Thursday, July 7, 2016

Grace

"Grace is the initiative of God, his self-offer that is prior to any kind of movement towards him by the creature." - The Coming of God by Maria Boulding.

"Grace is the initiative of God..."  God is the one who puts grace into action.  He gives himself in the form of grace before we are able to approach him.

The life of a Christian is full of choices - choosing good over evil, again and again in a multitude of situations.  This life is not for the faint of heart, for choosing good often comes at a cost.  From a human perspective, we make these choices with our free will. In many cases, we are pleased with ourselves for "doing the right thing" rather than being grateful to Jesus for the grace to help us choose good.

Sister Maria challenges us.  She says that "prior to any kind of movement towards him" - to good - God must initiate the action through grace.

We cannot do it alone.

When we choose to have patience rather than lose our temper, it is an act of the will only made possible by the grace of God.  If he does not offer himself in this way, we are unable to make that choice.

Free will proceeded by the grace of God makes moral decisions possible.

In our lives as victims, choices were made for us.  Evil was chosen over good.  As humans, our abusers had free will and they chose evil over good.  We just happened to be the object of their choice for evil.

God's grace was available to them.  In that moment when they chose to betray a sacred trust, they  could have called upon God for help to control themselves and taken that grace that was so freely available to him.  But they didn't.  Why?  Only they and God know.  I imagine a perpetrator's selfish desires are so overpowering and their egos so huge that God is the last thing that enters their mind.

Often we ask, "God, why did  you let this happen?"

Sometimes we will be given the "all things work for the glory of God" line, or perhaps "God can bring good out of evil."  While these things may be objectively true, God was only part of the equation.  Free will was the other part.

God gave us the gift of free will when he created us.  He loves us so much that he gives us the freedom to choose.  He will never force himself on us.

He won't even force a priest to stop hurting a someone. I can only imagine the pain it must cause the Lord as he watches evil perpetrated upon the most innocent of his children, and by men who serve in his name.  How much worse can it get?  How much sadness can this choice of man's free will cause our Lord?

Perhaps we feel the grieving of Jesus in our spirits in addition to our own.  We mourn the loss of innocence.  Our hearts wrench in pain. Only Jesus can touch that woundedness within with the grace he so freely gives.

Grace is a gift of God.  Healing is a gift of God.  The Holy Spirit is the gift of God.

Let us pray for one another that we are able to receive the gifts that our Lord extends to us today and always.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016

Service of Lament in Kansas City

It had been advertised for months, even before the new bishop was named for the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph.  A "Service of Lament" on Sunday, June 26, 2016 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Missouri.  The bishop would preside.

Those facts alone communicated, "This is going to be a big deal."

The Office of Child and Youth Protection of the diocese, with the blessing of the bishop, organized it, as well as several healing services in parishes in the months leading up to it:  "HOPE: Healing Our Parishes through Empathy".  The healing services were strategically planned to be held in parishes where known predators abused victims in the past.  Each service was different, but there was a common theme of the Church's humility and sorrow for sins of the past, music, readings and litanies that ministered to broken hearts; priests lying prostrate before the altar, then offering genuine words of sorrow; asking for God's healing; tangible ways for those affected by abuse to express their pain (putting prayer intentions in a box, dropping a small bit of incense in a smoldering pile of incense offering smells wafting through the church - and to the heavens - things of this nature.)  These healing services were truly moving experiences and no doubt healing for many.

I attended the first service and left as quickly as I could.  I was very sad and didn't want to speak to anyone.  In retrospect, I see that I was focusing on my pain and abuse rather than entering into the healing components of the service.  At the second service, when I found myself leaning towards the same sadness, I was able to turn my thoughts to the present moment, the healing moment.

By this time, the new bishop had arrived.  This was his first service.  It was quickly evident that he was keenly aware of the deep wounds that had been inflicted by members of the clergy and Church officials, and in Kansas City in particular.

As the months of periodic healing services progressed, I kept my sights focused on the June 26th Service of Lament.  Being held at the "Diocesan Parish," the Cathedral, gave it a particular significance.  Instead of a priest-presider, the bishop would be the presider.  Another indication of its importance.

