Last week I watched the documentary “We Were Children” about two survivors of a residence/school for Canadian Indian children, run by the Catholic Church. This was a government and church sanctioned program which ran for over 100 years until the late 20th century.
Their aim was to basically “pray the savage” out of indigenous people by taking them away from their families at a very young age and forcing them to speak an unfamiliar language and eat poor-quality food and basically putting them into a very vulnerable position. Sexual abuse of these children was an unwritten course on the curriculum. At one point a nun does step in to stop the priests and help the children and the survivor is told not to worry anymore because the priest that hurt him will be sent away to another school.
You have to ask yourself what kind of people would do this to children. But then again, whenever we tend to see groups of people following rules and being led by those they admire or perhaps fear due to their own feelings of helplessness and vulnerability, and when it becomes easier to think it is someone else’s problem or that someone else will take care of the issue or the people in charge will surely do something if it gets out of hand…nothing changes.
And yet, as bad as we hear about these things coming to light about children who have been abused, I read this week that about 95% of abuse by clergy is directed towards adult women.
The reason it’s important to say that is not because statistics matter in regard to how badly anyone was abused or how physically and psychologically scarring the abuse was to any person who experienced it, but rather the statistics show something that would surprise most people. It surely surprised me. Like most everyone else, I thought that abuse was horrible, but the occurrences were isolated and taken care of and basically happened to altar boys or a boy that a priest “took under his wing”.
And we would see things like that happening back in the day. Nobody really talked about being gay openly really, I think until the 80’s when AIDS really brought people’s lives out into the open whether they wanted it to happen or not. So, I think many things were not really understood if it didn’t happen to apply to you.
I think the very fact that the percentage is so high when it comes to the abuse of adult women is a good thing for people to know. I certainly did not know. It sounds naive now, but I knew that people looked away at what we saw as consensual affairs between priests and adult women, but I had no idea that priests were capable of such mind play and abuse of power, not to mention threats of violence.
A couple of years ago, I was interviewed by a local TV station when I sent an email into a reporter who had interviewed a survivor of childhood abuse by a local priest. I sent the email to show my support for the survivor. The reporter and the TV crew came to my house and were very interested in what I had to say about my support for the survivors in the area. They asked me if I was a survivor as well. I said no comment as far as that went. I was afraid to say anything about what had happened to me. No, I was pretty terrified of the repercussions.
What I did say to the reporter was that I would be glad to talk about the abuse of adults by clergy. But they were not interested.
It was brought up recently about taking that extra step and pushing forward and talking to news people and telling our stories. I do want to say that as SNAP leaders, we were told not to think of reporters as our friends, but as people doing their jobs to get a story. They can be kind and supportive and sometimes that can be used as a way of getting you to say something you normally wouldn’t say to the world.
I spoke to a reporter from Buffalo once and he was calling me all day long asking questions and telling me he was under a deadline, and he seemed like a real “nice guy”. But I became uncomfortable when he tried to put words in my mouth. And if you are a person who is accommodating and find yourself wanting to be helpful to someone who is trying to get his article in under the deadline because his boss is on his back, you may end up with your words twisted around so that he prints that you praised the bishop when what you actually said when pushed into it was an agreement with something positive the reporter stated about the bishop. Like would I say that the bishop appeared to be trying to help survivors. To which I said…would I say that…yes or no? I guess I would say that it appears he is trying to help.
That’s not the same as praising someone, but that was the headline they went with. And some SNAP members were angry with me for saying I was in support of the church. Which I really didn’t offer up but I had no proof either way of what the bishop’s intent was, so I went with what I thought things appeared to be. I focused throughout the day on transparency and the importance of the job he had ahead of him in cleaning up after the last bishop, but the multiple phone calls from the reporter with follow up questions must have been a ruse leading to the main thing he was after….the headline in support of the bishop or a headline that would stir emotions.
People who wonder why it’s so difficult to speak up after abuse don’t always realize the layers of issues one faces once they become brave enough to speak up. The intimidation of victims when they are most vulnerable after the abuse is immoral and frankly disgusting and inhumane.
One method I recently heard about to help those who suffer from PTSD is called “Assault Compassion Meditation”. I just heard about this, so I don’t know much about it. I suggest looking it up for more information. From what I have gathered, it is healing meditation focusing on healing the inner hurt by giving yourself loving thoughts, as well as sending love outward to let go of negative feelings that are holding you back from being at peace.
Another problem I find is common among those who are healing from an abusive past history is…loneliness and the feeling of loss. It’s like we have been shattered into pieces and along the way, we have tried to fit other shattered people’s pieces into ourselves in order to feel complete. But that has not worked. And we feel that we are left picking up our own pieces and putting them back together again. And we all have difficult days. Sometimes there are feelings of abandonment and loss of people who either passed away or physically left us through rejection or because we had to leave them in order to be safe.
What I have realized in my life is that I had what I needed physically growing up. And I know that I was and have been loved. But the problem is…I was never taught what love was and how to express love in a healthy way. Perhaps things weren’t as pitiful as that sounds, but just maybe this insight means that I have grown a bit emotionally. Not grown all the way up…nope. Still emotionally immature. But I never knew how to put into words what the problem was.
And when I see that clearly, I can kind of understand why I have difficulty loving myself and allowing myself to be close to others.
I do not in any way mean this to be disrespectful of my family. My mom is 94 and can run laps around me. My dad built our house with his father. He also worked his way up in business by taking classes and taking chances when they came along. My family was witty, and talented, and they made sure everything, and everyone was cared for. Brilliant, beautiful, hard-working, clean, Godly, active…good people.
But they had issues. And I always felt that “they had issues”. I didn’t have issues. And when you are the person who takes care of keeping the issues under control for everyone, you don’t see your own issues. You aren’t allowed to have any issues. You even resent having your issues pointed out to you.
Love in my family meant that you had to work and keep moving. You could not expect privacy. Everything you did was watched and managed. Everything you ate was commented on. Because they cared about you. You are grilled about your life and have one thing relentlessly focused upon until it is done to somebody else’s satisfaction. And then it’s something else. Hugging and loving words are meant for babies. You don’t want to baby your kids and have them grow up weak. Don’t let your emotions make someone else unhappy. If you don’t like something, lie and pretend that you do like it, so you won’t hurt anyone. If you have gotten sick, you did something to make yourself that way.
Again, not as bad as it sounds, because I knew I was loved, but I also see how I grew up confused about that emotion.
Regina Wurst does a good job of describing her childhood in her book, “Josh” which I am reading right now. Very interesting book, by the way. It shows what it is like to be loved and yet kind of emotionally orphaned by overwhelmed parents with problems of their own. Or in my case, by parents who never knew how to solve the problems they were not aware they had.
Knowing that in some way, you were loved and had a “normal childhood”, and you were taught how to read and to write and to swim and to ride a bike…. but, you were never really taught by example, what healthy love looked like or that you were loveable simply for being you…you can kind of understand how you may not have found healthy love as an adult.
And while on that healing journey, there will be moments of stillness that may feel unbearable at times. It may feel unnatural. Natural and normal and comforting may feel like what you have known in the past that felt like love, but when you reached out to try to hang on, your hands went right through the illusion of what never existed in the first place.
Have a great week, everyone!