Tell Ruth the Truth

This is a moderated blog is a project of the Ruth Institute. Have a story to share? We're listening.


A Lesson On Judging

I was praying and sidewalk counseling outside of Planned Parenthood. A couple pulled into the parking lot and stayed in their car. We prayed they’d leave. They got out and started loudly arguing. I made all kinds of judgments on the man. He had long dreadlocks, a macramé cap, baggy, drooping pants, and tattoos. All I could think was, "What a thug this guy is for pushing her to kill their child." I was happy she was yelling . . . until she angrily strode over and slammed into the building. Imagine my surprise when he came over and asked me if I would pray for him and their child.

Dwayne told me he'd been trying to talk his girlfriend out of killing their baby for weeks but her mother said she had to kill the child. He said he'd agreed to drive, hoping he could still change her mind on the way. He said he'd succeeded, until her mother called and told her he was never going to be able to support a child and she needed to "get rid of it." He asked me, tears streaming down his cheeks, "How do they know I won't ever be able to support a child? They don't know that. I could be rich someday. I could own my own business. How do they know I won't be able to take care of my own baby?"


It was heartbreaking and the  opposite of what I’d thought. We held hands, bowed our heads and prayed. Then he agreed to try one more time. He said he’d tell her he loved her and would take care of them. We hugged and said we'd cover him in prayer. He went in, then came out, alone, looked over, shook his head too choked up to speak, tears falling again. He looked down, walked to his car, got in and waited. I told him we loved him, were so sorry and were praying for them.

I worried about what he’d do later that night and was angry with the mother, grandmother and others. They not only didn’t believe in him but weren't giving him a chance. The low expectations and verbal abuse could become a self-fulfilling prophecy. I thought, “I bet that same grandmother blames society for holding young black men down.”

I thought of my own son, around the same age. He’d left college and was working while trying to find a new path. When people asked me about him, I'd say, "He's not sure what he’s going to do but he's a great guy, smart and a hard worker. We know whatever he decides to do he'll be successful at." Juxtapose those two. One being told he was worthless and would never be able to support a child and one being told whatever he did, his family knew he'd do well and succeed.

I thought, “If this happened to my son or his friends, they’d be expected to step up.” People thrive when challenged especially when it's for their children, not just themselves. It's sad to see young men raised around people who don't believe in them. How hard that must be to be told you’re not good enough. I made the decision to never again judge like I did Dwayne or assume fathers were driving the killing.

It's wrong to demonize men at abortion clinics. Yes, some do drive the decision to abort, but many feel, and are often told, they have no say. The mothers and others expect them to not stay around or have lasting relationships as husbands and fathers.

Many people hope I'll say the mother changed her mind but she didn't that day. Thankfully, there are ones who do walk out. Three saved baby girls turned a year this year. The parents are so happy. Those moments of joy make the hard moments like this tolerable.

Since that day, many of my saves have been through fathers. You talk and pray, and they find out they have a say. They want their child and the opportunity to step up. Often, it’s as simple as the father telling the mother he loves her and will support her. The families I’ve kept in touch with are thriving and thankful for their living children.

Lost fatherhood needs more discussion. Many are not expected or allowed to take roles in families. The disrespect and disregard for men, of all colors, has hit a crisis point.

Couples who marry and have families make more money and are happier. Why is our society pushing them to kill their children, destroy their relationships and live as childless singles? What can we do to get the message out that they will be better if they trust their hearts and do not listen to those who set limits on them, hold them down and keep them from thriving?

Submitted by JH.


It never occurred to me that making porn was bad.

This post contains mature content. Read with caution.

I looked up and saw a man watching me. We made eye contact. He hurried away, as I frantically searched for my shirt and underwear. I was naked in the mountains, far from any trails. I was shaking so hard, I struggled to put my socks on. I grabbed my cell phone. It was still video recording. I stuffed it into my pocket and ran down the mountain, berating myself for being so stupid, but I knew when I uploaded the video, the man who requested it would love it.

I felt a thrill the first time I pressed the box that confirmed I was over eighteen. Small pictures of various sex acts filled the page. I left the site after a few seconds, worried I might get a computer virus.

The next day it was all I could think about.