And this was not a healing service where the focus was asking God's healing on the brokenness of the victims and others affected by abuse.  This was a Service of Lament. where the focus was asking God's forgiveness for the sins of the Church's officials and clergy, which in and of itself is a healing thing.

I anticipated the service with great hope, yet some questions.  How would Bishop Johnston handle it?  The ultimate question in my mind:  Does he get it when it comes to clergy sex abuse?  As the service unfolded, it was quickly evident that he does.

Bishop Johnston delivers homily at Service of Lament.
Photo by Sally Murrow.
The service began with a Litany of Voices, short statements of actual victims read by different individuals followed by a response from a priest.

"I was only mad at him, but now I am mad at God, and at you too."...."I do not merit forgiveness, but I hope you are able to grant it in your time."
"I cannot trust."...."I am sorry for robbing you of your trust."
"The pain was so intense that I didn't want to live."...."Your life matters to me."
"When I came to you, vulnerable and abused, you turned me away."...."I receive and hear you now....Please forgive me."

Bishop Johnston's homily was very good. I thought he struck the right tone, said the right words,  showed that he understood and that his heart was with the victims and always would be.

Quite naturally, as the homily progressed, Bishop Johnston talked a great deal about
* child sexual abuse by clergy in the
* Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph.

My situation did not apply to either.  I was not a child when my abuse began.  I was 18 years old, an adult by legal standards.  However, I can assure you that I was very much a teen emotionally.

In addition, my abuse did not take place in that diocese.

Suddenly, I began to feel very alone and out of place.  As I listened to the bishop, I found myself being so grateful for the advances in the Church when it comes to protection of children, accountability of priests and diocesan officials, and support for the victims.

But at the same time, I thought about the women (and men) in the Church who are abused by priests, who have this man of God in a position of power push himself on her sexually. There are many variations of abuse and misconduct with the priest as the perpetrator and a woman as a victim.

There are no official Church-wide policies to deal with this.  So it remains shrouded in secrecy.  If it happens, there usually is no crime.  There rarely are lawsuits.  And the priests predominantly remain in ministry, maybe to offend again.

In the mean time, what about her?

I'll tell you "what about her?"  Take a look at this blog.  You can see the effect it had on me.  The outreach of the Church amounted to a spiritual director who walked me through it when I reached out to him.  He recommended me to a good Catholic therapist.  The Provincial Minister said "I'm sorry."  Actually, many priests and a couple of bishops have apologized as well.  The abuser died, so there was no justice (in this world.)

The Church has made great strides with children.  Now she needs to turn her attention to adults.

Although the service was beautiful and needed, I left it feeling very alone and sad.

There was a very good article about it in The Kansas City Star and a YouTube video they posted of clergy in the entrance processional.  As you read the Star article, be mindful of the fact that this newspaper has had an anti-Catholic bias in the past.  It was refreshing to read an unbiased article about the Catholic Church in The Kansas City Star.

Our Church and her clergy have hurt so many people, most egregiously children.  What happens in childhood becomes a footprint for life.  What happens in adulthood can be very traumatizing as well.  We have come a long way since 2002.  We have a long way to go.  I think this Service of Lament in Kansas City was an exceptional step in the right direction.

Monday, November 9, 2015

The Rollercoaster ride called "Healing"

Today I looked back at blog posts since I opened up shop.  Wow, what a ride it has been!  You have seen, the good, the bad, and the ugly.

The grace, the sin and the darkness.

It made me think about you. The survivor. What has your rollercoaster been like?  Where has it taken you?  Have you had companions who have supported you in a positive way?

I have often asked myself and others, "What does healing look like?"  

Having an understanding of the dynamics of abuse is important.  I read a lot and was constantly surprised that you and I - all survivors - share so many of the same thoughts and feelings, and that our abusers used many of the same tactics.

Perhaps knowledge is part of healing.

The abuser. The bishop or religious superior. The Church. The difficulties -and graces - that surround those relationships.  Working through the shame, anger, shame, pain, shame, self-loathing and shame. Possibly dealing with criminal justice.  Possibly dealing with civil justice.  Realizing that there is no real justice for what has happened to you.  There just isn't.  The gut-wrenching pain that the thick of this process brings is the worst. But there is a light at the end of the tunnel.  The pain does lessen. And forgiveness can be considered.

