwick Memorial Award from the Poetry Society of America, the Glick Indiana Author Award for the body of his work, including Catholic Boy Blues, and a Creative Renewal Fellowship from the Arts Council of Indianapolis.For more information about Krapf and his work with survivors, see www.krapfpoetry.com. Mr. Krapf has written For Survivors Trying to Decide and A Victim Assistance Coordinator’s Role in Shrinking the Monster, and his book Shrinking the Monster: Healing the Wounds of Our Abuse has been reviewed, along with Catholic Boy Blues.