On November 11, 2018, Teresa Pitt Green, a survivor of clergy abuse as a child and teen, provided testimony during the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops’ day of prayer at their General Assembly held in Baltimore, Maryland. Her testimony is provided here for our readers, along with a link to the prayer service the USCCB posted on YouTube.
My name is Teresa.
I am a daughter of the Most High God. I am also a survivor of child sexual abuse from when I was very young, over a number of years, by more than one priest.
My story is only one story, and my healing is just one healing; and it’s hard to stand in front of you and know all of the survivors whom I know, and the many stories of their grief, and all the other stories of grief in their families, and feel worthy to speak of them to you.
I know their resilience, courage, beauty. What can I say that is worthy of these?
It’s important to say, first, that they are people in relationship with their God and they are people who are full of life and love, and yet they are still carrying very, very heavy crosses. They still remain pariah in their own church communities, in their dioceses, and, breaking my heart, they sometimes are left alienated from a faith that has brought healing to me—not always healing in alignment with or in harmony with the Church, which has often, sadly, over the years, terribly, judged me. In some quarters, the Church still judges me now.
My story with its survival of hell does not suffice to tell you of all of the suicides and addictions others have used to escape hell. My story can’t reflect all of the many different mental wounds, the acute mental illness, the chronic mental illness that many survivors and loved ones will courageously manage.
These wonderful people will persist without much chance of hearing from the Church about how that mental illness is not a thing of shame and the struggle with it is noble and brings beauty to the world, but this truth our Lord knows, and these God’s children He loves. But where the Church turns away … well, who understands these things or receives these gifts except those who are listening?
And, my one story cannot reflect all of illnesses of the body we suffer, as children what we all felt as wounds and harm, as adults the lasting impact, like cortisol spikes during childhood trauma that remain abnormally high in adulthood affected by autoimmune illness and other physical problems. It’s not enough we staggered under terror day by day, but then grew into adults whose bodies remain affected all our days.
And mine is only one story about all the loneliness and the isolation and the fear. All of the rejection….
We survivors of abuse are written off as the damaged goods of our age. We survivors of abuse by clergy most of all. We are the caricatures, like in the movies, we watch the survivor predictably being the Deus Ex Machina who emerges as demented psychopath. What an insult to all the stories I know.The survivors I know and their family members (who have suffered so) suffer these misrepresentations with me.
They are, we are, people of light living in the middle of darkness—or at least they are casting light into my darkness.
I want you to know them, too. You need their light.
My story cannot capture what remains for so many of us long after abuse ends. We’re the ones who were too afraid to be alone in a room with an adult or an authority figure, so our careers suffered.
We couldn’t trust anybody to help us, so we went without help when we needed help most of all. Many of us couldn’t find our way in life because we were too busy running away from the past. Or, you saw us full of promise, seem to crash and burn because of post-traumatic stress responses you could not imagine at work.
Even for those of us who overachieved, we did so to flee. There was not pleasure as much as a drive to escape – forever. There was no closure There was no relief. We did not feel the joy of the accomplishment God had granted, or even the peace in knowing accomplishment is His gift.
We survivors are often the ones who can seem aloof because … even as adults, far from the abuse, our stories wound the people we love. We remain hidden in so many ways, but mostly from those whom we love to minimize their pain. We are the ones with not only secrets that can remain unknown for decades, but for life stories we cannot bear to share.
For me there is the conundrum, grief deciding how to share with my sisters that this happened … and the grief to see their sorrow when they found out. Even as my ministry unfolded over the past 15 years, I know my sisters have grieved even as they support me. What kind of burden is that for us to bear? They have been confronted with my sorrow and horror and had to change their own memories of a family they knew that was very different – before the worst all began. This is a very real loss among siblings; their happy memories are tarnished. Another heartbreak. And, yet, I’m one of the lucky ones. My family embraces me. They have not rejected me.
