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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#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