If You’ve Been Hurt By the Church: An Open Letter

****CW: clerical sexual abuse in the Catholic Church****

Bonjour, mes amis. I’ve got some things to say.

A few weeks ago, when the grand jury report on decades of clerical sexual abuse in several Catholic dioceses throughout Pennsylvania was released, I was disgusted, furious, grieved, heartbroken, every negative emotion under the sun. Admittedly, I’ve stayed pretty quiet on social media about these events. I simply didn’t know what I could add to the conversation as a lay woman (i.e. not a member of the clergy) without a theology degree or any experience in church management.

If you came to this open letter looking for my A-B-C solution to cure this cancer that has pervaded my beloved Church, I don’t have one for you. I’m here to speak to a group of people that the discourse seems to have largely ignored: the survivors of clerical sexual abuse, and people who have left or are considering leaving the Catholic Church due to previous abuse, rejection or neglect.

If you belong to this group of people, or if you are simply looking at your screen right now wondering, “Vicky, how can you possibly still be Catholic?”, this letter is for you.

What happened to you is not. your. fault.

God has not forgotten you.

God does not hate you.

God wants you here.

God willed you into existence. 

God is an all-perfect, all-loving God, no matter what anyone who claims to represent Him does.

God looks at you with nothing but unconditional love, love that would never manipulate you, hurt you, or look to take something away from you.

If someone who claims to be Christian or Catholic has hurt you in any way, God weeps with you. Jesus said, “See that you do not despise one of these little ones, for I say to you that their angels in heaven always look upon the face of my heavenly Father.” (Mt. 18:10)

If you’ve been wondering whether the Catholic Church even cares about you, here’s your answer: I care. God cares. Jesus cares. Mother Mary cares.

I see you if you are a survivor of sexual abuse, clerical or otherwise, and the news cycle for the past few weeks has been very triggering to you.

I see you if you are justifiably angry and hurt and are considering leaving or have already left the Catholic Church.

I see you if you are a member of the LGBTQ+ community and someone from the Church has rejected you or abused you.

I see you. I weep with you. I stand with you. I love you.

God sees you. God stands with you. God loves you.

Now, a side note to my fellow Catholics: On the day the grand jury’s report was released, I happened to discover Malcolm Gladwell’s excellent podcast Revisionist HistoryToward the end of Season 1, Ep. 9, Gladwell says, “You must respect the body you are trying to heal.”

Again and again throughout Scripture, we see the Church referred to as the Body of Christ. When one part of the body is sick, it affects all of us. Yes, we need to fight tirelessly to cure the disease of sexual abuse in our Church. But in our healing efforts, let us not forget the members of Christ’s Body who have been the most hurt by these crimes.

This is not a PR problem. This is not a theological debate. This is not the time to find a scapegoat. Real people are hurting. In all likelihood, someone in your circle of acquaintance, maybe even someone in your family or close friend group, has experienced abuse at the hands of a member of the clergy. They need Catholics to rise up and be Catholic now more than ever.

I know definitely of one or two people in my life who have been hurt by the Church, and I’m sure there are countless others that I’m not aware of. My call to my beloved Catholic Church is to reach out to those people. Let them know that they can talk openly and honestly to you, without fear of judgment.

For the people in my sphere of influence, you can talk to me. I will listen to you. I will weep with you. More importantly, I will believe you.

“Eternal Father, I offer You the Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity, of Your dearly beloved Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, in atonement for our sins and those of the whole world.” – Chaplet of Divine Mercy

– Vicky

“I’ll Pray for You”: What I Really Mean

Bonjour mes amis! It’s been a while.

Two years ago, before I left for World Youth Day in Poland, I got the idea to start a list of prayer requests in my journal to carry with me throughout the pilgrimage. I posted about it on Facebook and Instagram and carried my journal with me everywhere over the month before I left so people could add their requests themselves. Collecting these intentions was such a moving experience. People from all areas of my life, people of all faiths and no faith, responded to ask me to pray for them or their loved ones. It was such a success that I decided to do it again last summer when I went to Fatima, Portugal. My goal of 50 intentions, one for each bead of a rosary, turned into 150 intentions, enough for THREE rosaries, which I prayed over the course of my three days at Fatima.

