Letter to a Clerical Abuse Victim

tamarDear Brother or Sister in Christ:

Now I understand.
Not fully. I have never had to carry your cross.
But now, I understand a little. And I am so, so sorry.

Earlier this summer, I attended a Mass celebrated by a priest who made me very uncomfortable. A priest whose past is littered with rumors that include the words “weird” and “kids.” One whose presence is heralded with a whispered, “I thought he was kicked out LONG ago!” One whose historical information is conspicuously hard to find. One who departed his diocese silently and returned years later, even more silently. One whom I watched, with a sick feeling in the pit of my stomach, as he leaned and leered at a group of children.

None of these incidents a predator make. I could be dead wrong about Father. I have no hard evidence he has committed any crime. I could be committing the sins of gossip and rash judgment even to entertain these thoughts about him, and if I am, may God forgive me. I will not print his name, his position, his diocese, his background, or any other identifying information. I do not want to libel, and furthermore, I do not want to sin.

But that stomach-churning feeling remains.

As Father processed down the aisle, I wondered if others felt the same. Some of the other parishioners, especially the older men, gave off stares ranging from incredulity to hard loathing.

“I can’t go to Communion from a man like that,” said one, before the Mass had started.

Another old man left before Holy Communion, whisking down the aisle and letting the heavy doors shut behind him with a bang.

I could not judge them.
I do not judge you either.

I could stand and kneel and sing and recite that Sunday, but I could not pray.
We confessed to Almighty God and to our brethren.
Has he ever confessed to his?
Father’s hands broke the bread into pieces.
What other fissures has he created in the Body of Christ?
“This is the Lamb of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
All I noticed was that Father’s face was obscured behind the Host.
How often has he hidden behind Jesus? And to what end?
“The Mass is ended. Go in peace.”
What peace?

We often attempt to comfort victims of clerical abuse by telling them Jesus is still there, in the Church and in the Eucharist. And He is. The Sacraments are still valid even from unworthy hands. And they are. Thank God this is the truth. But it is not a comforting truth.
Not when your abuser, or even a potential pervert, is offering to absolve you of your sins.
Not when he is washing his hands on the altar and you still feel dirty.
Not when he leans over you and your beloved at your wedding. Not when he holds your newborn baby for her Baptism. Not when he is alone with your son, hearing his Confession. Not when he must touch your hands and anoint you with oil.

Not when you must receive the living God from the hands of evil.

For me, it was distracting, sickening, uncomfortable. Even just a rumor, sinister though it may be.
For you, it must be excruciating. It must be almost impossible. I cannot imagine a harder cross, to be stripped and scourged and to climb Calvary to be crucified every single time you approach Christ in his Sacraments.

To you who are holding on: you are supernaturally strong. Thank you for your witness.
To you who have gone: We are weakened and impoverished without you. But I cannot judge you. I can only say you have a rightful place with us no evil man can ever take away. It will be here for you forever.
To all: I believe you. I support you. I am enraged for you. I will fight for you. I will pray for you. And I am so, so sorry. Now, I understand. Even if only a little.

I will not answer questions about the identity of the priest in this story. However, if you need help coming forward as a victim of clerical abuse, please contact me. I will gladly listen and I will believe you. I will do my best to advocate for you and connect you with any support I can find.

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