Faith reclaimed: How survivors of clergy abuse return to the church

Catholic Sentinel

Katie Scott

Revealed to her in the middle of the night, they were singsongy, bewildering and horrifying.

The poems would total more than 50 — composed from memories she at first could not understand.

They were a “nice and tidy way for little Patsy Jane to tell her story,” said Patsy Seeley during an interview in her North Plains home. With them, said the 67-year-old, came “an overwhelming sense of evil and darkness.”

The nightmares articulated in verse unveiled what had long been hidden: sexual abuse — first inflicted by her grandfather and then by a priest in Tillamook — starting when she was 4 and ending at age 11, when the priest was transferred.

A family friend, the priest “used the sacraments and liturgy to inflict the abuse,” recounted Seeley, who said for years she had “spiritual amnesia.”

Though individuals abused by clergy regularly flee the church for good, others, like Seeley, eventually make a painful and circuitous journey back, finding the homecoming a transformative piece of their healing and a source of sustenance, peace and strength.

But the return has countless hurdles, some of them inadvertently placed by the church itself. Survivors often find priests insufficiently trained to minister to them, and there are a limited, if increasing, number of programs that integrate faith with healing. Many survivors say they don’t feel welcome in their parishes.

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