The McCarrick Report struck me as a blip in the news. Coverage was commendable, but strangely brief. A few news groups are using it as a starting point; that is a good sign. Yet, the first news of McCarrick in 2018 had far greater impact. It was tectonic at The Healing Voices. Everything stopped. No one wrote a thing, for months. In that silence, what I’ve heard is a lot of noise that has drown out some very important voices.
In 2018, I found myself feeling dubious about the outrage. Where had everyone been for years? The 2018 AG Report out of Pennsylvania seemed like old news to me. Horrific cases had been in the news since the early 1980s. The sudden fury left me cold. Then came accusations, month after month, against several bishops. The deepest cut was how long the malfeasance had to have been obvious to those who had sufficient power to intervene but who had chosen not to do so. Yet, that wasn’t surprising either. For anyone following the stories and really thinking about them, that dynamic was already implicit in all the cases already aired.
Charges after the McCarrick revelations in 2018 helped remove abusers. Catholic outrage helped that happen. Victims were finally acknowledged, and their accusations heard. They may even have a chance for release from the suffocating hold abusers exert on our adult lives. There is hope for them, but I am left wondering. What if Catholics had become outraged in the 1980s, or the 1990s, or after 2002 and the Spotlight news series? How much of the agony and secrecy could have been averted?
I lived those decades. I’m from a very early generation of survivors. My abuse dates to the 1960s and 1970s. My first (failed) attempt to report abuse was in 1993. I’ve lived through the 1980s news reports of the first clergy sex abuse cases, and I’ve had many decades to observe how little compassion most Catholics have had for survivors. Aside from ambivalence, there was definitely no Catholic reaction to those decades of revelations, and I am left wondering why.
The new outrage falls into that greater context. It strikes me as overdue and also strangely self-referential. Since 2018, I have seen a surge of Catholic interest in survivors. That has been bad news from where I sit. Too many survivors are being hurt, yet again, by “helpful” Catholics who are winging it so they can feel like they are “doing something” by being “helpful” or “sympathetic.” These people put out general calls and welcome, but they remain selective in choosing “good” or easy survivors or in choosing those survivors who agree on points of policy or faith. That means they turn away many others, who feel minimized and rejected yet again. Where do they return? To silence. This kind of accompaniment, insensitive to trauma issues, is simply not safe for the vulnerable survivor seeking a homecoming in the Church — or even God. And, it breaks my heart. That it continues to happen haunts me.
The McCarrick Report reveals how patterns repeat, but Catholics are sorely mistaken to assume all those patterns are limited to victims and clergy. Here’s one that is universal: Victims, weakened through abuse by the first predator, become prey not just for other sexual predators but also for all kinds of opportunists who aren’t interested in us flourishing as ourselves on our own terms. Opportunists wear white hats, not just black ones. Good intent does not create safety for the survivor. Safety is the one thing that is owed every victim in every instance, and it cannot be a passing safety. Either the Church is safe for someone to explore a return, or it is not. For these reasons, I’ve yet to warm up to widespread interest among lay Catholics who are in a rush to “fix” the Church by “helping” victims. That flies very close to “fixing” victims, and it is a practice usually launched by groups who cannot even name five signs of child abuse or how to report abuse if it is suspected.
There is a contrast here. It is found in the offer that survivors extend to the Church. This offer comes with a sense of autonomy and self-expression. It comes from people who have developed their own safety, which they share with others who are wounded. But, it also comes with an expiration date. The earliest waves of survivors are retiring, moving on – or very old. Others have grown tired of the vertical climb required to collaborate with Church officials or laity. Others have lost heart along the way. Whether working to support healing within the Church or not, all these people are still on their amazing pathways of recovery and of flourishing spiritually. But what does it say that such a generous offer should end without connection? The Healing Voices and Spirit Fire both serve to offer a place for that connection to be explored safely for both sides. We should be just a beginning, and indeed should have an even broader reach. But, sadly, the Church has a way of delivering many courses of difficulty to challenge the kindness and reconciliation that are at the heart of survivors’ outreach. I am as vulnerable as any survivor associated with this magazine. We give what we can, as long as we can.
We are a unique group here, sharing regard and concern for victims and their families and what we have endured. We share an amazing lived experience of how much wisdom, strength and hope is found where the wounds have been greatest and the burden most staggering. We have seen first-hand how in this suffering Christ is sovereign, loving, and healing for all. It’s a message we bring to each other. We offer this to the Church as best we can for as long as we can. The effort is never fruitless. In helping each other, we heal even more. And, we are, after all, the Church.