The Call and Privilege of Ministry to and with Survivors

By Rev. Larry Dowling


Over these many years, I have had the privilege of walking with victims of child and youth sexual abuse. Some of those abusers were brother priests. I have also had the privilege of working with some incredible practitioners of healing for victims. A few years ago, I was
asked to give a homily at a Mass for staff from various dioceses, all who are working in Child Prevention and Victim Assistance. The following is that homily:

I want to invite us to listen to the words of Matthew 25, the Last Judgment, in a different way, in a different light. Listen to the Lord speaking to you at this moment, in this sacred space. Listen in a new way to the words of Jesus the King:

The king says to all of you gathered on his right: “Come, you have my Father’s blessing! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world.

For I was hungry… hungry for acknowledgment of what happened to me, hungry for someone to tell me that they believed me, hungry for someone to be held accountable. … and you were there to feed me words of comfort and encouragement, words of hope that I could move beyond the pain of what happened to me to live a somewhat normal life…  

I was thirsty… my parched spirit, abused by someone I trusted, someone I should have been able to trust;  and you quenched my thirst with a comforting voice, with words accompanied by actions that, like a renewing spring, revived my parched and seemingly dead  spirit…

I was a stranger… to myself, to others, to God. Others could not understand my behavior, my accusations, my feelings of betrayal. But you were there as the face and voice of God, helping me to see that I am a beloved child of God, that there was no need to feel strange, to help me reconnect and rebuild my relationship with my loved ones and with God…

I was naked… I needed a place to tell my story, to reveal this deep dark secret that I have held onto for so long, and you clothed me with compassion, with dignity and respect…

I was ill… my spirit, my mind was feverish with anger, dis-eased by what I suffered, but you were there to offer the healing balm of a listening heart, the tonic of support, an injection of hope… 

I was in prison… imprisoned by pain, doubt, despair, loneliness… and you were there to free me, to help me break the chains of continued abuse perpetrated through memory, to reclaim my life, to help me experience a new freedom found only in being able to trust again.

I was hungry and thirsty for you to find ways to protect my precious children, and you not only found the ways, you have become the way…

I was naked, longing for my children to be clothed in security and safety, and you covered me with a network of awareness and education that has minimized the chances of a child in our church and, more and more, even children in our society, from being abused again…

I was a stranger, a stranger to those in power who failed to heed me when I said, “whoever harms a child, harms me”… and thanks to you, there should be no one in authority, no one in a position of trust.. who are now unaware of the sacred trust they have to protect my precious children…

I was imprisoned, imprisoned by the sins of the clergy, by the cover-up of some of my bishops, imprisoned so that no one else would heed the moral voice of the Church echoing my call to protect the least among us… but through your work you freed me, freed the truth, so that others in our society may now learn more about the prevalence of child and youth sexual abuse in our society, may benefit from your experience, may become active in protecting my precious children.”

We might respond, “Lord, when did we do any of these things for you?” and the Lord will respond to each and everyone gathered here, “I assure you, as often as you brought support and comfort to those abused, as often as you taught my children, as often as you educated those who work with children, as often as you challenged the powers that be that this work must not only continue, but that it must expand  to address abuse in the general culture… as often as you did this, my friends, my co-workers, my abuse healers and child protectors, my survivors, you did it for me.”

“Come, experience my Father’s joy!”

To those still seeking a path to healing, know that there are some incredibly dedicated and compassionate people who want to help. “Come, experience a renewed joy!”

Our guest contributor, Fr. Larry Dowling, has been a priest since 1991, served as pastor at St. Denis Parish on the southwest side of Chicago for 10 years and now at St. Agatha for 9 years, each time following a pastor who had been abusing children and youth. He served on the Archdiocesan Review Board for 7 years and currently serves on the Archdiocesan Healing Garden Committee.


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