GUEST BLOG BY C&C
When I got the invitation to attend the healing mass, I had already only recently begun dealing with the damage to my relationship with the Church and God, my inability to participate at mass, and my anger that so many leaders were more concerned with the reputation of the Church than they were with the children entrusted to their care. Someone asked me simply, “Do you want to go?” I said, “Yes, I want to go.”
Why? Well, I am not going to let this mess ruin the the good parts of the relationship of a lifetime. I am not going to stay away and let them talk about distant, faceless victims. I am going to stand right in front of them and let them see my face. I know that many might find it difficult to understand not knowing my whole story, but I hope you will trust me when I say that, despite the harm done, my relationship with the Catholic Church and the many good people in it, saved my life.
When I was a teenager, I could have fought harder to bring the bad situation to light, but I let them play on my fear that my reputation would be destroyed, that I would suffer more by exposing what had happened. How do you fight against that as a child? When you grow up Catholic, almost everyone you know is Catholic. How can you face being questioned or doubted by everyone who matters in your life?
Back then, I had no way of knowing that I was not alone. It was not until the past decade that I became aware that it was not just this one man who had taken advantage of me. I was not alone and the conspiracy to cover this up went all the way to the top.
Stepping inside the cathedral and looking Archbishop Chaput in the eye as he delivered his homily was my symbolic action that I am going to reclaim what is good in my Church and work from within for some justice. I am here and I am not going away. You cannot talk about me and pray for my healing from a distance. I am standing here right in front of you. I will continue to tell my story to anyone who will listen with an open mind and open heart. Many of the people with whom I have shared some of my story are surprised. I am not who they imagine when they think of victims.
They think of me as the Catholic school teacher. They see me as someone who loves the Church and all the good it has done for me. I do love the Church- the individual people who make up the Body of Christ. I see the priests and the bishops as OUR servants and I will be working to remind them that they have twisted that relationship, separated themselves and lifted themselves above us.
One of my students from over 20 years ago asked me to go to dinner on Saturday. I told him I was going to the Mass for Healing for Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse. He let me know that he would pick me up, go to mass with me, and take me to dinner after. To have someone who has thanked me for having a positive impact on his life be willing to stand beside me is an overwhelming gift I cannot begin to explain.
When I first stepped inside, there were women with baskets handing out hand knitted squares and prayer cards. Later, I realized that these little squares were prayer cloths knitted by Senior Hearts in Action. I wondered if these senior citizens had considered the number of cloths. The AD says they sent out around 200 invitations. Those are just the victims they know about and are willing to accept mailings from them. Just how many of us are there? Think about how that number grows as we consider that this is a worldwide problem.
Just before we got started, there was an announcement. We were told that it was “inevitable” that there would be some protest. We were assured that security was there to to help us maintain our focus. I had to laugh at this. There was security to protect us from the the people for whom we were praying and their advocates. On my way out, I counted at least four bored Allied Barton security guards standing at the back.
As the priests and bishops processed up the center aisle, I was struck by a smell of the incense and the sight of the bright purple Lenten vestments. I had chosen a pew that would allow me to see the face of the archbishop quite clearly during his homily. I looked around and realized that we were the only occupants of this pew. My companion and I agreed that the place felt a little empty.
During the Liturgy of the Word, I listened quite intently to the readings for this 3rd Sunday in Lent. I also looked around and got the sense that those in attendance were perhaps the same people who would have been there anyway.
During this particular service, I expected the intercession for the healing of victims of clergy sexual abuse. I think this should be included frequently in all parishes throughout the world. Not just this one day. How are things going to change if the people in the pews are not going to acknowledge it? Despite the press and all the public attention, so many still refuse to see. They see the attention as an attack on their faith from outsiders and bad, fallen Catholics. If they hear it often enough, perhaps they will begin to be curious and begin to take back some of the power they have relinquished to the leaders of their Church.
At one point during the mass, a woman abruptly walked up one of the side aisles toward the altar, crossed the center aisle and made her way down the other side. I was too far to hear her, but she seemed to be saying something in a low voice.
After mass, we made our way through the slow procession as everyone exited. The group holding signs was neither confrontational nor disruptive. They formed a tight line right at the exit so that anyone exiting would have to see them and could not avoid reading at least one sign. I wish I could have stood with them and attended, but I had to make the choice that was right for me on this particular day.
It seemed that everyone was out in Center City enjoying the fairly pleasant evening. We drove around for quite some time to find a parking space and discussed our impressions of the homily. My companion just happens to be in need of healing from a broken relationship. So, what struck him was Chaput’s lesson of the many biblical associations with romantic relationships starting at wells. He got a little caught up in that imagery because of his recent experiences
In that moment, I came to a realization. What had struck me was how many times he had said the words, “sexual abuse.” Of course, I would focus on that, but what effect would his words have had on the others? We rarely listen without connecting to our own experiences. For those never touched by clergy sexual abuse, the message was probably was probably adequate. For me, it was only a beginning.
As we chatted over dinner, we talked about healing. The archbishop said the we needed healing that only God could provide. Prayer is only one part of healing. Catholics don’t rely solely on God for healing. For many other causes, we have been encouraged to take action. To heal, we must recognize the cause of our sickness and do whatever we can to treat the cause- not just the symptoms.
I want a leadership of the Catholic Church that is able to demonstrate by clear and consistent behavior that they believe that priests who abuse their children are not just sick sinners also in need of healing but criminals who should be held accountable to their victims. As they taught us when they asked us to confess our sins for the first time, reconciliation occurs when you are truly sorry for your sins and you are truly committed to sinning no more.
I am glad I went simply because it was something I needed to experience for myself. I am new to this process of confronting what happened in the past and have just started working on healing. As I continue to reflect on it in the coming days, I will continue to ask myself what I am going to do in the future to guarantee my own healing and to guarantee that no other child feels compelled to remain silent and contain the frustration, pain, and anger alone for a lifetime.