This Friday, I will be leaving for Lourdes, France, one of the most popular and holy pilgrimage sites for Catholics. However, when I thought about making my annual social media post asking for prayer requests, I paused.

It’s no secret that the past few years, and especially the first half of 2018, have felt like something out of a dystopian novel. After last week’s horrific mass shooting in the office of the Capital Gazette, many people and politicians across social media posted “thoughts and prayers” to the victims and their families. There was a time in American history when most people, even if they were not religious, would consider this phrase as a considerate gesture, with the expectation that the people of faith with legislative power would do all they can to stop such violence from ever happening again. News flash: mass shootings continue to happen regularly in the United States, and the people of faith in power have NOT held up their end of the bargain.

I am a person of faith who believes in the power of prayer. But I am also a Roman Catholic Christian who takes to heart the words of Pope Francis: “Prayer and action must always be profoundly united.” It is no longer enough to just go to your inner room and pray to your Father in secret about the state of the world and shut our eyes and ears to the suffering of others. We as people of faith must take the second step: go out into the world and speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves.

In light of the state of the union and the world, I have felt uneasy when I’ve thought about making my annual cheery Facebook post asking for prayer requests for my expensive pilgrimage to Europe. I acknowledge that I have been given an opportunity that many people of faith throughout the world never will have: to travel to one of the most renowned and holy pilgrimage sites for Catholics, a place known for its many miraculous healings. So this year, when I ask you to let me pray for you, here’s what I’m asking of you:

1. To allow me to think of your name and your face at a place where the Blessed Virgin Mary said to Saint Bernadette, “Pray for sinners.” (I’m included in that category. We’ve all made mistakes.)

2. To allow me to say one Hail Mary, one of the most powerful prayers in all of Catholicism because it evokes a mortal woman who gave birth to God incarnate, thinking of your name and your face and your struggles and your deepest desires.

3. To allow me to ask God, the Creator of the Universe, Master of time and space, who created you, loves you and wants the best for you, to pour out His blessings upon you.

4. To allow me to ask Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who died on the Cross for YOU (not just the squeaky-clean ones who wear cardigans and read their Bibles all the time and somehow think God can be defined by one man-made political party), to comfort you and heal you in your times of suffering and pain.

5. To allow me to follow up with you after my pilgrimage, not to pat myself on the back because my prayers worked, but just to ask how you’re doing. (I am terrible at keeping in touch, so please be patient with me.)

6. To allow me to ask the 40 other people who will be traveling with me to pray for you, because 40 prayers are more powerful than one prayer.

7. To allow me to make a difference and help you in the best way I know how. There may be other ways I can help (just ask!), but many of you reading this are carrying heavy burdens (e.g. death of a loved one, mental or physical illness, trauma, family divides, breakups, past rejection or abuse from people who claim to be religious, worrying about what evil act our government leaders will do next). I can’t fix all the problems of the world or in your life. I just can’t. But I can ask someone who will help you better than I ever could.

OK, now the practical stuff: I will have my prayer journal with me all this week and am available any time via social media or through the contact page on this blog. I will be infrequently checking my phone and social media feeds while in France, so please keep these prayer requests coming. Feel free to share this post with your family and friends. All prayer requests will be confidential. And in the spirit of Pope Francis, please pray for me and all the other pilgrims traveling with me to Lourdes.

In conclusion, to restate what I’ve said for the past two years: I don’t care if you’re not Catholic. I don’t care if you’re not Christian. I don’t care if you haven’t prayed since your First Communion. I don’t care if you don’t believe in any sort of higher power and are reading this thinking, “Wow, that’s disappointing. I thought Vicky was normal.” I want to pray for you. Will you let me?

À bientôt !

– Vicky

#1. Prove yourself wrong.

When I decided to start my Confidence Project, I did a bit of market research from several bloggers and YouTubers that I enjoy to hear what they had to say about confidence.

Granted, many of these voices are Christian or Catholic ones, so most of their advice comes from scripture and is more big-picture focused: “Know that your value comes from God.” “Trust in the Lord and rely not on your own understanding.” “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” And so on and so forth.

On the other hand, I was also getting big-picture advice from more secular, mainstream voices: “Fake it till you make it.” “Ignore the haters.” “What’s wrong with being, what’s wrong with being, what’s wrong with being confident?” (Thanks Demi Lovato.)