As soon as I had time alone, I typed Pornhub into the search bar of my computer, my heart pounding. I’ve heard of people becoming alcoholics after one drink, or addicted to opioids after one oxycodone. The effect porn had on me was similar.

A few days after I visited Pornhub for the first time, I uploaded a video, partly out of curiosity, partly out of a sense of wanting to be a contributing member, part of the community. Within hours someone sent me a message telling me they liked it. By the end of the week, I’d gotten a number of messages thanking me for the video and asking me if I could make another. These messages filled an emptiness that gnawed inside me. I felt wanted. I felt loved.

Almost every video I made was inspired by a request. Slapping or hitting myself in specific places were common requests, as were hot candle wax and needles. They liked to see how much pain I would inflict upon myself. When I was making videos, I didn’t feel pain. Only afterwards would I realize how much I hurt. I tore myself many times trying to force something into my body that was too big in order to fulfill a request. The requesters would respond with effusive praise. I began to feel like I wasn’t a loser.

Most of those who sent me messages were in sexually unsatisfying marriages and felt rejected by their wife. They didn’t want to have an affair or hire a prostitute; they were just looking for connection or sexual release. Sometimes they were men who had an unusual sexual fantasy or fetish. Occasionally I’d get a creepy message that bothered me, but, for the most part, I developed a number of “friends” with whom I exchanged messages regularly. One sent a link showing that I’d been named one of Pornhub’s top twenty amateur performers. Within a few months, I had over a million views. Then two million, then five million. Making porn, I discovered what it feels like to be really good at something. For the first time in my life, I felt talented.

I told my therapist that porn gave me purpose in life, describing how I enjoyed going to thrift shops and garage sales looking for props. I’d get giddy as I planned out a video. He seemed happy that I’d found something that I was good at. We talked about how I was performing a community service of sorts, acting out fantasies for lonely guys. We talked about how “some people” don’t approve of porn, but he wasn’t one of them.He said there were all kinds of sexual fetishes that are not socially acceptable, but, as a therapist, he doesn’t judge.

It never occurred to me that making porn was bad. It gave people pleasure. It was far safer than prostitution. But then I noticed the requests I was getting were becoming more extreme. I started doing things I never thought I’d do, things that could cause permanent damage to my body. In my hunger for approval, I pushed past lines I’d promised myself I would not cross. For instance, after fulfilling a request to insert a mascara brush into my urethra, it burned to urinate; there was blood on the toilet paper. To have a bowel movement, I have to put on a glove and manually remove stool.

Yet, I convinced myself that Pornhub was liberating for women. There were women of all body types, skin colors, hairy or shaved, even women with amputations. I found it empowering that women like me, not considered attractive by mainstream culture, were validated. I was told I was beautiful, a goddess, the sexiest woman alive, the hottest babe on Pornhub. This, I thought, is a place where all women are beautiful.

There wasn’t one “ah ha” moment when I realized that I needed to stop making videos. It was just a sick feeling that wouldn’t go away. These men didn’t like me, they liked what I did for them, just like men who paid me to have sex when I was in high school. I no longer felt special and valued. I felt used. I felt scared. I felt ashamed. And most of all, I felt replaceable.

I finally came to realize that all my life I'd been searching for the love I missed so much from my father after my parents were divorced. My mother moved me away from him, and within a year, I was sexually assaulted. It seems like I have spent my life trying to heal from these two events.

Eventually I realized that God is there for me and have found great comfort learning that He can forgive me and love me despite all my mistakes. He is my Heavenly Father and will give me all the love I need and more. I knew that if I followed his guidance, my life would be healthier and happier.

I spent a tearful morning deleting all the 400+ videos I’d posted as I reflected on the dangerous things I’d done, all in an attempt to find what was missing in my life. I then uploaded one last video about how porn is like trying to fill a strainer with sand. No matter how many times it is filled, the sand pours out. I told them that God’s love can fill them to overflowing, but to feel that love, they need to open their hearts to Him. . . and stop watching porn.

A lot of people think that those who watch porn are bad, but I think most of them are just lost like I was. They are looking for acceptance and love and don't realize God will give them everything they need. All they have to do is ask.

Submitted by E. H.

