Breaking silence. Confronting clergy abuse.

Bernadette Howell's Blog [North Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada]

February 5, 2024

By Bernadette Howell

Welcome to my website and my first ever blog… 

For this, I have chosen to address the topic of breaking silence and confronting clergy abuse. 

As a Spiritual Health Practitioner, I’m passionate about the importance of tending to our spiritual health and well-being. Whether we adhere to a particular religion, are atheist or are agnostic, maintaining good spiritual health is essential. 

Whatever spiritual practices you enjoy – be it a walk out in nature and feeling part of something bigger than us, spending time in meditation or participating in communal worship with a local faith community, these are just some of the ways we get in touch with the divine or cosmic beat of life. These are the practices that are essential to our balance, well-being, and health. 

When it comes to understanding sexual abuse of any kind, it goes without saying that for the person who has been violated, it is profoundly traumatic, both physically and emotionally. But also, spiritually.

Research suggests that there is an increased risk of externalizing behaviours associated with sexual abuse to include, for example, substances misuse as people, understandably so, find ways to cope with the horror they have experienced. Different coping strategies or anti-social behaviours can in turn lead to the development of poor mental health. 

Add to this another level of complexity: your abuser is a religious or spiritual leader. 

Your abuser is the local parish or school priest, and your young body is violated by this trusted man. 

This becomes profoundly damaging. 

Many of us were raised with certain religious beliefs, enculturated by teachings of a loving and all-encompassing God. But to then find your life shattered by the very person you trusted as a religious leader? Words such as betrayal, confusion, conflict, despair, helplessness and hopelessness are not strong enough to describe the impact of spiritual abuse. 

Let me see if I can help you understand this better.  

Try to imagine your soul – your very inner being – as an object. Perhaps visualize this as an object with a beautiful and smooth oval shape, a bit like a rare Fabergé egg.  Its shell is covered in exquisite pearl-coloured hues and overtones. It is strong, yet delicate. But above all, it is most precious because within is contained the essence of who you are; the centre of your being and what makes you special and unique. Thomas Merton, a mystic and a theologian, wrote about the “divine spark” that is at the centre of our being, something he describes as a “point of pure truth.” He speaks of it as something “untouchable” and “belonging entirely to God”. 

However, when you are a victim of clergy sexual abuse, that “untouchable’ part of you is violated and shattered. 

The person ordained to represent God (the priest) sexually abuses you and all truth as you believed it and understood it, is destroyed. 

The priest has taken that precious object in both his hands, raised his arms as high as he possibly can, and with violent force, has thrown it onto the cement below, smashing your soul into a trillion little pieces.  

How can you ever pick up all those tiny pieces, shattered and fragmented beyond recognition and repair the damage? 

This is the journey that clergy abuse victim-survivors face and the road to healing in often a long one. 

By the way, I frequently use the term victim-survivors, not just victims. This is because, tragically, too many people sexually abused by clergy take their own lives and are no longer with us. All too painfully and sadly for them and for their loved ones, those abuse victims did not survive the damage irreparably done to them. 

On Monday February 5, 2024, ‘John Doe’ a victim-survivor of clergy abuse, will very courageously, face a four-week Supreme Court civil trial in New Westminster as he confronts the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Vancouver. The RC Archdiocese face a lawsuit over historical sexual abuse at North Vancouver’s Holy Trinity elementary school. (

My belief is that when we break silence and expose the truth, it can be a part of healing. I plan to bring you regular information and commentary as plaintiff (John Doe) and defendant (The Catholic Church of the Archdiocese of Vancouver) publicly meet in court. 

Most of all, I hope that these coming weeks help us all to gain insight as to how we can better address the healing of victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse.  

By the way, all members of the public are welcome to attend: (