I’m not saying this advice isn’t well-meaning. My thoughts on these maxims could make a whole other post. However, when I have tried to follow this advice, it has always escaped me when I needed it the most. In moments when I’m overwhelmed by a world that values me based on my relationship status and my salary, it’s difficult to believe that my worth is found in God alone. When I feel immense pressure to please everyone else, I can’t bring myself to ignore the haters.

What I needed was a list of action-oriented, concrete, and practical rules in order to battle against the waves of insecurity and self-doubt in the moment. I called them my Golden Rules of Confidence. I didn’t want to make an arbitrary list at the beginning of the year and try to apply it to the rest of the year. I wanted this list to be a compilation of truths I discovered along the way.

Little-known fact about me: I have a Ph.D. in Self-Criticism. I’m sure many of you can relate. To be fair, examining your conscience is a good skill to have, but constant negative self-talk has no place in authentic confidence.

Recently, during a stressful day at work, I found myself falling down the negativity black hole when suddenly, the First Golden Rule came to me: Prove yourself wrong.

When people talk about the negative voice in your head, that voice often uses “you”: You are stupid. You are ugly. You’re a failure. When the negative voice in my head talks, it uses “I”: I am stupid. I am ugly. I am a failure. I realized that in order to overcome my self-criticism habits, I didn’t need to prove myself to other people, I needed to prove myself to myself.

I wrote my First Golden Rule on a post-it and stuck it to my work laptop. Seeing that note every day has made a huge difference. I used to get so overwhelmed with feeling that I would never get all my work done that I gave up before I began. Now when I think, “I’ll never get all this done!” I immediately say, “Prove yourself wrong.” And my work gets done! Even if I don’t cross everything off my to-do list, I feel so much more confident at the end of the day.

This Golden Rule also works when I make excuses for not doing something I should be doing. “I’m too tired to wake up now.” “I’m too busy to go to Mass today.” “It’s too late, I’ll do it tomorrow.” Prove. Yourself. Wrong.

I encourage you to try out this Golden Rule for yourself. Let me know how it goes for you. I’m no confidence expert, but a well-meaning blogger trying to figure it out.

Prove yourself wrong. It’s easier than you think.

À bientôt!

Vicky

The Confidence Project

Bonne année, mes amis!

It’s that time of year again to make lofty resolutions for the year ahead, fantasize about  your brand-spankin’ new self ringing in the new year 12 months later, and then scrap your plans by the first week in February. Or maybe that’s just me.

As I thought about my resolutions for 2018, I realized that many of them were goals I had made in the past but never accomplished or even attempted. What was holding me back from being the person I wanted to be? The answer was simple: confidence.

For most of my life, I’ve had an aversion to the idea of being a confident person. I believed the word “confident” was synonymous with words like “selfish,” “aggressive,” “overbearing,” and “conceited.” These were the traits the popular kids in high school displayed, and surely they were confident, right? And more recently, I have found that in the theater world and the working world, the louder, more competitive, and more obnoxious you are, the more confident you seem. As a result of these experiences, I associated being confident with being narcissistic, entitled, and all-around insufferable.

Now, I know, and probably all of you know deep down, that this is not authentic confidence. However, I couldn’t even give you a non-cliché definition of authentic confidence here, at least not yet. This is where The Confidence Project comes in.

This project and its title are inspired by Gretchen Rubin’s 2009 book The Happiness Project. One of my best friends lent it to me in December, and even though I’m only halfway through it, I’m hooked. For those of you who haven’t read it, Rubin describes the year she spent studying how to be happier. For each of the twelve months, she focused on a specific area of her life in which she wanted to be happier (marriage, career, parenting, etc.), and set three to five resolutions for the month aimed at increasing happiness in that area.

My nerdy, scatterbrained self thought this strategy was both brilliant and manageable. Instead of trying to become more confident in all areas of my life overnight, I could focus on one area at a time.

So, in short, that’s what I’m doing this year. I’m dedicating each month to a different area of my life in which I want to grow in confidence. I’m not going to make any big promises about how I’m going to document this journey on this blog, only that I will try to do so.

