CLEVELAND – A trio of survivors of sexual abuse invite the Catholic Church – from parishioners of the pews to bishops who lead the dioceses – to join them in their journey towards healing and reconciliation.
The invitation from Mike Hoffman, who chairs the Hope and Healing Committee of the Archdiocese of Chicago, Mark Williams, special advisor to Cardinal Joseph W. Tobin of Newark, NJ, and deacon of the Diocese of Joliet, Illinois, who asked staying anonymous is meant to help the church at large to heal as well.
And that means hearing their stories and those of other survivors of sexual abuse, they told Catholic News Service in mid-April, which is Child Sexual Abuse Prevention Month and Sexual Assault Awareness Month.
It is their belief that upon hearing these stories Catholics will be touched and begin to realize that church-wide healing from the wounds of abuse is a long process, as their own attests. recovery of several years.
They also believe that actions to prevent future abuse must encompass more than “Checklist” of the requirements described in the American bishops 2002 “Charter for the protection of children and young people”.
“No one knows what a survivor needs than a survivor himself,” said Hoffman, who was abused by a priest at the age of 12 in his family’s parish.
“When you take this walk, the simple answer is not that simple,” said the deacon, whose abuse as a teenager lasted for three years.
“Invite victim-survivors to be part of the solution”, said Williams, who was raped at the age of 13 by a priest.
It’s time, Williams added, for the church to take Pope Francis’ vision of a church which serves as a field hospital for the wounded and lost.
Healing can take many forms and last for varying periods of time, they said. What they and other victim-survivors expect from the Catholic Church, they said, is recognition and support as they continue on their journey rather than attempting to carry out “size ministry”. unique ”.
“I spoke with people in other dioceses. Typically, a diocese will do something for the survivors, but will do nothing with the survivors, ”Hoffman said.
Men are working to change this by remaining steadfast in their faith despite their traumatic experiences. They also remain active in the church – more active than most Catholics – filling a variety of roles that require regular contact with key church leaders to keep the needs of victim-survivors at the forefront of the response. church in the crisis of abuse.
“People have asked me, ‘Why are you doing this? ”Said Hoffman. “I said to them, ‘You ask me because a bad man mistreated me, I have to give up my faith that my parents instilled in me? My whole identity is based on the Catholic Church. I married a Catholic woman and I send my kids to Catholic school and you tell me I have to give up all this?
The deacon said much the same, saying he wanted a “seat at the table and be part of the thinking process of not putting a bandage on something.”
For Williams, it focuses on the mystical body of Christ in the Eucharist and on the fact that God always accompanies him on his journey.
Retired firefighter, the deacon, 54, has served on the Archdiocese of Chicago Review Committee since 2018, which hears allegations of abuse and advises Cardinal Blase J. Cupich on what to do with complaints received . “Being on the board in Chicago has been a blessing for me in my own recovery,” he said.
He said he brings a victim-survivor perspective to the board’s deliberations.
“I can listen to their story and understand and put it into perspective why someone waited 30 or 40 years (to report abuse). People will talk about their story when it suits them. Something is triggering the release of that internal voice, ”he explained.
The deacon’s journey towards healing and reconciliation has continued for nearly 15 years. It involved lengthy discussions with social workers, therapists and clergy who were ready to make “my voice heard,” he said. It also depends on parish “peace circles”, discussion groups primarily intended for survivors of clergy sexual abuse, but open to anyone wishing to respond to sexual abuse.
“It feels like an endless process,” added the deacon. “But the process is important because it helped.”
Deacon’s friend Hoffman, 56, is one of six victim-survivors on the 10-year-old Archdiocese of Chicago Hope and Healing Committee. He is widely known for an annual Mass of Hope and Healing in April and an annual prayer service in the fall, both of which have seen wider attendance each year.
The committee grew from efforts in 2008 to establish a healing garden, a place where survivors of abuse and their supporters can come together and reflect on incidents of abuse and ways to prevent abuse at the future.
The garden is located in a highly visible area on the grounds of Holy Family Church adjacent to St. Ignatius College Prep on the Near West Side of Chicago. It includes a sculpture of the Holy Family and a plaque bearing the words of Paul’s letter to the Corinthians on reconciliation.
Hoffman said the students made daily use of the garden paths and were often seen studying there on benches, which is exactly what the committee wanted to see happen.
“Publicly, these events helped bring people together around an issue that literally caused people to leave the church. Now we have 10 years of successful public outreach that people are attending, ”Hoffman said.
As a counselor to Cardinal Tobin and others in the Archdiocese of Newark, Williams has been invited to speak at prayer services and to address seminarians in training for the priesthood. Williams, 64, said the role gave him a way to pursue the healing sought by many church members.
Seminarians, he said, need to hear the stories of survivors of abuse so that they integrate “human formation” alongside the intellectual, pastoral and theological formation they are undergoing.
Addressing the seminarians, Williams said he also hoped to shatter any semblance of clericalism by telling his story that began with abuse, eventually led to alcoholism, depression and finally to a healing path that started about 17 years ago.
Cardinal Tobin, in an email to the CNS on April 15, said Williams “helped me better understand the terrible consequences of sexual abuse” while demonstrating how he was able to “integrate his suffering into a worldview. of faith, thus becoming a wounded and incredibly effective instrument of healing.
“Mark shows me that suffering, injustice and abuse don’t necessarily have the final say in a survivor’s life,” Cardinal Tobin said. “He believes in healing, in forgiveness (but not in exoneration), and doesn’t hesitate to remind me of my responsibility and the need for vigilance. He is truly a blessing to me and to this local church entrusted to me.
Williams likes to use the image of the Good Shepherd as an example of how he would like to see the church respond to victim-survivors. In a presentation at an April 8 symposium presented by the Human Flourishing Program at the Institute for Quantitative Social Science at Harvard University, Williams said the Good Shepherd is often seen carrying a lamb on his shoulders.
He pointed to a parallel image depicted in the Fifth Station of the Cross, in which Simon of Cyrene helps a bruised Jesus carry the cross on the road to Calvary.
“Simon is a stranger and yet he goes and lifts the cross and puts it on his shoulders like the Good Shepherd,” he told CNS. “How that is revealed in what Simon did for Christ, I think that’s what we have to do for each other.
“People may feel that the victim-survivors are strangers. “How can I go and help them?” I cannot understand them. I cannot identify with them. I have not had this experience. Yet this is what we are called to do. We are called to go abroad.