 


I Chose Career over Children

When I reached adulthood in the Sixties with a college degree, I was determined to pursue my career and didn’t really desire to have children. Although I hoped someday to marry, my priorities involved other pursuits, in particular, travel and continued education. A husband might, and children definitely, would interfere with my goals, take up my free time, clutter up my lovely home, and damage the beautiful objects in it.

Today in retirement, I’m sitting alone with my material treasures and my memories while my siblings and many of my friends are busy with their children and grandchildren. I worry about my failing health and wonder who will be here for me when I can no longer take care of myself. What will I do with all my “stuff” if I have to move to assisted living? Who will visit me there? Even making a will is a dilemma. I have no relationships close enough to designate as my executor if my husband dies before I do.

 


I never anticipated the loneliness in my senior years when I opted out of having a family. So what am I doing to alleviate it? For a number of years I taught adult classes in my church and participated in musical groups there. I’ve joined a few women’s philanthropic groups. Now that my physical activities are limited, I keep in contact with friends by phone and email. I make a point of reaching out to others who are alone as I am. I’ve even written a couple of books to share my memories and my insights into the Christian life.

As my contemporaries pass on, my circle of friendships grows smaller. I accept that this consequence was my self-centered choice. But if some young woman can learn from my experience and take stock of the long-term results of her choice between singleness, marriage, and/or family, sharing this is worth it. Looking back, it seems that God’s plan is really for us to grow up in loving families and then to create new ones for the next generation.

Submitted by A. D.

 


I had an abortion but told my boyfriend that I miscarried.​

Yesterday my boyfriend said to me, "I wish I had a chance to just hold my child as he cried."

And he made it worse by saying, "Before you miscarried when I slept I always heard a baby cry. My child was trying to tell me something, maybe we could have done something to save his life."
Oh God I think my child was crying for help to his/her father!
How do I face him crying and continue lying knowing I didn't have a miscarriage?
How do I let him pray for me to find comfort?
How do I listen to him telling me that I will be ok?
How do I spend time with him when I couldn't give his child a chance to feel the love of his father?
How do I watch him hurting?
When he said let's pray together, I couldn't as he said may my precious baby's soul rest in peace as tears rolled down.
What kind of a Monster am I?
I took my baby's life for my own selfish reasons.
I can't cope.
I feel I don't deserve to live.
I cry every night thinking about my baby.
I can't pray.
How do I ask for forgiveness?
Oh God it hurts.
Its hurts so much. I wouldn't even wish someone I hate to experience this hurt.
It's too much.
Planning it is easy.
But after you have done it! Oh God the pain is too much!

 


Abuse victim: "Most nights, I have at least stressful, if not outright terrifying dreams."

1. Have you ever had flashbacks? PTSD symptoms?

Definitely; in fact, I have been diagnosed with PTSD. The most constant symptoms are hypervigilance and self-hate. I also have internalized panic attacks sometimes, especially triggered by my social anxiety. On my worst days, I attribute the worst motives to people or imagine that others dislike or even hate me because I see myself as essentially unlovable. I have also struggled with suicidal ideation in the past. I cannot sit with my back to a door or large window without extreme discomfort. I am intensely afraid of the dark, even to the point of not going out at night if not absolutely necessary, keeping bright night lights in every room throughout the house, sleeping with the lights on in my bedroom, and asking my husband to turn on the light in a room so that I might not have to touch the darkness. Anything that reminds me of my abuser, the location of the abuse, or that time period in my life can trigger panic attacks or nightmares for days or weeks after. If I hear a song from the 90s or walk into a spider-infested outdoor structure like a barn or storage shed or even hear certain names in conversation, I often will have nightmares afterward. These nightmares can usually be categorized as either memories of the abuse reworked in my imagination (dream flashbacks?), images of demons or demonic activity, or a recurrent nightmare in which I float on top of dark, murky, deep water with the strong sensation that something unspeakably horrific is beneath me, but I cannot move. I would venture to say that most nights, I have at least stressful, if not outright terrifying dreams.


2. How does the public discussion of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?

I mostly try to distance myself emotionally from it and not expose myself to anything too incendiary. When I do allow myself to become too emotionally involved or accidentally read something disturbing, I almost always have PTSD nightmares after and have had some periods of depression triggered by reading some articles that were too detailed in their descriptions of the abuse.

3. How does the cover-up of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?

Again, I mostly distance myself emotionally, but my main reaction to cover-up is disbelief that someone could be capable of such a thing. Maybe I have too much faith left in humanity!