In the spirit of this challenge, I’d love to know: What makes you feel authentically confident? Let me know in the comments below.

New year, new start. Let’s do this.

À bientôt!

– Vicky

 

You Too: A Rallying Cry for All Men

Disclaimer: This post is not in any way saying that women are not capable of standing up for themselves, or that women do not also need to support other women and men who have experienced sexual harassment or assault. 

This post is specifically for any man who thinks that sexual violence doesn’t affect him.

In the aftermath of the media firestorm as person after person came forward accusing Harvey Weinstein of sexual harassment and/or assault over the past few decades, I was horrified that such heinous acts could be hushed up for so long. My heart and prayers go out to the victims, those who have spoken out and those who choose to remain silent because they are not ready to or willing to relive their trauma, and my anger rises up at the realization that we as a society are not doing nearly enough to break the cycle of violence against women.

I was one of the hundreds of women and men who posted “Me too,” across social media to demonstrate the widespread problem of sexual harassment and assault. Many of my dear friends, relatives, coworkers, and classmates shared that they had been victims of sexual violence, and it was devastating to see post after post denoting another person with a story (or multiple) of assault or harassment.

With so many people bravely coming forward to share their experiences, it can be easy to despair. However, I would like to share a personal story with you, and I pray it gives you hope.

In seventh grade, when it was too cold to go out for recess in the winter, we would all go to the auditorium, where we were expected to “find something to do” and be quiet. Most kids totally disregarded this rule, but nerd that I was, I took the opportunity to catch up on my homework.

At some point during these long indoor weeks, one of the boys in my class thought it was funny to sit next to me, say “Hey baby,” and stroke my arm while purring. Just thinking about it now makes me sick. I was 12 years old. No one had ever approached me like a sexual object before, and I had no idea what to do. I was too disgusted and scared to do anything except cringe and turn away until he got bored and left me alone.

One day, a male friend of mine (let’s call him Brian) was sitting on one side of me. When that boy came over to harass me as usual, Brian turned to him and said something like, “Hey! What’s your problem? Leave her alone!” My harasser made a face and left.

Brian then turned to me and said, “Vicky, he shouldn’t be treating you like that. You should tell someone.” But I brushed it off.

I wanted to tell someone. I wanted to make that boy stop. But deep down, I was terrified. What if the teachers didn’t believe me? What if my harasser ignored any reprimand and kept at it? What if he told the whole school I was a liar and a tattletale? What if I got punished instead of him? Or even worse, what if it was my fault all along?

This is why so many victims don’t speak up. It’s disgusting that I have to explain this in 2017, when we’ve seen this situation time and time again. Abuse or harassment is never OK. Period. Abuse or harassment is never the victim’s fault. Period. We’ve heard this a million times at this point and yet we still don’t get it, so it needs to be said over and over again.

After a few more weeks of me consistently declining to tell someone, Brian couldn’t stand by any longer. One day, I was called down to the guidance office. Brian was sitting there when I walked in, and in the presence of him and the guidance counselor, I finally admitted what was going on. The counselor was very understanding. She told me explicitly that it was not my fault, that anyone who touched me in such a way or said something that made me uncomfortable was out of line and their behavior would not be tolerated. I don’t remember what disciplinary actions were taken against my harasser, but he didn’t speak to me again all the way up to graduation, and I’ve never seen him since.

Over the past few days, my heart has been full of gratitude for Brian. We lost contact after high school, but if he is reading this, I hope he knows how grateful I am that he had the courage and wisdom beyond his years to stand up for me when I couldn’t stand up for myself. Unfortunately, many people who experience sexual harassment and/or assault don’t have a Brian. Their cries for help are silenced or ignored. Blame often falls on the victims and not on the perpetrators. And sometimes these perpetrators are promoted or simply moved out of the situation, but their predatory behavior continues.

Men, and all people who believe in the dignity of every human being, this is a rallying cry for you.

I’d like to speak specifically to any man who thinks that sexual violence is not his problem. I know it’s scary to speak up because so often the perpetrators of these actions are your relatives, your friends, your teammates, and your coaches. You’re afraid of being considered “less manly” if you defend the dignity of sexual violence victims. You think that you’d be overreacting because after all, it’s just “locker room talk.”

