Guest Opinion: Money Alone Can't Repair Clerical Sexual Abuse

By Robert Kafes
Tucson Citizen
Downloaded March 10, 2004

Soul murder is the crime of dominating, controlling and invading another person. Survivors of soul murder often remain possessed. Their souls grieve. They are in bondage - until they receive specialized psychological help.

Children are taught to obey and idealize clergy, and the authority of a priest is alluring. "I didn't realize priests had genitals until I was sexually assaulted," said one survivor.

Since priests have a unique relationship with God, youngsters who are sexually abused by priests can experience that assault as a rape by God or by an angel or messenger of God. In a child's mind, there may be no distinction between a perverse human being and seduction by God Almighty.

Now that we know how damaging abuse by clerics can be, it is obvious that reparation from anything less than those highest in the Church hierarchy will be experienced as hollow and insincere.

Bishops throughout the country must be more effective in providing personal empathic response to survivors and their families. They should hear directly from survivors and their families. Money alone cannot repair sexual trauma and the loss of faith. It simply is not enough.

Sexual violation is an abuse of power. But priests also betray a sacred trust. The youth's identity is stained and desecrated, and the aftermath can be cataclysmic and lifelong. Compounding the child's confusion is the possibility that sexual stimulation can feel really good. So the child or adolescent is at a loss to know what to feel.

A fallacy persists that "kids forget." Nothing is further from the truth. Trauma can be concealed in the body and sequestered in the mind for a lifetime, resulting in shattered hopes and dreams, wasted human potential, and, too often, suicide.

Families and sons and daughters and friends are also robbed of the victim's soul and become secondary victims.

Victims do not "get over" sexual trauma as one does a common cold. Post-traumatic stress disorder (re-experiencing the trauma, avoidance of anything similar to the trauma or persistent agitation) anxiety, depression, isolation, interpersonal problems, family dysfunction, work difficulties, debilitating shame and guilt, addictive and compulsive behaviors (alcoholism, drug addiction, overeating, over-spending, and sexual obsessions) and self-loathing are some symptoms.

Is it any wonder that traumatized children often drop out of school and become prey to drugs, gangs, prostitution and homelessness? Our prisons are bursting with adults and now even minors who were molested as children. We would wager that the most frequent users of Arizona's behavioral health system were sexually traumatized as children.

For men and women abused by clergy, as well as other victims of sexual violence, help and hope are available through the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault.

In addition to providing individual and group therapy, a Sexual Trauma Support Group is available specifically for men. There is a prevailing myth that men are not sexually assaulted, and, if they are, they should be able to defend themselves.

In a patriarchal culture, little boys are not free to talk about their innermost feelings beyond the age of 5. "Real men" should just learn to "suck it up and fight back." If they do not, they are stigmatized as gay and ostracized as "sissies."

The Sexual Trauma Support Group includes men who have endured an assortment of sexual assaults. These survivors are courageous gentlemen risking their vulnerability and exploring the heart of darkness. They share their anguish and bear witness to one another.

Their murdered souls are being resurrected, and they are being liberated from psychological bondage. These remarkable men are progressing from victim to victor. It is a privilege to participate in the reclamation of their lives.

Robert Kafes is clinical director of the Southern Arizona Center Against Sexual Assault.


Any original material on these pages is copyright © 2004. Reproduce freely with attribution.