I spent most of the Feast of the Assumption of Mary in a trance. The news breaking out of Pennsylvania the evening before was difficult for anyone to read, lay Catholics and members of the clergy alike. It was even more difficult for someone who has suffered through child abuse, like me.
I wasn’t even sure I wanted to share this in detail. I tweeted my initial reaction and was slowly beginning to process how this crisis would affect me. But during a staff Mass for the holy day, I just stared at Jesus in the Eucharist, with tears streaming down my face, and recalled what Matt Malone, S.J., had uttered moments before during his homily, citing how the heroism of firefighters on Sept. 11 helped him to process the sexual abuse scandal: “Sometimes we have to run into the fire.” Here I am, running into the fire.
I kept my secret for 10 years, and it almost destroyed me. The only thing that got me through was Jesus.
The story of my abuse isn’t breaking news for me or my family. I was abused as a child, at 5-years-old, not by a priest but by someone very close to me. These past few days, as I have relived my experience in every painful detail of the grand jury report, all I could think about were the unnamed children and all the people who had to keep this secret for a lifetime. To be betrayed by someone you trust and even love is a terrifying and utterly confusing experience.
The years that follow abuse are years full of doubt and self-loathing, years of constantly asking yourself if your experience actually happened or if it was all just a terrible nightmare. Because there is no way that it actually happened. Not to you. It is the first thing you think about when you wake up and the last thought on your mind before you go to sleep. If you are a child, you aren’t equipped to deal with a situation that completely robs you of your innocence. There are no words to describe or even begin to explain what has happened to you.
I kept my secret for 10 years, and it almost destroyed me. The only thing that got me through was Jesus. I remember going to confirmation classes around the time I first told someone about the abuse. As a 15-year-old, coming to terms with what had been done to me was overwhelming. I felt trapped, like a mute with no idea what to say or the right way to say it. With nowhere else to turn, I turned to Jesus. This distant, unfamiliar figure became my only hope.
There is not much else to say except I am so sorry. My heart is hurting and healing with yours.
Today, I think about the thousands of children and adults who cannot turn to Jesus because the image of our divine Father is now tainted. This destroys my heart. Today, I pray for all those who thought they were alone, for all those who had no hope, for all those who are finally free.
There is not much else to say except I am so sorry. My heart is hurting and healing with yours. This isn’t easy and unfortunately isn’t going to get any easier. But I thank you for your bravery and courage and want you to know that your experiences do not define who you are. It has taken me 20 years to begin to understand this.
And rest assured, my brothers and sisters, Jesus feels your hurt. He has heard your laments. He has felt your pain. He suffers with you. Your pain is His pain. And you are not now and never will be alone. Even if the church has failed you, Jesus never will.
Rest assured, my brothers and sisters, Jesus feels your hurt.
My experience ultimately led me to the church. I cannot speak for others, and I would not try to convince anyone to return to the church. This is your journey, and only time will allow you to heal, no matter how you have been affected.
If you or someone who know is coming to terms with abuse, the only advice I can offer is to tell someone, anyone. Don’t let the devil convince you that you don’t matter. I offer you this prayer, a song, the one helping me during my continued healing:
Your love surrounds me when my thoughts wage war
When night screams terror, there Your voice will roar
Come death or shadow, God I know Your light will meet me there
When fear comes knocking, there You’ll be my guard
When day breeds trouble, there You’ll hold my heart
Come storm or battle, God I know Your peace will meet me there
Again and again
Oh, be still my heart
I know that You are God.