4. Do you have anything specific you would like to say to Cardinal Mahony, or the LAREC organizers?

I know it is a little late to address the LAREC crowd, but I would simply encourage complicit clergy to take a moment and honestly think about what they have done or not done. Are you comfortable with having caused the loss of peace, sense of dignity and self-worth, and even the salvation of an eternal soul (in cases where the victim commits suicide or turns to some addiction that involves habitual mortal sin like drugs, alcohol, or masturbation, all of which are very common)? If your answer is yes, how can you be called a father or a shepherd to those souls? To use a popular turn of phrase, how is that pastoral accompaniment?

5. Any of this information that you are willing to share, would give people the context that would help them understand:

5a. Your age when the abuse took place,

My earliest memories are trauma memories, and it ended when I was 12.

5b. Were you abused by someone you knew and trusted? Clergy? Coach? Relative?

My eldest brother

5c. whether people believed you,

My parents, eldest sister, and other brother did, but my two other sisters did not.

5d. how long it took for you to reveal what happened

I told my eldest sister in very generic terms sometime in high school, but besides that I couldn’t speak of it until I started therapy the summer after undergrad.

5e. whether the Church treated you appropriately (if relevant to your story)

Yes, though I will add that I often have the sensation that people (priests, spiritual directors, even my therapist, who was a Vatican II nun) don’t know what to do with me. I’ve grown used to my spiritual mentors commenting that some issue (with forgiveness, distrust, or self-hate, for example) is out of their realm, which leaves me rather on my own. Catholic literature on the subject is also lacking; I’ve never read a Catholic book on the subjects of abuse or healing that was helpful, as they almost as a whole pander to the more dubious aspects of modern psychology (i.e. I’ve yet to meet one that does not accept the faulty anthropology of modern psychology indiscriminately).

Submitted by "Claire."


I still carry the emotional scars

1. Have you ever had flash backs?

Yes. Had the same nightmare for many years until I met my hubby. Suddenly they stopped. However, occasionally my husband will touch me or ask me to touch him as my grandfather told me to. I have to fight the vision and it was 40 years ago.

2. How does the public discussion of clergy sex abuse and the cover up affect you emotionally?

It makes me very angry because my mother knew of the four family members who hurt me and she did nothing. When I complained to her sister that her husband grabbed me, she said if I wrestled with him I should expect it. I will carry the emotional scars the rest of my life.


3. Do you have anything specific to say to Mahony or the organizers?

Do you have any idea the damage you have done to victims by not reporting abusers?

4. This happened ages 2-10 by my paternal grandfather…around 10 by my uncle by marriage, 12 by my maternal Uncle, 10 or 11 by my brother.

My maternal uncle was the hardest one to tell my mom because I loved him so much. But when I did she blew it off. It was about 10 years afterwards when I was married. He had come into the Catholic Church and in going to confession, realized what he did and apologized. It was easy to forgive him. My mom caught my brother the first time but he continued. I never spoke to her again about it. I told her about my paternal grandfather when I was 16. Again she blew it off. As an adult I told my dad, but I don’t think he believed me because he allowed my half sister to spend summer breaks with my grandfather..

My parents divorced when I was 8. Mom brought many boyfriends home and was open with her sexuality. I grew up thinking sex wasn’t a big deal. I was very promiscuous. Thankfully I never got pregnant. God has been very good to me. I am disappointed in the Church and how it has let society influence it.

I am a Catholic Convert who works for my local parish. I have seen a lot on how things are run. Abuse is everywhere. Abuse doesn’t have to be sexual and the perp can be a volunteer, lay employee or clergy. People have taken their eyes off Christ and are looking into themselves for their own joy and fulfillment.

Submitted by Katerina.


Sadistic abuse at a young age

1. Have you ever had flashbacks?

Yes. They revolve around being trapped, running away from the house (my grandmother’s house) after some times of abuse, begging my grandmother for help as she held the door while I was being trapped and wouldn’t let me out. I also have flashbacks about bleeding at night and in the bathtub, stinging panic and crying myself to sleep.

PTSD symptoms?

Some, like losing track of time. I have memory blackouts for much of the the actual rape. I know an old-fashioned pointed can opener was used on me several times. I remember the sadistic nature of abuse escalated because I wouldn’t show emotion. It was the only choice I had.


