Encountering Evil

Teresa Pitt Green, Founder *

Evil has always been with us, corrupting the guileless and the powerful.

Faced with such familiar evil, as we are these days, what is the Wounded Healer to do?

Often feeling isolated and even unsure of God, we nevertheless offer our wounded selves to serve others who are wounded. For some, this includes a return to the Church. What do we find? Something of our abusers, or their enablers. There it is again, evil, sheltered from rebuke and justice.

Surely, every survivor of abuse is horribly familiar with how evil can prevail. It is an unfortunately unique grief for clergy-abuse survivors. We bear wounds reflecting what happens when evil seems to prevail in this sacred place.

All Catholics are – and should be – morally enraged about seminarians being abused by predators and abandoned by Church leadership. Society is, and should be. The media is, and should be. Despite the cacophony of viewpoints, they are in unison when finding evil in the Church more sensational than any other place on earth. They should. It is.

What of this deja vu for Wounded Healers? The hit, I daresay, hits most personally.

Was the price we victims involuntarily paid just not enough to convert the Church leaders?

Dear friends, we are older now. We are not children or teens or vulnerable adults as we were at the worst time.

We walk as friends in grace. We are no longer alone.

We also learn what evangelists before us have learned: confronting evil brings its own fatigue – spiritual fatigue… particularly for those confronting evil with the Good News of Truth and Life.

Bearing the message can be tiring, too. The Good News has a way of transforming the messenger. It is so holy that it purifies us as we speak.

Discomfort is compounded. There is discomfort from our past as we encounter today’s evil. And there is discomfort as we are remade today, along the disciple’s way.

Many survivors with whom I speak seem surprised by this predictable phenomenon. So are their loved ones. As if you doubt you are a disciple whose recovery story God is using to reflect His beauty and healing power.

This is a fact of the matter. It is a hard truth. A contemporary song about conversion, “Hard Love,” describes how conversion begins with our own selves. It is the loss of ego, in exchange for freedom. Just because we have suffered abuse we are not spared this effect of human interaction with the divine. Why would we want to be?

No less a purification is what we wish for a Church where we encountered evil and lasting harm. Yet, as we pray for it and hope for it and work for it, we rely on the Word to bring a holy fire. That fire will burn us. It is a sanctifying fire.

In other words, don’t be surprised about how difficult this is.

Difficult is what this path should be.

And it is more difficult than that.

As we speak Truth and Life to a familiar evil, we are going to keep colliding with a related, persistent hostility among some fellow Catholics — and stubborn moral shortfalls among some Church leaders.

How do we endure?

Modern Day published a series by Raymond Billy about the nature of an evangelist as described in 2 Timothy 2.

Mr. Billy offered many examples of how Jesus guided his disciples in their encounters with such hostility and resistance in an article entitled Servant-Minded Evangelists Patiently Endure Evil (Modern Day, June 15, 2016). These two excerpts summarize some key ideas.

First Excerpt

What does it mean for ministers of the Gospel to be “patiently enduring evil”? It means no matter how much hostility they might face or have faced for proclaiming God’s eternal truth, they should persevere in that mission.

Second Excerpt

Paul experienced significant ups and downs as he sought to make Jesus known in the city of Corinth (part of modern-day Greece). He saw rejection on a mass scale before witnessing repentance and salvation on an equally high level. (Acts 18:5-8) Perhaps the apostle was weary from all of this, prompting Christ to tell Paul “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you” (Acts 18:9-10). Paul heeded Jesus’ words. Every Christian should imitate his endurance.

There is a factual distinction between forgiveness and enabling with which our Church, and many in power in Christian settings, struggle — with terrible consequences for victims who seem, to me, to be erased as persons and reduced to statistics which are far too abstract to convict wrongdoing morally.

Here is another fact: we are not statistics.

We gather virtually in this magazine as Wounded Healers.

We transform statistics into humanity by telling our stories, glorifying God over the evil we endured.

Others in this magazine are here to listen with compassion and amplify the praise from the darkest spaces of our Church.

This is the message we offer.

Those who hear and recoil – or reject or ignore – are like the resistance Raymond Billy’s article described.

Scripture is for us, too. “Do not be afraid, but go on speaking and do not be silent, for I am with you.”

Do not be afraid. Do not be silent.

But do not forget. The purifying Truth of which we speak will purify us. The hostile resistance will tire us and drain us, and tempt us to respond in kind. The past will continue to have its own weight. This is a difficult path.

We have options. For one, we have the choice between detachment and abandonment. In both we suffer grief, there should be no doubt. Abuse does not have a final wound. But, of the two options, detachment preserves well-being. It leaves room for feeling. It permits us to continue the refrain that converts us as we seek to convert the Church – and remind people of the freedom they often mistake for something small, like change.

Detachment is not loss.

Detachment is the long game.

Who knows better than the survivor of child abuse that abandonment is not love? Detachment permits love. It is the practice of remembering this is the Lord’s battle, not ours. We don’t force the solution, we bring His Truth. We are just burning messengers. Be sure to take time for the fire. It is the gift.

Rattled by this news? Enraged? Confounded? Fed up? Take a break. Paint. Write. Whittle. Find a friend. Seek good counsel. Read Scripture. Pray. Go to confession. Go to Mass. Walk the dog in the late summer nights. Close your eyes and listen to music. If you need, put down what no longer helps you heal, and move to other new chapters of life. Whatever you are led to do, do it in grace and peace.

Yet, for many Wounded Healers, to stop speaking Truth would be like running with Jonah to Tarshish.*

For those who will continue, do not be afraid. There is deep within us now the wisdom of our wounds. There the Spirit is waiting with reserves to help us speak further still.

What an unlikely treasure of steadfast conviction and restraint.

What a source of the unquenchable fire of His Love.

Wouldn’t it be ironic if clergy-abuse survivors and our loved ones and supporters, who have been so egregiously abandoned by the Church to suffer abuse directly or by one degree of separation, would have grown up now, in love, to refuse to abandon the Church until it is She who heals?

That remains my hope.

* Reference to Jonah’s ill-fated flight from God’s call, right into the belly of a whale: But Jonah rose up to flee to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. So he went down to Joppa, found a ship which was going to Tarshish, paid the fare and went down into it to go with them to Tarshish from the presence of the Lord. (Jonah 1:3 NASB)

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