As social media continues to rage over the topic of clergy sexual abuse, I find myself wondering “what about the victims in all of this?” It is appropriate to be enraged at the Catholic Church for centuries of abuse, the culture of clericalism, fear, power and control, that made the abuse possible in the first place, and the long-standing refusal of the Church to do anything about it. It is only right that the Church “pay for its sins,” and that they begin to do the really hard work of identifying and then eradicating the cause of clergy sexual abuse. If the Church continues to do nothing, which I suspect it might, I predict that their days are numbered.
As it may be appropriate to wish karmic retribution upon the Catholic Church, this does nothing to address the deep needs of the victims who have suffered – and the victims are many. First, of course, are the hundreds of thousands, if not hundreds of millions who have been sexually abused by Catholic priests. There is no doubt in my mind that these are the ones who have suffered the deepest wounding at the hand of the Church – deep psychological, spiritual, emotional, mental and physical wounding. Unless we ourselves have been abused, we cannot begin to imagine the depth of their pain or the sense of betrayal. I do hope that one day the victims will have the courage to speak. Their voices need to be heard so that true healing can begin to take place.
The second victims are those who perhaps have not been sexually abused, but who were used by men of the Church so as to gain power or for their own selfish needs. When speaking of these, I think of all the women and men who have been the priests’ concubines – their “lovers.” All the housekeepers, cooks, secretaries, vacation buddies who were made “special” by the priest because of his attentions, but who were never given the dignity of marriage. Those who were good enough to spend time and sleep with but who had to do it all in hiding because “Father” couldn’t possibly leave the power of his position to make you his wife or partner.
The third victims are the good priests. I have known a few. Not all Catholic priests are pedophiles and not all are abusing their power. Many are good, kind, gentle men who have been called by God to serve. They serve with a sincere and humble heart and do their best to continue the work that Jesus began. Now these men are guilty by association – or at the very least, suspect. My heart goes out to these men and I hope and pray that they receive the support they need to continue their work in spite of the suspicion that will now surround them, perhaps even becoming vehicles through which true reform and healing can begin to happen in the Catholic Church. If nothing else, they will be needed to support the fourth group of victims.
The fourth group of victims is the people in the pews. Those who have found a home in the Catholic Church, who have found peace and comfort there and whose peace is now disturbed. Those who grew up believing the Church was good and had only the people’s best interests in mind. Those who gave their lives to the Church through their participation and support. Those who found comfort in the traditions, the teachings, the prayers, and the scripture and who came to know Jesus and the love of God through their Catholic faith. Those who believed the priest was a good man 1) because they were told this and 2) because they have personally experienced his kindness. These are the people who are now scared and confused – trying to make sense of senseless acts in an Institution that is supposed to be made of love. My heart bleeds for these people because the Church is their home and now what? Leave the only home they have ever known? Leave what has been a source of comfort and support and go….where? Watching as friends and relatives leave the Church and wondering what they are supposed to do. I get it. I’ve been there. As one who eventually made the decision to leave the Church, I can say that it was the most difficult decision I have ever had to make and after ten years, I am still grieving this loss. In light of the latest wave of truth-telling as it pertains to priest sexual abuse, some of this group might choose to leave the Church, doing the difficult work of mourning that loss. Others will choose to remain, hoping they can be a vehicle for healing and change. Others will have no choice but to turn the whole thing off – turning away from the stories of abuse because it is just too much for them to handle. Regardless of the choices made by those in the pews, my heart is with them. They too are victims in this.
Actually, we are all victims in the clergy sex abuse scandal. Not one of us is exempt from the pain of the evils done by humanity. When one of us suffers, we all suffer. Life is suffering. But in this suffering we have a choice. We can let it destroy us, or we can use that suffering to find the path to healing and in that healing find our way to the new life on the other side of that pain. This is my hope, and my invitation to all those who are currently suffering as a result of the latest reports on clergy abuse – let us come together as one, seeking together the path of healing so that something new might come forth out of this pain. Ironically, this is what my Catholic faith taught me and what it would call me to do.