Perhaps the decision (not the feeling) to begin to forgive is a part of healing.

Does one come to a point when they do not think of the abuse or abuser much, if at all?  I have wondered if a survivor is forever at risk of being triggered (like PTSD) by a story of clergy sex abuse.  It seems like just when I think I am "over it", I go into a tailspin because I have read something ugly. 

Perhaps the lessening of instances of being triggered is part of healing.  

Depression has been such a big part of my life since I disclosed the abuse in 2008.  I had suffered bouts of depression off and on throughout my life. Some periods were worse than others.  The period of the most intense abuse and a time when we moved out of state were times when I should have sought medical intervention because I was so depressed. 

I entered a deep depression immediately after I told my spiritual director about the abuse and struggled with it until very recently.  I think we have hit on the right medication and dosage and have it under control.  I think!

Beginning to work through the abuse brought on depression.  I also have a melancholic temperament, so am naturally disposed to it.  Pangs from a difficult childhood fed into the depression sometimes. We have discovered that I have a mental illness, a mood disorder.  A drug-induced depression was caused from receiving the wrong type of medication.  A change in the "drug family type" caused that depression to lift immediately. So the point I am trying to make is that while I have suffered with depression, it is not all related to the abuse.  Being "not depressed" does not mean that I am healed.

But perhaps peace is part of healing.

We have had a couple of healing services in our diocese for those affected by any kind of abuse.  The services are sponsored by the Office of Child and Youth Protection.  There will be another one this week.  I went to the first one and I will go to the one on Wednesday. 

I tongue-in-cheek call it "chasing healing."  The first service I went to left me feeling very sad and empty...and confused as to why I was feeling sad and empty.  I am looking forward to this week's service.  I think it is important to join with others who have suffered in some way from the effects of abuse, to offer yourself to God in that moment, and say "I am yours."

Perhaps healing from abuse it is something natural and it is something supernatural - and a lifelong process - despite our wish to "get over it" for good.  

At a human level, we do what we need to do psychologically, mentally and emotionally.  At a spiritual level, we open ourselves to the grace of Jesus to work in our hearts.

I am not healed.  However, Jesus has granted me a great deal of healing - through the human and spiritual means. Ultimately it is all in his hands.

Moving towards healing is a rollercoaster ride alright, a wild one, especially at first. As time has moved on, I think the dips are not as steep and curves are not as sharp.  Who knows.  Maybe someday it will just be a nice leisurely ride, coasting along in the breeze.

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Reading a New Book

It has been a while since I have read a book regarding clergy sex abuse.  I reached a saturation point with my reading quite a while ago and didn't want to have anything to do with abuse material any more.

Someone called my attention to Veronica's Veil: Spiritual Companionship for Survivors of Abuse.  It was written by survivor T. Pitt Green and Father Lewis S. Fiorelli, O.S.F.S. (Oblates of St. Frances de Sales).  

I heard about the book quite a while ago but didn't have the emotional energy to invest in it.  Upon hearing about it again and with feeling so much better, I decided to order it.  I am so glad I did.  This is the description of the book as written on Amazon.com:


VERONICA'S VEIL 

Spiritual Companionship for Survivors of Abuse A Guide for Integrating Faith with Recovery 
Veronica's Veil is a watershed in offering spiritual support to a growing number of adults who wish to integrate their Christian faith into the arduous psychological recovery from child abuse by clergy and other persons in authority. Veronica's Veil can help transform encounters with survivors of this trauma into turning points in healing. This is an essential guide for priests, sisters, deacons, other ordained and lay ministers, and therapists-as well as families and friends of abuse survivors. Recreating the point/counterpoint style of the authors' workshops, Veronica's Veill features over 175 essays on topics that commonly arise in therapeutic work or other recovery settings. With many tips for sensitizing one's language and approach, Veronica's Veil inspires enlightened dialog about faith with adult survivors of abuse, violence and post-traumatic stress. With additional notes by a psychologist, Veronica's Veil is an excellent aid to informed spiritual dialog that runs parallel to professional counseling, with insights for Catholics and non-Catholics into a uniquely faith-based struggle overcoming childhood abuse. Veronica's Veil draws on the gentle spirituality of St. Francis de Sales to create an invaluable tool for all people seeking to integrate Catholic and Christian faith with a survivor's recovery program.

