On Wednesday night my phone was blowing up with texts from childhood friends. They were discussing news that broke in New Orleans about more child sex abuse allegations in the archdiocese. This time the news was about the parish we grew up in and the allegations citing 1983 a year that most of us were still at the school. Everyone was asking each other if we remembered the named priest and discussing the whole topic. I was enraged and deeply saddened on many levels.
I woke up angry in the middle of the night. The same thing happened over a year ago when I was hearing about how some priest were responding to their congregations regarding more revelations of abuse. I was so upset by things I heard that my anger woke me up and wrote points one through three below. I was and am so appalled by the blatant lack of understanding of abuse in the church still after YEARS of revelations and defrocking. How could they not have educated themselves better on how to respond? Why haven’t they taken this more seriously and gotten good counsel? Why hasn’t every single priest and clergy been educated on how to respond to abuse?
Below you will find my responses to statements priests have made and a final note to the church congregation. In fairness, these priests were speaking to their congregations, but they fail to consider the possibility that people who have been abused are sitting in the pews listening. Either that or they simply don’t realize they are piling on. Please know that I am NOT trying to speak for victims of sexual abuse in the church. They have their own voice and power. Each person has his or her own personal needs and path around this. I am speaking from my own personal and professional experience as a counselor and teacher. I am not asking for perfection. I am asking you to do better – much better. I hope this writing invites others to pick up a pen and paper and do so some writing of their own if moved to. I also hope this helps all people understand a little more about how to respond to people who have suffered and how not to.
1. The priest said, “Don’t run away from the Eucharist. We need it now more than ever.” My response: Since we are playing this game of telling other people what they need, you need a deeper understanding of abuse. It appears you currently have little to no understanding. Before you go assuming you know what a victim might need please learn how to ask questions instead of assuming you have all the answers. I am talking about really open questions about what they need. I do not mean question their experience. How convenient for you to convince people you have what they need! It seems to me you are still guarding your power. Consider learning about abuse of power so you can recognize when you are, in fact, abusing it. Please understand I realize you may mean well when you say these things, but that’s not for me to get caught up in. The road to hell is paved with good intentions. I realize you are only saying what you know how to say, and you can only teach and preach at the level of consciousness you have attained. I don’t mean that is an insult. It is simply a truth. Please go further in your learning and deepen your awareness. You, dear priest, have been a bit of a victim too – a victim of a church that taught little about transformation (which is what Jesus was all about) and instead told people to follow a bunch of rules. All of this in the name of a God/man who spent his life breaking rules. You have created “a den of thieves” (Matthew 21:13). “Whoever who has ears, let them hear.” (Matthew 11:15).
2. The priest said, “If you have been abused please come forward.” My response: Please focus a bit more on rehabilitating yourself before you ask anyone to run back into the arms of their abuser. People will come forward when they are ready not when you are ready. Stop giving instructions and find more compassion. I’m not exactly sure what a victim coming to you gets them given the way much of the abuse has been covered up and dealt with. People need to feel a sense of safety when they come forward. They will come forward with their own counsel and advocates on their time. If you are going to continue to encourage people to come forward please stress the importance of them doing that on their own terms, and encourage them to contact law enforcement not the church. Their safety needs to be the primary concern not your safety. The church was not a safe place for them. As long as you are telling them what to do it still isn’t. Don’t put resolving this on their backs. This is yours.
3. The priest said, “Let’s not blame. Yelling and screaming don’t solve anything.” My response: You might need to stay put together and in control, but don’t push that crap on people who have been harmed. Again, consider the possibility that people who have been abused are hearing your sermon. Far too much has been pushed on them already! You think you know how to handle this, and you haven’t educated yourself enough yet. Anyone who has been abused has every right to yell and scream about this, and guess what? It is often therapeutic. The church has worked so hard to hide all of this, and they were kept quiet for decades. Do you honestly think suggesting they be quiet longer is in any way helpful. It is not. First, you want them to come forward, and then you want to tell them what kind of expression is useful. Can you even begin to see the problem here? Please take several giant steps back before you start suggesting how to fix decades of abuse that hasn’t even been finished being revealed. Sit in this tension quite a bit longer and actually learn. Consult Jesus on how to do this. Today is Good Friday. Take notes. It involves carrying your burden and allowing yourself to be humiliated then, hopefully, transformed. Maybe, just maybe, then you will have something worthwhile to say. Healing from abuse requires taking back power. You telling people what is necessary is about your power not theirs.
4. I realize you cannot comment on ongoing investigations, but please find something else to say besides “the victims remain in our prayers”. Again, consult Jesus. Consult a therapist rather than a PR person. Your statement takes zero responsibility. Zero. It appears you are trying to hide behind prayers as if that is somehow holy and responsible and enough.
5. This final point is for members of the church congregation who seem to need to find humor about this even if indirectly. You are part of the problem. There is nothing humorous about mocking abuse. Furthermore, if someone that you love has suffered by this you are not making it safe for them to reveal it to you if they ever wanted to. You are mocking their pain. Stop assuming this could have never happened to someone you love. Even if it did not you are still mocking the excruciating pain of others. Please find the role you are filling in the Good Friday passion and make changes accordingly.
I can only hope you (priests) will humble yourself enough to understand you need help with this, and you do not have all the answers. If you really are concerned about this and want to begin to attempt to heal and prevent further abuse please go outside of yourselves on this one. Otherwise, you might continue to create a den of thieves. At best you will continue to have a church that knows little to nothing about real and deep transformation. Come off of your altars, take a seat in the pews and let those who have been abused by priest and the church preach to you. Real power will humble itself, listen and learn to hold the tension of deep pain.