2. How does the public discussion of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?

I feel betrayed by the clergy and especially enabler bishops. They could have stopped much abuse and they chose to shield the abuser rather than defend the innocent. I can only imagine the emotional pain of victims who weren’t believed or treated like they were the problem. That’s how my grandmother treated me. I was four or younger when it started and certainly didn’t enjoy or ask for the abuse that evolved into sadistic rape.

3. How does the cover-up of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?

Asking for silence and an end to gossip instead of being willing to be accountable and let investigations go forward after the Viganò testimony was a huge betrayal of Pope Francis. His actions and public statements since August have been completely inappropriate and reprehensible. I cannot defend the Pope and this troubles me greatly as a lifelong Catholic. American bishops who were implicated as enablers or worse by Viganò continue to embarrass themselves and lead me to believe the accusations against them. The silence now of even good bishops grieves me greatly. Investigations into those allegations are warranted and should be moving forward, as many bishops called for at the time. It’s no less important now. The message to victims and their families is simple- the Church simply doesn’t care that much.

There appears to be an overriding push to make sure the homosexual lifestyle doesn’t suffer any bad press... this against so much evidence of gay networks and predatory behavior. Why the obfuscation? Because it collides with the agenda of many bishops to change teaching on moral theology? Again, this is a horrible message to send to people who have suffered immensely. While all victims matter, my heart breaks for seminarians and other male victims especially, as they are statistically less likely to report crimes of this nature.

4. Do you have anything specific you would like to say to Cardinal Mahony, or the LAREC organizers?

Please, consider the vulnerable who have suffered and/or are suffering because of sexual abuse of clergy. Please accept accountability for enabling abusers through silence and hiding the problems.

How can the organizers claim to care about vulnerable immigrants and be so tone deaf to the pain of vulnerable sexual abuse victims? It’s like asking those with a wide track record of contempt for immigrants to offer presentations on addressing the suffering of sex abuse victims. It doesn’t make sense, and it’s deeply hurtful to people like me.

5. Any of this information that you are willing to share, would give people the context that would help them understand:

a. Your age when the abuse took place?

4 or earlier to 7

b. Were you abused by someone you knew and trusted? Clergy? Coach? Relative?

Step-grandfather, with the knowledge and assistance of my paternal grandmother

c. whether people believed you,

My mother did. My father didn’t want to, but the family pediatrician confirmed internal damage and scarring.

d. how long it took for you to reveal what happened

The pain was too much by the time I was seven. I was told by my father not to tell anyone or they’d hate me- so as to save my grandmother from embarrassment. I didn’t say anything to anyone until I was 15-16.

Submitted by "Lee Ann."

 

 



Abuse testimony--"It's a miserable existence."

1. I have PTSD symptoms frequently (once is enough!) and unexpectedly. I go into a zone of terror; it's a terror that paralyzes like a deer in headlights. I cannot think rationally and those around me are not truly present to me.

2. The public discussion of the clergy abuse makes me feel physically ill, and I mostly avoid reading about it. There is no way I could ever read the PA report.

3. Emotionally speaking, the cover-up feels like gas-lighting.

4. To Cardinal Mahony, I'd like to say, humble yourself, be honest about the past, and repent, both publicly and privately. Don't make things worse by speaking from a place of authority because you've lost the credibility necessary.

5. My age: starting at 11 to 15 from a friend of the family. And then at about 17 from my father.

 


 

I told my mother at about 15, and she believe me. I told my father, having somehow suppressed what he'd done, when I was in my late 20s about the friend of the family, but he became defensive and did not validate my pain. It was his best friend's oldest son. 

These two traumas have affected my life in a myriad of ways. First, I must say that I've healed from both tremendously over the last decade with the help of the Church, sacraments, and good therapy in person and books.

But there are profound effects that I still struggle with and need more therapy. I have trouble sleeping at night. I fear sexual perversion ALL the time ~ even among my own children. It's as if the internal sensor that would alert me of danger is broken, and I can't tell what is real or perceived. I'm uncomfortable around priests now and worry about my kids going to confession or alter serving. I worry that my husband of over 20 years will turn out to be a pervert and abuse our children. I was especially triggered by a friend whose husband went to jail for sexually abusing their only daughter. I'm inhibited sexually and feel ugly without clothes. Not always, but I still can't seem to relax. It's a miserable existence.