So many survivors are rejected by their own families. Just to speak the truth about what happened to them … they have lost not only their childhood but their families. The memory itself returns to destroy families, lives… after the abuse is done.
Abused by clergy, we also lose what is there for other survivors abused by authority figures who are not representatives of the Church. They find sanctuary in the Church and in the faith. I rejoice that they can do so, but make no mistake that they do not encounter the barrier to church and faith and God that clergy-abuse survivors do.
This Church, our faith are riddled with painful triggers for many of us – and the news of persistent malfeasance reinforces that barrier for many. The evil done remains a barrier not through our own choices. The survivors who have found abuse in the Church can, maybe like I did for years, later find only solace in “accommodated” ways, like sitting in the back of a church during Adoration.
In my story, that’s where I crept, crying, alone, now looking back with our Lord is smiling because He knew, He knew my story. He was not going to hurt me. I sensed that. I would just sit in the empty space, comforted knowing nobody would be around me. No movement. Nobody could get to me and hurt me. I could sit there safe with the Eucharist. Others do that. I am not the only one. That is a story we share … creeping into the nearest hiding place to find a way to be near the Lord.
And, in my story, like so many stories, I have to comb through the memories of hell to understand, to remember ever more clearly with the eyes of an adult what a child saw and had to process without any help. I had to understand and remember all the ways my parents were groomed. I had to move through my anger at them for not being there for me, from anger to feeling in my heart and seeing in my remembering what they also went through. Grooming.
But none of this comes close to the horror and the pain today ….
Right now, suffered by a child who we know statistically is going to be abused today.
For that child, I know from experience, the horror is not the abuse alone, as much as the dread between points of hell.
The dread and fright you live in between points of hell. The in between when you live in dread—I know it well. That darkness.
In the dark night gazing at a painting of Saint Teresa. Can be a picture on a wall nothing more than an artifact to everyone, anyone, but maybe, for me, there, when I was so little, was she too, perhaps, a presence? Was I not alone?
In that isolated dread, where a church bell far away can break the horrible state of dread between points of hell with a hint that God is somewhere, maybe not where you are right then, but somewhere you may someday be….
And for that, the child, for myself too, I want to thank you….
Because it’s very unlikely that that child is in a Catholic school or a Catholic church or any Catholic institution. I’m not saying that there’s not enormous improvements to be made…., but I am saying you’ve permitted me to come back to the Church. Child in Catholic churches and schools now are safer than almost anywhere else.
It would not have been moral for me to come back if I didn’t know that children were safer than I was.
And, so, from the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank you enough for that piece, because survivors are haunted by knowing in this world that abuse does continue, and right now a child needs help.
Now, my story, this one story that does not suffice to reflect all the survivors and family members wounded….
If I look at my story for the most common denominator with those beautiful survivors and families, I can tell you that this is what happened. I can tell you my story.
Long ago, five decades ago, where the innocence of childhood was entrusted to the holiness of priests, evil struck.
That wounded relationship—that ruptured relationship—has yet to heal.
From there, the wound rippled outward. And what has happened in my life as a child is that my family was wounded, and my parents were wounded, and their marriage was wounded, and our family was bruised. We were a loving family, and we still remained a loving family, but that wound affected us then – and affects us now. My sisters have spent their whole life dealing with me falling apart every few years. And beyond my parents and sister, the parishes were wounded. And beyond that, the communities that aren’t Catholic, but that rely on us to serve them, were wounded.
And the child somewhere, being abused, then, could the bell tell them about God – or carry the sound associated with a place of fright?
Many have been entrusted to your care and they’re noisy and they’re angry and I understand. Why? Because when needs are not met by our parents, by those in authority, the needs get bigger and louder. Where else are any of us to go?
I know that: I’ve been in therapy a long, long time. I’ve learned that. I hear from you as we have spoken that you want to meet those needs. You really do. My hope is we work together toward healing and reconciliation.
As Catholic ministry becomes more trauma-informed, what we have to offer the world is formidable. This is a worthy effort.