Let me tell you something. The world doesn’t need any more Harvey Weinsteins or Bill Cosbys or Donald Trumps. The world doesn’t need any more men who stay silent when others are being abused. Simply not engaging in harassment or abuse is no longer good enough. Men, we need you to take a stand. We, as survivors of sexual harassment or abuse, cannot win this war without all of humanity on our side. If you are not actively fighting for us, you are part of the problem.

Here are a few simple ways you can help. Pay attention to your surroundings at a bar or party, in the classroom, the locker room, and the office. If you see something that looks or sounds like harassment or assault, it probably is. Don’t just ignore it; shut it down. If someone you know comes to you saying they’ve been sexually harassed or assaulted, listen to them. Ask how you can help. But above all, believe them, believe them, believe them, and tell them you believe them again and again and again.

The world will try to tell you you’re an uncivilized animal with no self-control. I know you’re better than that, and you know you’re better than that.

Please understand that I’m not telling you this out of condemnation or malice, but out of love for you, my brothers, and out of my belief in your individual and collective ability to build a safer, more respectful world for all people. In a world of Weinsteins, be a Brian.

Survivors of sexual violence: I love you. I hear you. I believe you.

Men and all other bystanders: We love you. We believe in you. We’re counting on you.

À bientôt

– Vicky

I’m Not That Girl, and That’s OK

Today, I was trying to decide which picture I should share on Instagram in honor of International Day of the Girl. I remembered a photo a friend had taken of me this past summer in Fatima, Portugal during the nightly Candlelight Rosary procession. I’m juggling a lit candle, my Rosary beads, and my notebook of prayer intentions that I collected before I left (a huge thank you to all who contributed prayer requests!) I thought, “Perfect! What better photo could I share on the Day of the Girl than me praying to the greatest girl that ever lived, Mama Mary?”

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But I felt like just sharing that image would be ignoring part of the story. If anyone saw that picture, they might assume I’m a perfect little Catholic girl who prays her Rosary every day.

The truth is, I’m not.

Even after going to the place where our Blessed Mother appeared multiple times to three peasant children telling them to pray the Rosay daily, my relationship with the Rosary is complicated. Yes, I have prayed multiple 54-day novenas over the past two years, but it never came easy to me, and there were often days or weeks when I would skip it entirely. I’ve always had a great love for and fascination with Mary, but sometimes praying the Rosary feels like doing the dishes; I don’t like it, but I do it because my (heavenly) mom asked me to.

I’m not proud of this. I envy people who have a deep devotion to the Rosary and can pray it daily as easily as breathing. I want to be that girl that thrives on praying the Rosary daily, but sometimes I think, “Wait, I have to pray how many Hail Marys?! Forget it. This is too hard.” And then I feel ashamed, feeling like I missed another mark on the “Perfect Catholic Girl” list.

You may not be Catholic, but I know you’ve got your own “Perfect Girl” list. I also know how infuriating it can be when you don’t live up to it. “I was doing so good not eating sugar. Why did I have to have that cookie?” “Why don’t I have my master’s degree yet?” “Why am I the only one of my friends who’s still single?” “Everyone else seems to have their life in order. Why can’t I get it right?”

Chasing perfection is a dangerous and destructive journey; believe me, I’ve been at it for 25 years. And everyone, I mean everyone, considers themselves “not good enough” in some capacity. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t be learning and growing every day, but we shouldn’t beat ourselves up because we fall short of some impossible standard we created in our own heads. We’ve heard it a million times, but we all need to be reminded of it, including me, because I’m pretty terrible at following my own advice.

So on today, the International Day of the Girl, let’s put down the burden of living up to everyone’s expectations of what we should be. Let’s stop trying to be that girl and instead focus on being ourselves. 

You, my sister, are enough. Not you smarter, not you richer, not you 10 pounds lighter, not you plus a significant other, not you with all life’s questions figured out. You, right now, are enough.

A quote that has been shared multiple times today is from the philosopher and saint Edith Stein: “The world doesn’t need what women have, it needs what women are.” The world doesn’t need your resume, or your body, or your Instagram likes. The world needs you. 

