October 18, 2021
Hans Zollner SJIADC
Collegio BellarminoVia del Seminario 12000186 Roma
Dear Rev. Hans Zollner,
Attached are two articles that address the topic of clergy sexual misconduct/abuse of adults. The first article is by the AP regarding the effect clergy misconduct and abuse had on my life and faith practice. It crushed me as it struck at the core of my being.
Having served the sick as a Registered Nurse for forty-one years in the medical profession, the patients entrusted in our care are all considered vulnerable. We seek medical attention for physical ailments, mental health professionals for emotional distress impacting our mental health, and attend the place of worship for spiritual growth and healing. The pastor of my former parish often referenced the church as a “field hospital” for those seeking spiritual healing. We are spiritual beings having a physical experience.
It is necessary to address the whole patient. The emotional, spiritual and physical are interconnected. If one area is suffering soon the other two will follow.
As professionals we are taught to cause no harm. There is an imbalance of power making true consent impossible. Mental health and medical professionals are trained to protect all ages as those who seek our care place their trust in us. Trust is implied by the shear nature of the vocations. So it is with clergy in the field hospital of the Catholic Church. Both a maternal aunt and cousin were nuns. My aunt served the needs of the clergy in her order based in Canada. I loved the church. It meant so much in my life. Even if I stepped away at times something always drew me back. It feels as if it is in my very DNA.
Therefore, the point isn’t to distinguish the vulnerability of the adult but to place the focus of responsibility where it belongs which is squarely on the clergy as professionals both feeding the flock in its care as well as providing counseling when needed. Even if therapy is involved in a secular setting an adult will often seek a spiritual perspective.
All who enter the church need to feel safe and protected from predators who wear sheep’s clothing. The degree of trust implied by celibate/chaste clergy increases the vulnerability of the adult who isn’t prepared to have to protect themselves from the very men who took vows of service to Christ and who are representing Christ to those under its roof and its service.
There can be no consent between a priest and adult because of such a power imbalance. The one with the greatest power holds the greatest responsibility. In the wake of # metoo movement the topic of power imbalances with adults came into much attention. A movie producer and politician hold power over those who are looking to achieve careers or who are even awe struck. However, clergy represents the highest power there is; God.
There is no age limit for vulnerability. We are all God’s children regardless of the age. Many factors influence vulnerability such as a history of highly adverse childhood events and the impact of life on its own merits throughout the life span. It is a well known fact that under emotional stress we regress to earlier ages. Adults abused as children can regress to the emotional ages of the childhood trauma and abuse. Trauma effects the brain.
Although chronologically adults, the level of regression can place the adult at a much younger age with the lower part of the brain in control over higher reasoning. Even if the childhood was considered to be without unusual trauma life itself can deliver harsh blows. For instance, the loss of a spouse through death or divorce, loss of an adult child, the pain of parental estrangement, substance abuse issues, loss of health or employment are only a few events that create extreme vulnerability even if temporary. One does not need to have a caregiver making decisions for them or be rendered incapable of functioning normally to be considered vulnerable. Calling it an affair, a temporary lapse in the priest’s vows or “sin” misses the point and seeks to minimize the real issue at hand. It is an absolute act of emotional, physical and spiritual betrayal, violation, and abuse of spiritual power and authority often subconsciously translated into God being the perpetrator. Christ overturned the tables in the temple driving the money exchangers out with whips because it was abuse oi the place or worship. What would He think about the decades of abuse covered up under its roof of not only the most vulnerable of all which are the minor children but of adults who are also His children? Who will advocate on behalf of Christ by exposing what takes place in the darkness so it can be addressed in the light of day and brought to justice leading to corrective measures to protect all of us? Abuse is killing people and is implicated in addictions which is an epidemic greater than Covid. The Church can take center stage and address it under its roof setting an example for all.
I speak from personal experience that it was a devastating experience. Reporting it was the right thing to do for the sake of the church, the priest who needed help, and to protect other possible victims from going through what I experienced. I was strongly encouraged to remain silent to protect the institution at the expense of the individual whom it serves. Yet, what happened to me as a result of reporting and going public compounded the trauma and pain. Love does not enable. Love dares to speak truth to power. Love dares to confront the wrong because to remain silent is to be complicit in works of evil.
Evil does its work in the darkness and in silence. To speak truth brings light into the darkness which is what Christ did. It got Him killed. It almost killed me. It certainly caused my old life to fall and crumble away including needing to retire earlier from my career because its impact was the last straw in a life of nothing but abuse starting from early childhood. One can’t determine by outward appearances whether someone is hemorrhaging inside from wounds so deep that nothing works but God. God is what kept me alive while I wondered is I would ever heal through trauma informed therapy which is a slow and arduous process. We can manage to function in our professions yet be utterly vulnerable relationally.
The deepest fundamental need is to feel loved and valued. How many of us suffer from wounds because we were not loved or valued or could not feel it because of poor self worth? The predator is skilled at targeting the right prey through expert grooming. If an adult responds it does not imply consent. It is a natural human response.