I not only bought a copy of the 400+ page book for myself, but one for my therapist and spiritual director.  I don't know if they will read it, but they will have it as a resource.  My spiritual director said that perhaps this is a book that every priest should have.

Father Fiorelli teaches spiritual directors how to help abuse survivors, right down to the types of words to use and the manner in which to speak to them.  I was pleased, but not surprised, that my spiritual director has helped me in much the same way as Father Fiorelli suggests.

Teresa shares her experiences and insights in a very gentle way.  As I read it, I feel like I have a companion on a very difficult journey.  Much healing has taken place in my life, and I no longer live in the darkness that was so pervasive for so long.  But reading her words help me feel like I am not alone. While I know there are many others out there who have suffered the same fate as I, since I have no regular contact with any, it is easy to feel alone.  Reading the book softens that blow.

She has a web site, Restoring Sanctuary, that I strongly encourage you to visit.  A wealth of information awaits.

I have no way of knowing, but I assume many of you do something similar as I - you do what it takes, when and how to help move towards wholeness and holiness.  It can feel a bit like groping around in the dark, but that is why a support system is so important.  When we are in those areas of darkness, someone can guide us through and help us maintain hope.

I am grateful for those who have helped me find my way to peace.  It is my prayer that the Lord leads you to those who will help you do the same.  God bless.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Small but Mighty

This blog doesn't have many followers.  There aren't many hits on the site each day.  I haven't even looked at it for months because I have been in a dark place.  As I revisit it today and it seems new to me, I realize there is a gold mine here, especially for someone who has been abused by a priest.  That was my goal from the beginning.  

I asked God's blessing on it in the beginning and that the Holy Spirit leads those to it who need to find a companion as they walk a very difficult journey.

A still small voice.  That is how God speaks.  That is how this blog speaks.  It sits quietly in a corner of the Internet waiting for the one whom the Holy Spirit brings.

You.

There is something here for you.  Seek and ye shall find.

Peace.

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Still Talking.

There is a big discussion taking place in this country right now about child sexual abuse.  And it is tripping a lot of triggers.  Psychological triggers.

Many of us who have been abused have had feelings of pain and angst resulting from sexual abuse resurface as a result of all this talk. "Triggered." At this point I don't give a flying flip about anything but getting myself to the end of the day without doing something drastic.  It has become a mental health exercise. The default "I'm in so much pain that I don't want to live" thoughts keep trying to creep in.  I mean, this is serious stuff, not just "this makes me sad."


I don't think people realize that their ignorant pontificating on the subject re-victimizes abuse survivors. Nor do I think they care. They want to get their face in the news, their commentary in the paper or on the web so everyone knows the correct way to view things, because of course their take is the correct one. Or maybe I'm way off base.  But it does seem to me that many people just want to voice their opinion and make sure you are aware that it is correct.

I.  Don't. Care.

I know this: I hurt and so do many others.

People need to shut up, go home, love their families and help prevent future abuse. 

Now, I'm going to fix a drink. Wait. I don't drink.  DANG it!

Thursday, May 21, 2015

It Is Finished.

I have put together quite a few resources on this blog and have shared some thoughts and feelings, some of them very personal.  I think it is time to close up shop, for the time being anyhow.

Today is May 21, 2015. If it is your first visit here and after you look around you realize that you are in the same boat as I, feel free to contact me.

My prayer is that all victims of abuse by priests become survivors. That they find healing. And peace. That they have a strong support system that is a positive influence. That they get the professional help that is needed to navigate these stormy waters.

But most of all, I pray that everyone comes to feel the love of Jesus in their hearts and build an intimate relationship with him.  He is the only path to true and everlasting peace and joy.

God bless.
Teresa

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

I am at peace with the Magesterium.

