Monday, April 26, 2010

Sexual Abuse and Forgiveness

All of us have experienced trauma in our lives, and to a greater or lesser extent that trauma has shaped us, and our view of the world.  But, some of our brothers and sisters have experienced trauma, accompanied by pain and sorrow that we cannot easily fathom.

LONDON, ONTARIO. Freedom through Truth blog.  Let us start with trauma we can probably all relate to.  There is the story of the two year old who is taken to hospital by his mother, and left there to receive surgery for a hernia problem.  The two year old does not grasp his mother's pain at leaving him.  He sees only strange faces, and the bars of the bed he is put in, which are higher than he is tall, and he sees in his child's mind that his mother has abandoned him.  As years pass, his father spends long stretches in hospital, with his mother at his father's side, leaving baby sitters to care for him and his sister, and he feels abandoned again and again, and becomes emotionally distant.  Then, in adulthood, he marries a woman like his mother, and before she can abandon him, he abandons her emotionally.  To prove it is not a fluke, he marries again with the same result.  He  marries yet again, and tries to do the same thing, but this time, he seeks help as he finally sees the pattern in his life.

That child made a mountain out of a molehill.  He did not know any better, and his parents, in their own pain, were not able to help him better.

But, there are men and women, who as children suffered traumas that make that molehill into an anthill.  Many, too many to count, young people were sexually abused when their father, who was drunk on evenings when their mother went out, came into their bedrooms and had his way sexually with them, and then made them promise to keep it their little secret.  Others went to a parish rectory, where a friendly priest became too friendly, and took advantage of them there, or on a sleep out somewhere else.  Others were abused by a teacher, family member, or connection to the family.

These children suffered trauma that most of us cannot imagine.  Their very childhood was stolen from them, their innocence, and any possibility that up would be up, and down down.  This, dear readers, was a mountain, not one made out of a molehill, but a true mountain, of the Himalayas variety for these precious young people.

And how has society dealt with this mountain for our brothers and sisters?  For many years, we in our society have tried to make a molehill of this mountain.  The Church, in the past, hid behind transfers of offending priests, with secret files of letters and complaints buried in the back of filing cabinets.  At the same time, the rest of society tried to pretend that this scourge on children was not happening.  Children were to be seen and not heard, and to be secretly used and abused by some.

How can this happen in a just society?  I for one do not know, since I have never seen a just society, and do not expect to see one in my lifetime.  How then, can this happen in any society?  It happened and happens even today because seemingly good people turn their backs on things that appear wrong to them.  It happens because otherwise intelligent people are silent to evil.

The Catholic Church has made itself a much safer place for young people today, and continues to do so.  Many settlements have been negotiated or litigated for victims of abuse within the Church.  Yet, still the specter of old abuses raises its ugly head.  That this specter is raised seemingly only in the Catholic Church, when only a small portion of all the abuse has happened within it, seems contextually incorrect.  But, in truth I think it is not.

What has been missing from the one place where it should be able to be expected is forgiveness, and the seeking of forgiveness, on a far grander scale than has occurred to date.  The souls of those abused, and of their abusers have hung in the balance, and we have stood by.

Victims of abuse, in living out the trauma visited on them, have lashed out at their abusers and at one of the institutions, the Catholic Church, that shielded abusers for so long.  So, we, the Catholic Church, have given the loudest ones money, to mollify them.  Still, it does not go away.  It becomes dormant for a few years, but now it rears its ugly head again.

If this has all been repaired, and prevented from recurring, why are the victims still crying out, and lashing out?  Clearly, the abuse and its tentacles that have worked their way into their lives and into their very souls have not been removed.  Peace has not been achieved for them.

We, the Church, not they the Church leaders, must love all of the abused, no matter what turns their lives have taken.  As well, we must forgive them for their often unkind characterizations of the Church as a whole, and for their expressed anger towards our beloved Church.  More importantly, we must seek their forgiveness, and take responsibility for the times that we turned our backs when things were not right, and did not protect them from harm. Finally, we must thank them for raising this once again.

Unless we do all of this, there will never be healing of the hurts that have been inflicted on our brothers and sisters, and they in turn will have to continue to lash out at the only source of their pain that they know.  The cycle will continue, unless we make the changes necessary, which can only be discerned by love, forgiveness on both sides, and taking responsibility.

If We the Church reach out with hearts and minds open to those We the Church have hurt and abandoned, we will not bear responsibility for the loss of their souls and our own.

If We the Church do this, then other institutions where abuse has happened, and families where abuse has happened, can look to us to see what happens when forgiveness flows, and we can start to bring light to this troubled world in this particular area of sexual abuse.

We have the power of God and His grace to set the captives free, and the first captive to be freed is ourselves.  We are all the Body of Christ, the abused, the abusers, and all of us who have stood by.  If one of us is hurting, we are all hurting.

Sacred Heart of Jesus, we trust in Your love for Your Body here on earth.  Guide us to love one another, as You have called us to do.  May we be instruments of Your Peace here on earth.

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