Submitted by "Laura."

 


Abuse victim: misplaced guilt and shame

I am a victim and survivor of childhood sexual abuse. I was 10 years old when my father began abusing me, and approximately 17 when the abuse stopped. The attempts to manipulate and punish me for my defiance in finally getting up the courage to say I didn’t “want to do it anymore” went on for years after that. I think for those who have never been abused, it is often hard to understand why an older child or teen doesn’t tell anyone and doesn’t simply refuse to accept abuse. You have to understand that in most cases the abuse didn’t start when we were 17 year-olds: it started when we were young children, and quite probably there were years of “grooming” before that. In one sense, we were “stuck” in that early childhood stage and never got to grow up; and in another, we were grown beyond our years. Soiled by an intimate encounter with evil from those we should have been able to trust most.


 

And then there is the misplaced guilt and shame. During the years of my abuse, I could not think in concrete terms about what was happening to me beyond the vaguest prayers of “please, make it stop.” Even though I was a writer, the words to describe sexual abuse were far too threatening for me to ever put to paper, both because I could not deal with them and because they were too dangerous. I believed that I was responsible for my own abuse, that I could never admit to someone that I was being abused because in the same breath I would have to admit that I was not doing anything to make it stop. That I was too scared to even say “No.” I did not have it in me to understand that telling was an attempt to end the abuse. My father involved me in the cover-up of my own abuse from an early age, with phone calls directing me to clean up his soiled under garments as one example. By a strange twist of reality, I believed that I was both the other woman and that I was holding my family together by my silence; that’s a very sordid and heavy burden for a young person to have to carry.

I was 20 years old and in college away from home when the truth of my abuse finally came out. I had been seriously suicidal for many years without any real understanding of my distorted thinking. I was seeing a counselor, talking about my abuse, writing papers on incest, even entering the long-dreamed of world of romantic relationships. I was finally “safe,” and yet it was there, in college, when the numbness of years began to wear off, that I attempted suicide. And it was in the aftermath of my suicide attempt that I was finally able to unburden myself of the secret that I had been keeping.

Flash forward 30 plus years to the summer of 2018. The Church’s “Summer of Shame.” Today I consider myself a healthy, stable person. It took me many years of struggle and healing to reach this point. I am a wife, mother, committed Catholic. And I have been obsessed with the clergy abuse crisis. It is like a very personal train wreck which I cannot bring myself to look away from. I read everything. I actually lived in PA during the years of my abuse. I read the PA Grand Jury Report in its entirety because I had to know if any of the priests I knew had committed sexual abuse against children. (Thankfully, not.)

Over the last months, I have felt the most searing sense of betrayal. I have had persistent thoughts and memories of my own abuse. I want every sexually abusive priest and every prelate who covered up clergy sexual abuse gone. Not today, not tomorrow; I want them gone YESTERDAY. Each new revelation in the clergy abuse scandal is like pulling off a bandage from a raw wound, again and again and again. I count myself lucky that I have not experienced flashbacks, nightmares, or suicidal thoughts this time around, but I am no stranger to these signs of trauma. They were the substance of the years I spent in healing from my own abuse, and I expect they are the substance experienced by many survivors of sexual abuse, and in particular clergy sexual abuse, today who are still in the trenches dealing with their abuse.

I cannot begin to recount the nightmares and horror I lived through during and long after my own abuse had finished, but I can share with you here a raw slice of the suffering I have revisited in the wake of the Church’s “Summer of Shame” and the months that have followed.

Sunday was the most dangerous day”

For a child who is being sexually abused, it’s all about survival. Your sense of reality is skewed. You don’t think in terms of pleasure or happiness. You think in terms of danger, and danger is always relative. You think in terms of coping strategies that make the situation a little less dangerous. For instance, if you are wearing some clothes, if you are out of bed, if there are others in the home when the abuse episode begins, the situation may not get as bad. You might be able to control the level of danger. You never have the control to stop it, just a thin veneer of relative control. So you do your best not to be caught in bed or dressing or alone with him. Clothes will still come off, abuse will still happen, but it may not be quite as bad if you can control these factors.