Thousands of people have been hurt by the priests, bishops, deacons and religious in the church.  But they are not the only Church offenders.  Employees and volunteers have committed crimes against children as well.

We all know, however, that those who have made promises and vows to serve God in his Church are held to a much greater standard.  That they would wound the very souls they were sent to save is unconscionable.  It is morally reprehensible and a crime in itself that bishops and religious superiors did not call the police upon learning about suspicion of abuse.

Thirty years ago, it was thought that a pedophile could be cured of his disposition to abuse after going to a "treatment" center.  That is why bishops thought it was safe to put them back into ministry.

Misinformation aside, there was a moral and civic duty to keep priests away from chidlren after they had abused and inflicted so much psychological damage.

A lot of people hate the Catholic Church and her ministers, and they hate her with a vengeance. There almost seems to be a sub-culture in the world.  So many have been victimized, and re-victimized, and those who stand by and watch become secondary victims who are thrown into the vat of gut-wrenching pain, anger, vengeance, and defiance.

They are sharing their stories.  Hopefully this is healing for them.  Everyone deserves peace but most especially they deserve to know the boundless love and compassion that God has for them.

The Church was cruel to so many.  Downright cruel.  They didn't listen or believe victims. Church officials accused them of falsely accusing the priests.  And there were people who did bring false allegations, but I am talking about the real victims here.  They were slandered and shamed, beyond the shame they experienced in the abuse.  I read their stories as you do, and am shocked and ashamed as they give details of how poorly they were treated by Church officials.

I may have experienced abuse by a priest, but I have not had the experience afterwards that so many of them had.  I know what I know, and that is my experience.  I am at peace with the Catholic Church and the Magesterium.  I have my moments when I get angry, very angry, but I work through them.  I don't think I am exceptional, rather the recipient of copius amounts of grace from God and gentle, prudent, boundary-clear spiritual direction by a priest.  I have always lived a life of intentional faith, even while the abuse was taking place. After disclosing it, I stayed close to the sacraments - and a good Catholic psychologist - as I went into the pits of hell. Seven years later, I feel like I have my life back.

Triggers.  When I read an article about a new credible allegation of sexual abuse by a priest, religious, bishop or religious superior, or mishandling of a sexual misconduct case of a bishop or religious superior, I can feel the anger rise from my toes to the crown of my head.  THERE ARE NO EXCUSES FOR THIS! Have they not learned?  

Quite frankly, I believe (and have seen) that some simply do not get it. If they don't, they need to get out.  Period.  The problem is that they think they have a full grasp of the issue of priestly sexual abuse.  Having been through it, I can assure you, there are those who do not.

I have been in contact with others who have been abused by a priest who continue to practice the faith.  But I still sometimes wonder, am I alone?  Are there more than a handful of people who have suffered abuse at the hands of a priest who want to live authentic Catholic faith joyfully?  Or is it like life: the squeaky wheel gets the grease?

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Ten Things Victims/Survivors Taught Us - USCCB

This may be old news to some, but I just discovered it and thought it was worthy of sharing.  I felt a bit comforted when I saw the things the National Review Board learned from Victims/survivors. They get it.  At one level at least.

National Review Board
May, 2010
  1. We have learned that it takes great courage for a victim/survivor to come forward with his or her story after years, sometimes decades, of silence and feelings of shame.
  2. We have learned that to the victim/survivor it is so important to finally simply be believed.
  3. We have learned that, in spite of their own pain and suffering, many victim/survivors are just as concerned that the Church prevents this abuse from happening to more children as they are about themselves and their own needs for healing.
  4. We have learned that, while each individual’s story is different, what is common is the violation of trust; some survivors trust absolutely no one, to this day, while others have been able to work through this pain with the help and support of loved ones.
  5. We have learned that today there are methods of therapy that work particularly well with and for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and that individuals can be helped even after many years of unsuccessfully trying to simply “forget about it.”
  6. We have learned that very many victim/survivors have lived for many years with the belief that they were the “only one” to have been abused by a particular priest.
  7. We have learned that the abuse has robbed some victim/survivors of their faith. For some this means loss of their Catholic faith, but for others it means loss of any faith in a God at all.
  8. We have learned that, while some victim/survivors have been unable to succeed in various areas of life (marriage, employment, education, parenting, etc.) as a consequence of the great emotional/psychological harm, others have gone on to lead very healthy and productive lives. We have learned that between those two “ends of a continuum” there is as much variation as there are numbers of victims.
  9. We have learned that to be privileged to hear an individual victim/survivor’s story is a sacred trust, to be received with great care and pastoral concern.
  10. We have learned that we still have much to learn.
The National Review Board is an advisory group of 13 laypersons with expertise in such areas as law, education, media, and psychological sciences. The board was established in 2002, when the U.S. bishops adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People to oversee efforts of the Office for Child and Youth Protection. The National Review Board is responsible for a three-year Causes and Context Study being undertaken by the John Jay College of Criminal Justice and due for release in 2011. The study looks at the clergy sexual abuse of minors problem to ascertain what factors led to it and how it can be prevented going forward.

