Editor’s note: The Leaven received this submission in response to its Oct. 30 front page story called “Honoring their journey: Name change reflects the desire to walk with victims.” “Anne S.” is a pseudonym for a woman living here in the archdiocese who is the survivor of sexual abuse by a representative of the church. The Leaven is honored to share her submission and thanks her for her courage.
In the last six years working with the office of child and youth protection, now called the office of protection and care, I have experienced healing, support, encouragement and respect. But something is still missing. I find that there are words, or phrases, or quotes, that keep emerging. I begin to think of them as a message; a message that relates to my life and compels me to send them to you. And then I found this picture and I was able to rise up and find my voice.
“In the midst of rushing waves, I thirst. I thirst a thirst only God can satisfy.”
— inspired by Jn 4:5-42
“I stand at the door of your heart and knock. Open to me; for I thirst for you.”
—St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
“Water, water everywhere, not a drop to drink.”
—Samuel Taylor Coleridge,
“Rime of the Ancient Mariner”
I thirst for a relationship with God that is based on complete trust. Much like the trust I felt as I received my first Communion. Pure. Innocent. Whole and holy trust.
I thirst for peace and the belief that it was not my fault. When a priest in confession tells you to pray harder so that the molestation will stop and gives you penance, it is more powerful than any statements by people in the future who repeatedly use these words, “You know it was not your fault. You had nothing to do with causing the acts done to you.”
I thirst for accountability. I feel no hate and I wish no punishment. But I do want accountability. A confession by my perpetrator and an idea of why.
I thirst to know that anyone else they have wounded can be provided help.
I thirst for the indignation on the part of all clergy, nuns, members of the faith community . . . to not only feel they need to console us, but to realize indignation for the damage it does to their own selfless dedication to the faith.
I thirst for recognition of the strength and resilience of the survivors who live with this every day and still work, raise families, serve the church and hide the pain because they do not want to impose it on their family and friends.
And, in my case, I thirst for the husband, children, picket-fence life that I was afraid to have because of a belief that I was not a deserving person in the eyes of God.
The abuse of a child, whether by relative, teacher or clergy, results in the death of a part of the soul that has to be brought back to life aggressively, consistently and with profound sincerity of action.
That tiny part of the soul is never without a fear that God does not feel the same love for them, or that God will never forgive them no matter how hard they pray.
That tiny part of the soul has to be nurtured, watered, warmed and given the patience it needs to grow and regenerate.
Pope Francis was quoted as saying that when children are abused, God weeps. Only the faith community — the entire faith community, not just clergy — can provide that special care. We must be seen as believing that God truly weeps for abused children, even when they have physically grown to adulthood.
The response to this church burden is the responsibility of all of us, not just the clergy and hierarchy of the church. We ARE the church.
No, you may not have been a part of any of the terrible wounds inflicted. But they were inflicted in a setting that involved belief in God. For children that makes it so difficult. We have a responsibility to let those wounded know that God loves them, their pastor loves them and the whole faith community loves them.
They are soldiers that have won a battle. Welcome them home. And, above all, listen when they speak.
By Anne S.