My prayer for fellow survivors of abuse

Photo by Michael Heuss on Unsplash

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.

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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.

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alan macdonald
3 months 3 weeks ago

I am greatly relieved that you are coping with this childhood abuse. The Pennsylvania report is quite different from your story in that the priests' victims were "almost all male". This clearly demonstrates why Pope Francis said in May that no homosexual should be admitted to any seminary.
I hope you and these victims can continue recovery.

Mary Caplan
3 months 3 weeks ago

According to the 30 year research of Richard Sipe, at any time 50% of the clergy are not celibate. The breakdown is approximately 30% of clergy are having sexual relations with adult women, 14% are having sexual relationships with other men, and 6% are raping, sodomizing, and criminally abusing both little boys and girls. The pedophiles are not identified as homosexuals.

J Brookbank
3 months 3 weeks ago

Your campaign of bigotry against gay men is not going to work, Alan. Would-be predators come in all orientations, sizes, shapes, genders, classes, races, nationalities, etc , and opportunities to abuse power embolden would-be predators to become actual predators. The pedophiles in the church had victims. The straight predators in the church had victims. The gay predators in the church had victims.

The straight priests and the gay priests who are not sexual predators had no victims.

Nicole Perez
3 months 3 weeks ago

How awful to use someone's account of her own abuse published in solidarity with and as a help to others who've been abused as a vehicle to promote your view that gay men should not be part of the priesthood (and possibly to imply a link between homosexuality and child abuse).

arthur mccaffrey
3 months 3 weeks ago

you really need to broaden your reading and look at the Final Report of the Australian Royal Commission on Institutional Abuse that came out last December. Pervert pedophiles--straight or gay--prey on weak, vulnerable boys and girls because they are available, voiceless, and without protection, and because the umbrella institution--church, school, orphanage, welfare home, etc.-- gives them safe cover to pursue their victims. The PA report talks about a sub-group of victims who happened to be male--and available-- but that does not change the well established, universal pattern of predation which sadly targets both boys and girls. A celibate homosexual seminarian with no pedophile tendencies would be a safer person for your child to be around than a randy McCarrick whose tastes (if you'll pardon the pun) were quite catholic.

J Brookbank
3 months 3 weeks ago

Vivien --- this beautiful and loving and hopefully. What a generous use of your opportunity at America.

Jean Davis
3 months 3 weeks ago

Dear Vivian, How brave you are to share your story here, your beautiful song and prayer is so comforting, so hopeful. All who have experienced sexual trauma link arms with you.
God bless

Edward Gonzalez
3 months 3 weeks ago

Vivian, as a grown man, well into middle age, I thank you for your article. I have a story similar to yours, but unfortunately I did not find peace through the church, have not found it yet, but I continue to seek it through the church.
Thanks again for your words, they give me hope of finding some peace.

Will Niermeyer
3 months 3 weeks ago

We need action not prayers.

arthur mccaffrey
3 months 3 weeks ago

thank you Vivian for sharing your story, which will help others deal with their own suffering . While it is unique to you, your experience also follows the same pattern of PTSD that so many other abused children suffer. Read the confession by the late Barbara Blaine in the National Catholic Reporter about her own abuse by a priest at age 13 that left her feeling “very guilty, ashamed, dirty and embarrassed.” You are following the well trodden path of moving from victim to survivor and then on to your own free self in the good company of Jesus. I think you would make a wonderful abuse counsellor--sadly, there is great need for your services right now-- god bless.

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