Ten Things Victims Taught Us

Thursday, April 30, 2015

Bishop Finn

I wanted to let the furor die down a little before commenting on the resignation of Bishop Robert W. Finn of the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph.

What remains unknown is whether he resigned willingly or was forced out.

What is clear is that there is pain on all fronts, whether you are a supporter or detractor of Bishop Finn, and there will be healing.

In an open letter to the diocese, Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of Kansas City in Kansas explains his role as the Apostolic Administrator of the diocese until such time another bishop is named.

Bishop Robert W. Finn
The case of Bishop Finn, Father Shawn Ratigan (now laicized), and the employees of the Diocese of Kansas City - St. Joseph is very complicated.  I have followed this closely from the start several years ago. In the many news and opinion pieces as well as blogs on the issue, I have yet to see a piece that captures the entire picture correctly.

Facts point to media bias on the reporting. The links I am providing throughout this post lead to articles that come closest to the truth.

The landscape in the city was ripe for a scandal when Father Ratigan began taking upskirt pictures of little girls.  The diocese was split right down the middle theologically.  Years ago, when the orthodox Finn went to Kansas City and cleaned house of the previous liberal establishment, he quickly made enemies.  There were previous abuse lawsuits, which brought with them hurt and angry victims in search of healing and closure.

Politically, the county prosecutor, Jean Peters Baker, had an agenda. The case had holes throughout. She had plenty of time and resources to prosecute this, yet her is lenient to violent offenders.  Violent offenders. She wanted to make her mark on history, and she did.  Meanwhile, violent offenders went  free and often returned with victims in their wake.

This is not to take away from the failings of Bishop Finn.  It is to put into perspective the overall picture.

To get a good grip on the story, one must read the findings of an independent investigation released on September 1, 2011.  It was commissioned by Bishop Finn to delve into diocesan policies and procedures and events surrouding claims of sexual misconduct.  It details one problem after another, but no clear-cut cover-up or intent to mislead authorities

Sadly, Bishop Finn has become a symbol of lack of bishop accountability in clergy sexual abuse.  He is the highest official to be criminally convicted on the issue of clergy sexual misconduct.  But read carefully: he was not convicted of "covering up abuse."  He was not convicted for "not reporting abuse."  He was convicted of failing to report suspicion of child abuse.  And the child abuse that took place: one picture of child pornography that he never saw.  Suspicion is the key word in the state of Missouri.  This article explains that many other employees also had suspicion, were mandated reporters, but never made a call.  Bishop Finn was the only person prosecuted.

He will return Kansas City to preside over the ordinations of seven deacons to the priesthood later in May, a move that has been met with mixed reviews.

We all know the devastating effects of clergy sexual abuse of minors.  The Catholic Church is riddled with problems.  The case of Bishop Robert W. Finn is tragic.  Post-2002 Dallas Charter, we should know better.  He was only one of many in a chain of people who could have, and should have, reported suspicion of abuse.

We, as Church, have a lot to learn.  It is up to us to look for the red flags that signal potential child abuse, whether in a home or a church.  If we are mandated reporters, make the call to the Division of Family Services!  Courage, people.  Have the courage to do what you need to do.  Don't wait for someone else to do it.  That is what happened in Kansas City.  As a result, children were harmed.