NorthJersey.com [Woodland Park NJ]
March 16, 2023
By Deena Yellin
The more stories he heard from clergy abuse survivors, the more Marcus Mescher realized that their suffering wasn’t just emotional or physical − it was a moral trauma.
Clergy abuse victims often feel alone and empty − if not “dirty,” said Mescher, an associate professor of Christian ethics at the Jesuit-run Xavier University in Cincinnati. Survivors often feel abandoned by their church, community and God.
Mescher, a practicing Catholic, decided to develop quantitative and qualitative measures of their suffering to help others understand the impact of abuse by someone as important to faith as a member of the clergy.
He and his co-researchers at Xavier published a report in December, demonstrating the abuse of children and subsequent concealment by the church resulted in “persistent psychological and emotional distress, moral confusion, spiritual anguish, social alienation and distrust for institutions.”
“When the perpetrator of sexual abuse is a priest, there are even more dimensions to the trauma,” said Mescher, who was the primary investigator.
New Jersey is no stranger to such pain. The state’s five Catholic dioceses said in 2019 that they had found at least 188 cases of credible accusations against priests from the Garden State. More than 800 lawsuits have been filed against the dioceses and individual clerics.
The Xavier researchers also found “that the trauma of coming forward as a survivor was often just as traumatic as the abuse itself,” said Mescher.
“Many kept it to themselves because they did not think they would be believed, expected other people would not want to hear it, or anticipated they would be blamed. Several survivors recounted how they were blamed and shamed for the abuse they endured. In many cases, survivors were told to pray for and forgive the perpetrator, even while the priest showed no remorse and made no attempt to atone for the psychological, spiritual, or moral harm they inflicted.”
The report also found that the moral injury extended beyond abuse survivors to Catholics who had never suffered abuse. Some experienced anger or mistrust. Others turned away from the church.
The survey interviewed 389 participants and was distributed to adult survivors of clergy abuse as well as employees of parishes and Catholic college students.
Catholics learn early on that a priest is more than a clergy leader, he’s ordained in persona Christi − “in the person of Christ,” Mescher noted. Priests represent both God and the entire church. The professor pointed out that a betrayal by a priest, therefore, “is like nothing else.”https://09da074fa8d55c123e21f0ea0cb5ba4a.safeframe.googlesyndication.com/safeframe/1-0-40/html/container.html
Deena Yellin covers religion for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to her work covering how the spiritual intersects with our daily lives, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.