It needs you creating in the best way you know how. It needs you giving in the best way you know how. It needs you fighting for justice in the best way you know how. It needs you leading in the best way you know how. It needs you persevering in the best way you know how. It needs you loving in the best way you know how. Most importantly, it needs you being YOU in the best way you know how.

Happy International Day of the Girl to all the amazing girls and women in my life and reading this blog. You are loved. You are enough.

À bientôt! 

– Vicky

For the Days You Feel Like a Louis

 

One_Direction_part_2

I think we’re talking about the guy in the turtleneck, right? (Source: TV Tropes)

To be honest, I know very little about the artists formerly known as One Direction. I knew a few of their songs and knew my cousin had a crush on the one who dated Taylor Swift, but that was about it. I was a sophomore in college by the time their first album came out, so I was not their target audience. (No shade to any college-age Directioners out there!)

When I saw this past week that the Guardian had interviewed former 1D member Louis Tomlinson, I almost scrolled past. But the headline stopped me: “Niall is lovely, Zayn has the voice, Harry is cool, Liam gets the crowd going … then there’s me.”

Then there’s me.

Tomlinson and his fellow boy-banders were on top of the world for a good few years. They churned out one hit song after another, sold out stadiums worldwide, and were hounded by millions of screaming preteen and teenage fans.

And yet, Tomlinson did not feel valuable. In the Guardian interview, he says, “You know I didn’t sing a single solo on the X Factor [the show by which 1D was formed] … But when you actually think about how that feels, standing on stage every single week, thinking: ‘What have I really done to contribute here? Sing a lower harmony that you can’t really hear in the mix?’”

I never thought I’d say this, but I can totally relate to this multimillionaire/former boy band member. How often have we looked around at our friends and coworkers and classmates and felt insignificant or overlooked? “Why did he get that promotion and I didn’t?” “She gets all the guys and I haven’t had a date in two years.” “Why bother trying? No one ever notices me anyway.”

When I did high school theatre, I used to joke that I always played “the crazy old lady who dies at the end,” i.e. not the ingenue. While I really enjoyed playing the crazy character parts, I had a desperate desire to be the young, pretty lead. Like any high school girl, I wanted other people to tell me I was beautiful, talented and worthy of singing power ballads in a flowy white dress. And since I never got the lead, no matter how hard I worked, I thought I must not be beautiful enough or skinny enough or talented enough for people to want to spend a whole evening looking at me. I must not matter.

I carried that resentment into my community theatre career as an adult. One night, I was talking with a few of my castmates about our high school theatre days. As usual, I joked about always playing the crazy old lady, but the lead actress in the show could sense the bitterness behind my laugh. She looked me straight in the eye and said, “You know why you always got those parts? Because you had talent. You look around at all the girls who played the young, pretty ingenue in high school. They’re not getting cast now, and you still are.”

She was right. The majority of the kids who got the lead roles in my high school are not performing anymore. You know who still is? The ensemble, the supporting cast, the kids who lurked behind the shiny lead actors, honing their craft and learning from every single role, even if they only had one line. Many of them have gone on to play lead roles, or their own dream roles, after high school. If they had given up in high school, they would have missed so many opportunities to shine.

Similarly, while band members Harry Styles and Zayn Malik got most of the media attention, Tomlinson used his time out of the direct spotlight wisely. According to the interview, he learned how to negotiate with managers and label executives backstage, which led him to start his own record label. He also became a father, the first member of the band to do so. On top of all this, he just released his debut solo single and is working on new music.

It’s difficult to say where Tomlinson’s career goes from here. Perhaps he will “make it” as a solo artist, maybe not. I honestly wouldn’t be surprised if in a few years, he’s the “it” record producer that everyone in the music industry is dying to work with. In any case, 1D was not Tomlinson’s time to shine, but that doesn’t mean his future is dim.

If you’re feeling like a Louis in your own life, don’t despair. Nothing is permanent in this life, even boy bands. Find that one thing that fills you up, and become an expert at it. Learn about the behind-the-scenes processes. Take every opportunity as a chance to grow. Be humble. Ask questions. Make mistakes. Remember that the current situation you’re in is not your end point.

My favorite quote attributed to St. Catherine of Siena is, “Become who God meant you to be, and you will set the world on fire.” This, in essence, is what truly makes you beautiful.

À bientôt !

– Vicky