Being abused by clergy leaves a mark on your soul. By that I mean there is usually a spiritual scar. Many survivors are cradle Catholics and have grown up celebrating the sacraments and the Holy Days and Sunday mass and first Fridays. Many have said that, like myself and my brother, they played going to mass and being a priest like any other type of pretend of something that influenced us when we were young. I was in the choir, worked in the Sacristy making sure all was in order for mass, and went to Catholic school from kindergarten through college.
We learned that we were not supposed to lie, or to kill our brothers. Brothers were off limits from harm, no matter how much of a jerk they could be. We learned how to treat others as we would be treated. And we learned to follow Jesus and we learned that He was our friend.
And throughout my life, whenever I hit the tough spots, I always felt that God or Jesus or someone else who was in charge who cared about me, understood what was going on and was always with me. And that being forgave me even when I could not forgive myself. And when life did not make sense, I just knew that there was a plan from the being in the sky.
And just as that being in the sky was solid and reliable, so was His church on Earth and the infallible people who would always be there in our hour of need. Or at least on Sundays and Holidays. And in the hospital. And at funerals. And weddings. Things like that. Dependable.
When the whole world falls down around you, the church stands strong, and the people inside offer you comfort. Reliable. Stable.
Until they are not. The people I mean. Reliable and stable and kind and comforting. When you see the other side, they don’t want anyone else to see. The side that has nothing to do with them being a human being with human needs or loneliness or love or oops, sorry, I had a moment of horniness. My bad.
I’m talking about the side that has to do with…I can do whatever I want and get away with it. And I am entitled to have anything that I want. The side that works unsupervised by the outside world with the most vulnerable people on the planet. I’m talking about a job that a budding sexual predator could get where their potential victims would come to them to be raped and discarded and end up feeling like they defiled the perpetrator instead of the other way around. Hard to prosecute sexual crimes. Even harder when a priest is involved, and society does not understand the crime. Or that there even was a crime.
So, when you are left discarded and feeling like you have done something terribly wrong, even when you have not, and you feel afraid or ashamed or too angry to walk into a church, and nothing in the bible or anything that you have been taught seems to hold true anymore because all those who preached the truth turned out to be liars, what then?
What do you believe? Where do you turn for comfort?
I was lucky. Looking back, I consider myself to have been very lucky. When I was going through the sexual harassment, and living in denial that I was being harassed, and trying to find a way out of the web in which I found myself caught, I prayed. I prayed because that is what I was always taught to do when I felt distressed. I prayed to God to just please take this all away from me. I can’t do this. Do you want me to do this? You must want me to do something here because this is a priest, after all. What am I supposed to do?
It may sound insane to someone to think that sexual harassment can be mistaken for some kind of calling from God. That you are in that situation because God needed you to be there.
Well, you know, it turns out that going through this experience pulled me away from my religion and my church. But not away from what I perceive as my higher power. And you know, I don’t really care who that is or what their name is. And that is hard for me to say as a Catholic. But for me, I had to wipe the slate clean and start from scratch.
When I look back at that horrible experience, I remember the day I was fired and I was being walked out the door, and I said to my former lunch buddy who worked in HR who had to do the walking, (which made things more humiliating) I said…I prayed for an end to this…and as bad as this is…my prayer was answered.
And I also think I was there for a reason, but the reason was not to the extra duties as assigned by my boss. As things worked out, I don’t think my boss ever planned on me writing a book about the ordeal or writing a blog that was read by other survivors, or that one day there would be a weekly meeting that those who have been abused as adults can attend so they can learn that it was not their fault and, yes, it was abuse.
I mentioned once that I used to write for the “other side”. I wanted to write inspirational stories and poems and such. One piece I wrote was about faith. My feeling was that we are brought up and told what to believe. We are told what is right and what is wrong. We as a community all agree on the same points and the same God and the same principals. We grow up and we find that there are other people who go to different churches and who may have different beliefs. But, kind of like rooting for the home team, we generally keep the same faith all of our lives and believe what we have been brought up to believe.
But what exactly is all of that reading and memorizing and chanting and incense and time spent on our knees for? Are we trying to impress someone? Is God impressed? Is someone keeping score? Does any of this help when it really matters? I mean, when it really matters, and nothing is making sense and you feel like your life is over and you want to die…are we supposed to hope that God likes us enough to take pity on us and that He forgives us for not going to church for the past 25 years?
Is that kind of thinking helpful? Guilt and self-hate and sin and a vengeful God? And judgmental clergy.
Don’t get me wrong. I am not saying there is no God or that praying doesn’t bring peace or that nothing is real and that everything is a lie.
What I am saying is that I have faith. I have always had faith and I always will have faith. But there is nobody that is going to give me that faith and nobody that is going to take it away. And I don’t need anyone’s blessings.
In the story I wrote, I said that having faith is like being a tiny piece of cork in a raging sea. You get tossed around, dragged under, thrown into unfamiliar territory, but you will go where you are meant to go, end up where you are meant to end up, and you will always pop up to the surface after the storm passes.
That to me is faith. It has nothing to do with pews and vestments and obligations. It has to do with a belief that you are connected to something more powerful than yourself. That belief is what brings me peace and that belief is what carries me through dark moments in my life. And that is universal no matter what faith you have grown up to believe.
On another note, I heard someone say that they forgave their abuser. This person went on to say that in order to heal, we all have to forgive our abuser. I totally disagree.
I don’t think we have to even think about our abuser. I think we need to forgive ourselves and focus on ourselves and going forward. Forgiveness to me is another way of saying…I go through my day without thinking about you. Also, I don’t wish you harm, but I do wish that you do not harm anyone else. And if that means that I need to press charges or tell people what you did, then that is what I will do, with the intent to stop abuse.
Someone else said that support groups are okay, but that instead of just talking about things, we should be getting together to do something.
I both agree and disagree. Support groups are for talking. And for supporting each other. A support group is really not the place to tell anyone they need to be doing more than they are. Some people are doing all they can just by showing up. So, I disagree that we should be organizing anything or doing anything but talking in our support group.
But, I have spoken to people who seem to not quite fit into support mode because they have gotten to a place where they want to be more active and perhaps speak to others who share their passion and their drive. These people are survivors as well but are looking for others to whom they can relate. They are ready to go to protests or talk to the press or spread the word to the world. There is a real need for people such as these. So, I agree as this person pointed out that we as survivors do have power.
And now, just for fun. Stats for the month of January. There were 211 visitors to this blog in January. Most read post was “All I Have to Give”. Top five countries who visited this site (after U.S.) were: United Kingdom, Canada, Ireland, China and Malaysia.
Poll results showed that, 1. Most people were asleep by midnight on New Year’s Eve, 2. Most people have been affected by Covid in some way, 3. From the start of their grooming to the end or discard, most people said the time was between 3 to 5 years total, and finally, 4. Most people who know about the Abused as Adults meeting find the time and day it is held okay for them
Have a great week everyone!