In Spirit and Truth
August 10, 2021
By Sara Larson
I returned yesterday from a beautiful weekend retreat with a group of five dear friends who are survivors of clergy sexual abuse. We talked, laughed, cried, prayed, and experienced so much love and healing together. Thank you to all who covered us in prayer over these last few days – We certainly felt God’s grace surrounding us.
As I get back to work today, I am happy to share a follow-up to last week’s post: Survivors’ Voices: What Has Helped Me Heal, with a few more responses from other survivors who have wisdom to share.
If you have experienced sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, I would be honored to include your perspective in this “Survivors’ Voices” series. You can find more information and express your interest here.
What is one thing that you have found helpful in your healing journey?
- It took me a very long time to find a support group, and I have found that to be very helpful. Where I live, there is no support offered at all. I had to go look for it, and I had to go far away to find it. Isolation is a big problem for victims in the church, and I also feel it is a tool that is used to keep this quiet. I know many people still suffer in isolation and in secret, and I found that having a voice and being met with empathy helped to diminish the shame that we all carry.
- I spent, and wasted, a decade of my life being bouyed up by the talk that would come from the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and Pope Francis – hoping that THIS TIME they would help me, or they would force my archdiocese to help me. Only to see that things never got better, only worse. I’ve come to understand that the Catholic Church, as an institution – and especially the hierarchy and its enablers – is simply incapable of doing the right thing, of helping people. I’ve finally wised up and have taken ownership of my recovery. Fortunately, that has allowed me to go and talk directly to lay Catholics, in whom I do see signs of hope. If Catholics do fix the problem, it will be as a result of lay Catholics helping survivors – and vice versa.
- I participated in a Grief to Grace Retreat. Some great beginnings of healing and facing the fullness of the abuse began there. This retreat offered a safe place to share, listen, and reflect on God’s presence in my process of healing.
- Priests who compassionately listen to my story of abuse and simply sit with me in my suffering. I am reminded of St. John who was the only apostle to remain at the Cross during Our Lord’s Crucifixion, bearing witness to the agony of Christ. Priests who have simply witnessed the fallout of abuse remind me a lot of St. John at the Crucifixion. While some priests have been like the other apostles and run away from my suffering, I am so incredibly grateful for those who have remained with me during my suffering.
- Recognition. Childhood abuses robbed me of knowing I was good and valuable. My value as a catholic child was tied up in being an object the god/priest used to gratify his sexual urges then to dump the guilt/sin/shame on. In my forties, when I began to heal, I was lifted when catholics, especially catholic leadership recognized my goodness and my value. I needed a whole lot of people to recognize the good and value in me before I began to believe it of myself.
- I’m especially grateful for the people who didn’t judge me and spoke truth into the lies that swarmed all around me in the early months of my healing journey. I’m also grateful for those people who never gave up on God and didn’t give up on me. Walking with victims of clergy abuse is not for the faint of heart. There are many ups and downs. I’m grateful for those who never abandoned me.
I am grateful to the women and men who chose to share their experiences in this way, and I look forward to offering you more wisdom from the Survivor Voices Panel in September.
Please join me in praying daily for all victims of sexual abuse – and for those who walk with them.