Light in Darkness

Kathy O’Connell, Co-Founder *

Living with clergy abuse has been a challenge for me, as I’m sure it’s been for other victim survivors.

The PA grand jury report that was recently released has set our media and Catholics on fire making, but that has actually made it even more difficult to be a survivor of such abuse.

The news continues to reopen wounds. These are wounds many of us spend all days, months, even years trying to heal. These are wounds that are painful and heart wrenching. Years later they still make us wince. These wounds can feel like they will never heal, especially with constant reminders in our society today.

Recently, as I attended Mass as I usually do, I found myself weeping as the priest washed away his iniquities and his sin.  Yes, this phrase has forever been part of Mass. “Wash away my iniquities and sin,” as the priest gently wash his hands before consecrating the Body and Blood of Our Lord, Jesus Christ.

It surely has meaning. However, did it have meaning to those priests who abused a young child? Did it have meaning to the priest who abused me?

Even now, Mass can bring me to tears. They are tears of sadness, tears of doubt, tears of wondering. Wondering what it was like for one of those abusive priests who walked to the pulpit, preached about God’s love, continued to remind us to follow in God’s footsteps with kindness, empathy and compassion. Then washed wash his hands of his sins. Returning after Mass to his sins. Yet, it happened. In my life. In lives of many victims.

Of course, for all of us, it’s difficult to comprehend. This evildoing was just staggering in how bold it was. How shameless.

As I attend Mass and listen to those words, I remind myself that they are, now, words from good, pastoral, faithful priests. Things have changed in the Church – not nearly enough, but enough for Mass to be safe for me.

Abuse. Yes, it happened to me, to many. Our parish churches have changed. The U.S. Church has become aware of the abuse of children and started over with new approaches — new requirements, new information, new training. They have turned a great deal of attention to protecting our innocent children today from clergy abuse.

These changes are important. They are not enough, however.

We need to get past the old to focus on the new. We need to bring our past Church and leaders into healing and forgiveness. We need to empathize with our many victims survivors and open our hearts and ears to share their stories of abuse with the press, the Church, the people of God so they, we, can bring healing, love and compassion through our pain to everyone who hears us.

All Catholics need to be disciples of God, ready to place the past in the past and work toward full reform and a renewal that opens the future to love and compassion and healing. That is what our parishes and our Church are meant to be.

I wish the media could understand that it is bringing so much pain to survivors with a lot of assumptions that don’t get the whole story out there. The doors have been opened a long time. The truth has already been coming out for a long time. Now, it’s time to show how, even though there is much work to be done, there is much good already. There are reasons to hope as much as there are reasons to be angry.

For the sake of every victim’s healing, it’s important to report more than the darkness and important to foster much more compassion and hope in our parishes and Church.

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