Cardinal Daniel N. DiNardo of Galveston-Houston, president of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, along…
The long-term ramifications of clergy sexual abuse
Every once in a while, I receive a piece of mail that stops me in my tracks. This was certainly the case when I received a recent letter from a reader not only disclosing the fact that she is the mother of four sons who were sexually abused by the same priest while growing up, but also describing the painful and lifelong ramifications of such abuse for her family.
All of her sons became addicted to alcohol, she writes, and three out of the four, to drugs. Two wanted to press charges against the abuser but ran up against the statute of limitations; and two won’t speak of the abuse at all.
Two of her children have left the Church completely — and one is no longer Christian. Of the two who remain Catholic, they only attend Mass occasionally, and they never had their children baptized.
One of her sons, she writes, remains very bitter.
“He has followed this type of news … closely over the years and calls it to my attention frequently,” she writes. “When I point out to him that for every pedophile priest there are 100 good priests, his response is that if they knew it was going on and did nothing, they’re just as guilty.”
The woman writes that this summer’s news of clergy sexual abuse made her feel “as if I’d been punched in the gut.” But, because of her experience, she said it was not unexpected.
There is much to unpack here about the long-term consequences of the scourge of clergy sexual abuse. My heart breaks for this woman and her family, and for the unnecessary and painful struggles that they have faced throughout their lives. They are members of the walking wounded.
But I was also struck, too, by the writer’s own tone and attitude. She does not write with anger. She does not recommend leaving the Church. She did not leave the Church herself. In fact, she credits the Church for helping to prevent things from being worse. And she has kept in prayer not only her sons, but the one who caused the abuse.
“Thank God that the prayers, sacrifices, and Masses over the years for my boys probably kept them from deeper scarring. I continue to pray for them, (the abuser) and all the other priests,” she wrote.
She also goes on to offer advice on how the Church can begin to pick up the pieces, recommending that Pope Francis “declare a major act of prayer and penance by all the bishops in the Church at the same time.
“… One day wouldn’t do it,” she adds. “The penance must be long, severe, visible and done by all the bishops, cardinals, etc., for people to accept that the Church is sincere in her apologies and reform.”
Finally, she signs off wishing me God’s peace, love and joy.
The writer asked that I not share her name, but I felt it was important to share her story — not only to illustrate the effects of abuse, but to hold her up as an example of what it means to forgive. May God bless this woman and her sons.
Gretchen R. Crowe is editor-in-chief of Our Sunday Visitor. Follow her on Twitter @GretchenOSV.