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

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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

 

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

 

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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  

 

TAPIF: One Year Later

At the beginning of October 2014, I began my year in Compiègne with the Teaching Assistant Program in France. One year ago.

I was supposed to arrive at the end of September, but plane engine issues coupled with airport strikes in Paris (Ah, la joie des grèves françaises!) delayed my arrival in France by 10 hours. However, I arrived. And what a year I had!

When many people describe a profound experience, they say it “changed my life.” This often implies that something (a quality, an idea, a person) was missing before the event took place. My seven months in Compiègne were not life-changing in the sense that I became someone I wasn’t. Rather, I changed because qualities that lay dormant in me were revived and strengthened, and even some faults were diminished. I begin to think that growth is not so much an addition or subtraction as it is a refinement of spirit. If God formed us fearfully and wonderfully, He must have given us everything we need to go through life, and sends people or experiences into our lives accordingly to draw out and refine these different qualities in us.

I’m not going to write a “listicle” for this topic because it’s too simple. Rather, I’ll just share two of the most poignant lessons from my time in France, hopefully in a semi-coherent manner.

I’ll be honest: I’m no expert on children.  I took a babysitting class in middle school, but there were never any kids in my neighborhood to babysit, and my youngest cousins lived far away. I never took a pedagogy class in college. So no, I didn’t really know what I was in for when I accepted a position teaching middle school English. Since I returned home, I’ve gotten a lot of messages from prospective teaching assistants expressing the same fear: “I don’t know what I’m doing. I’ve never taught anyone anything! How am I supposed to teach them for a whole year?” To those assistants who might be reading this post: you don’t need a long resume of teaching experience to do this. You just need to be a resource.

On January 7, 2015, the Paris offices of the satirical magazine Charlie Hebdo were attacked, and many of France’s prominent political cartoonists were killed. The next day, I walked into my weekly conversation club with a lesson all ready. One of my students raised his hand and said, “Miss, can we talk about Charlie Hebdo?” I could see the fear and pain in the eyes of my 12- and 13-year-old students, so I agreed. We spent the whole hour discussing the event (in English) and I said very little. The class carried the conversation all on its own. My only remark was at the end of the lesson: “There are many people in the United States who are thinking of you and who support you.”

Kids are used to adults not taking them seriously. It used to infuriate me when I was younger, and I’m sure it was the same for you. The best thing you can be for any child is a willing listener.

Outside from teaching, I became bolder. I learned bite the bullet of fear and take chances, especially when it came to meeting new friends.

There is a stereotype that the French are not as friendly and open as Americans are. In my experience, this is only partly true. Most of the French people I met were very friendly and open, especially once they found out I could speak French well. But it was not the same smothering friendliness that you often see from Americans. It was a reserved politeness that slowly, organically developed into friendship.

I found out about the Communauté Chrétienne des Étudiants (Catholic community at the local university), a week or two after I arrived. It took me another month to work up the courage to attend a meeting. What sort of community was this? What if they never had an international student before? What if my French wasn’t good enough? And was I even allowed to join because I wasn’t a student?

God makes swift work of our doubts when we trust Him and take a leap of faith. I attended my first CCE Mass and dinner in November, and my only regret was not going sooner! In this community, I found warm, welcoming people from all over France and the world who cared about me and made me feel at home. Some of my best memories of the year come from this community. It was so wonderful to make real French friends!

And of course, I can’t forget the other language assistants I met from all over the world, an eclectic little family of expats that supported one another exploring a new country. And abundant kindness flowed in from my roommates, my coworkers, my students and their families, and even the everyday compiègnois. Most greeted me with a kind bonjour and smile, and many went beyond the call of politeness, inviting me to dinners and parties, or taking me on excursions to tourist sites in the area. It was truly heartbreaking to leave a place that had become like home in less than a year.

Toward the end of my stay, I thanked as many people as I could in person for their welcome and hospitality. One friend responded,  “It was nothing. You were so dynamic and happy that you fit right in.”

Goodness attracts goodness. You don’t have to be an outgoing or extroverted person to find friends in a strange land. You just need to be present, be open, be kind. There will be times of loneliness and homesickness, and that’s OK. But if you have courage enough to reach outside of yourself, you will make a home wherever you go.

Merci à tous qui m’a très bien accueillir pendant mon séjour à Compiègne. And bon courage to all the new language assistants in France this year.

À bientôt!

– Vicky