Why? Because the healing offered by the Church where evil struck in my story – and in thousands of stories – is needed precisely to tend to the full damage left, the complete and complex wound of abuse in our Church.
We have only begun to grasp the depth of that wound. It is partly psychological, and therapy is so important, and the Church has embraced that real need and the professions to help.
The wounds are also somewhat “practical” in the sense that settlements make some difference, yes, of course, but there’s something deeper, something that leaves us empty nevertheless, something needed beyond these common steps to make us whole.
For that, we need a person, Jesus Christ, Who represents what we’ve been born to be. The full self is wounded. The full self needs healing.
Every human self needs a Savior.
This is particularly important with abuse by a priest and with an indifference—for a very long time—from the Church. Survivors and family members have been placed, driven, to arm’s length from the message of Jesus. And, in some ways, made some of us, well, has made me feel at times, homeless in the City of God.
But there’s no need to worry for me. My heart is full of forgiveness, not because I can judge you, or feel there’s nothing to judge, but because I don’t have room in my heart.
What I can say to you is that my Lord has been my Savior. After all the therapy, all the self-help books, all the wellness articles, the trauma workshops, all the 12-step program work, all of them important, but after all of them I still needed a Savior to save me again, and again, and again. I am not the only one for whom that is true.
And I have that. I found Him.
I don’t want anything in my heart taking up room I want to leave open for Him. I want to help others have that. Because it is not something the Church has done well for survivors or our families—in failing us the Church has also harmed herself. She has lost sight of something critically important.
Now, these days, the world is full of the awareness that judgment is due. But in these days what does my story reflect to you, to others? My story reflects God’s glory. He is the Judge. The Lord is the Victor over this evil among us, over the evil that ruptured the relationship at the heart of the matter, the relationship between children and priests, between innocence and holiness. That wound is up to you to heal, and you have the means. Do you have the will?
Regardless, our Lord has won this battle already. He is the Victor. Evil lost. It is dead. Survivors, again and again in therapy, when some of us when we think of killing ourselves, we’re faced with this Scriptural question, the Lord put before us a choice between life and death. He asks us to choose, over and over.
That question is here today. What do you choose? It seems to me that’s a question that you are answering constantly, too, in these matters – with the price equally high.
So, what I will say is, our Lord is the Victor and He will judge by which side we choose to be on. I know what side I am on. I cling to the Lord in this evil. I personally live under His wing, on a certain feather, and I feel very safe there, finally.
But the world will look and struggle with how the Lord is judge, because it will judge you, and seek justice in the ways the world seeks justice, indeed must seek justice. I don’t entirely understand the world anymore, however, or why five decades passed since my abuse started and the fury and noise hits … only now, it feels, to me. It seems shockingly late. Almost everyone seems shockingly late to the reality we have faced for decades. That’s hard to comprehend.
Here is what I do comprehend. Here’s all I know. All I know is there is life on the other side of the wounds of abuse, and it comes through a restored relationship with Jesus, our Savior.
Another thing I know, and why my heart breaks for you, is that this loving Savior, this merciful Lord, has cried more tears on His cross because of some decisions that some of you have made. I don’t know how you bear it. My heart breaks for you.
And, so, I will continue to pray for you. And continue doing what I do.
I would like to close by praising the Lord. He is truly my Savior. And there’s really nothing more for me to fear. I have committed my life to helping others find Him, using this very strange expertise He has chosen to permit through suffering into my heart.
May God be praised.
Teresa Pitt Green is co-founder/co-editor of The Healing Voices Magazine and, with Luis A. Torres, Jr. (whose testimony on the same day may be found here) has co-founded and co-directs Spirit Fire.
YouTube video: Teresa’s testimony begins about 27:10 on the USCCB video clip for the prayer service: https://youtu.be/Wkxrop3WnPg
As covered in the National Catholic Register Online in “Survivors Who Addressed US Bishops Disappointed By Delay in Sex Abuse Proposals,” by Heidi Schlumpf, November 12, 2018.