****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 History. Toward 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