Thursday, January 19, 2012

Were we vulnerable to clergy sexual abuse?

Clergy sexual abuse comes in many forms, from the sensationalized priest-and-altar-boy scenario to a pastor trying to seduce a woman. It is an abuse of power and an abuse of trust.

Perpetrators often target victims who will cooperate and not tell anyone of the abuse. A person who needs to feel wanted, loved, and accepted and who easily trusts is easily victimized. The abuser can easily swoop in and begin the grooming process - showering gifts, becoming a friend and establishing trust. Once the abuse begins, a person with weak self-esteem finds it very difficult to break free.

A child’s ability to avoid the intrusion of a sex offender may very well rely on his or her acceptance of an intrinsic sense of self esteem.

This was the case with me. I was in high school when I met my abuser, who was over 30 years older than I. In my short life I had experienced much rejection and felt very unloved. When Father Aloysius came along, opened his rectory, began baking pizza and telling jokes, I thought I had died and gone to heaven. A father-figure who not only accepted me, but treated me nicely and seemed to respect me. Besides that, he was so very smart. He had his licentiate in Sacred Scripture AND Sacred Theology. He led pilgrimages to the Holy Land. He translated documents into other languages. I mean this guy was no small potatoes, and he was paying attention to ME! I felt like I had such a good friend. He even took me into his family circle. I knew his mother, went to his sister's family's house, played with his nieces and nephews. I was "in".

When he backed me up to that wall that first time, I was absolutely flabbergasted, totally confused and embarrassed. I quickly divided him into two separate men - my good friend, Father Aloysius, and that priest I hated and learned to defend. During the 19 years of abuse, neither one of us ever uttered a word about his treatment of me. He took it to his grave.

I have to heal from the abuse. I have to heal from that which made me vulnerable to the abuse. I am very much a work in progress, and grateful to God for His mercy and grace. He has poured it out to me through His treasury in the Catholic Church. There have been so many dark days, but Jesus has always been there with me, whether or not I felt Him. I've always been able to stay close to Him in the Eucharist and Confession. There are so many priests in the Church who have helped me along the way. I just wish everyone could know the compassion I have known by priests.

My husband and I have made sure our children know they are loved. Every day ends with a hug and an "I love you". They have gone through the safe environment training programs at church and Boy Scouts. We have talked about appropriate behavior with adults and peers. I don't want them to EVER, EVER go through what I have gone through.

The other child of mine - the one within - rests in the arms of Jesus. Healing continues. It is my prayer for you today that He wraps His arms around you and whispers His love to your heart. If you have been abused, please be sure you have a support system. If you haven't told anyone, find someone you trust and tell them. When you break the silence, your healing will begin.

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