|Clergy Abuse Victims and Christmas Eve: the Loneliest Time of the Year
December 24, 2008
I will post a Merry Christmas blog later. But for a Merry Christmas Eve post, I feel compelled to write a reminder that there are tens of thousands of individuals out there today who suffered at the hands of clergy abuse in not just the Catholic Church, but also in many other churches in the world. I searched Google, but I could not find a statistic of how many have come forward as of today, but I know the figure is staggering. And there are perhaps just as many, if not more, who have not come forward, and who struggle with the horror of secrecy.
I am a victim of clergy abuse.
For many victims, like me, Christmas can bring back some of the worst memories. I used to dread the Midnight Mass as much as I dreaded Easter. From middle school and through high school, I was an altar boy and a lector. McShefferey, the priest, would ply me with gin before mass, as usual, and after mass, as usual. Because the holidays were lonely and stressful for him, the abuse in his rectory, both sexual and physical, would be particularly violent on these nights.
If this time of year the abuse was worse for me than other times, I am sure there must be many others for whom it was the same.
Holidays are extremely difficult for many people. As much as it can be a season of joy and communion, and can also be a season of despair and loneliness. Religious holidays, like Easter and Christmas, can be agony for clergy abuse victims. The combination of religious celebration and sexual abuse creates horrible conflicts within the person suffering abuse and the person who must recover from and forever remember the abuse. Imagine how difficult it is for victims to reconcile the joy that is supposed to come with the birth and resurrection of Christ with the absolute fear and loathing these holidays foment? And imagine the confusing feelings of guilt.
I am somewhat lucky in that when I was in middle school and high school, I could compartmentalize many aspects of my life during the abuse. I worked hard at school, my writing and my art. To overcompensate for my childhood, I dive headfirst into writing, literature and teaching. It is an escape, a savior, a blessing that helps me cope and try to move beyond such a horrible curse. But it is a daily struggle.
Many of us who have been abused feel as if we do not have a Church anymore. We do not have a religious dwelling anymore. There are many of us who may feel we no longer have a home at all. Many of us feel we do not even have a world we can live in anymore, and we have sadly ended our lives. Because of this, Christmas for the abuse victim can become easily meaningless.
Particularly on religious holidays, many of us when we were children looked upon our priest as gods. Whatever they asked of us, whatever they did to us, whatever they said to us was literally the gospel truth. Many whose abuse still remains secret feel the horrible betrayal of trust today. The disenchantment makes the whole world that surrounds many of us feel like a void.
I hope that anyone who lives with the secret of abuse, whether it is clergy abuse or abuse from anyone else, can find a way to come forward–to unburden him or herself of the dreadful secret, and find some solace in the comfort of another.
And I hope for anyone else who cannot find the comfort of another person can find the comfort of prayer, no matter how meaningless prayer might feel.
For nearly a decade, I opened Midnight Mass at both St. George and St. Augustine Church before the procession with the Gospel of John. No priest, no Church, no authority anywhere on earth can empty it of its meaning, nor can any person or agency who practices or supports abuse comprehend the light of God.
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