The situation will still escalate, but the starting place for the escalation will be lower, so maybe the escalation won’t go as far.

You learn numbness, because it’s all about survival, and you could never survive and keep this huge secret if you had feelings. So you shut down. You compartmentalize. You never allow yourself to cry. How could you stay in control if you cried? How could you keep the secret you’ve been burdened with? So you close yourself off.

You learn coping strategies that may offer thin protection in the time of abuse, but which are actually dysfunctional in the time post-abuse.

For instance, when you’re struggling to get through one more day - and that’s what it’s like surviving childhood sexual abuse - thoughts of suicide might get you through. You might dream of suicide as a solution. You might fantasize about suicide “if it ever gets too bad.” You probably hold onto thoughts of suicide as a form of ultimate control in a world where you have no control. Images repeating in your head of all the ways you could kill yourself. If that’s the case, by the time you’ve made it out, you’ve probably built a rich fantasy world featuring suicide as escape, revenge, a way to shut off the pain, and the only viable way to make a statement about what’s been going on. And then you go out into the real world, post-abuse, and one day you just snap, and you attempt suicide for real. Because you’re finally feeling after years of numbness, and feeling is painful, intense, too hard to bear.

It’s not an accident that people rarely attempt suicide in terrible situations. They attempt suicide after it seems the situation is getting better, and then it takes a turn for the worse. They attempt suicide after they’ve begun to dream of something more, because they can’t bear the pain of lost hope.

Post-abuse, that sense of danger still exists in your mind. You don’t expect happiness or safety, and it’s all still relative. You wake from nightmares. The horror still lives within you. It never goes away. But this time you wake from nightmares into the reality that you’re not actually being abused as you sleep. So it’s all relative. The danger doesn’t seem as bad, because you can wake up from the nightmare.

Many sexual abuse survivors turn to drugs, alcohol, promiscuity, even prostitution in their efforts to deaden the pain. These were not my personal “drugs of choice.” I went with suicide and numbness. And luckily for me, I had some good and caring friends, counselors, and priests; I came back from my suicide attempt; I reclaimed my Catholic faith. I do not say it was easy, but in time, healing happened. Not everyone heals or survives. So many are lost to drugs, alcohol, prostitution, suicide. So many are broken and have left the Catholic Church following the clergy abuse scandals. Can you blame them? Finding out that the predator is with you in your Catholic sanctuary when you finally thought you were safe, that it was all over, is the stuff of nightmares.

For me, Sunday was the most dangerous day because my busy family split up and went to different Masses, and I was expected to go to the later one with my father. Catechism classes for my age group consisted of an interactive, once a month, two-hour rap session, following the later Mass. And on those other Sundays... it was well-known in my family that I liked to sleep in. How could I tell anyone I didn’t want to go to the later Mass? Then I’d have to tell them why. And that was something I could never talk about.

Sundays broke my rules for relative safety from danger. I was in the house alone with my father. The abuse might even happen before I’d gotten out of bed, or when I was dressing. And it would be bad.

Afterward, we stood in Mass together and exchanged the sign of peace. How laughable is that? I was dying inside because of his abuse, and we shared the sign of peace.

I have my own unresolved issues about confession. My father told me once, in the course of a conversation about our “relationship,” that he went to confession. I always wondered, did the priest tell him to say “3 Hail Marys” and his sins would be forgiven? Did the same priest hear the same confession from him again and again and do nothing to protect me? I know the seal of the confessional is sacred, but couldn’t he have refused to grant absolution? Maybe he did refuse. Maybe my father went once to a visiting priest and said something vague like he had broken his marriage vows. He was a canny, manipulative man, after all. But I’m still haunted by the thought that a priest somewhere knew what he was doing to me and did nothing. I haven’t been to confession in years.

How do you think it makes me feel to know priests were abusing children in the confessional? That those children were living the same awful lie I was living at home, but it was being done by their spiritual fathers. By our spiritual shepherds. Msgr. Charles Pope describes clergy sexual abuse as “spiritual incest.” (NCR Blog Feb 2, 2019) That’s not far off.

I read everything. Including the PA Grand Jury Report and the LA Times Investigative Report from 2013. How do you think I feel knowing that our bishops, our spiritual shepherds, knew about abuse and did nothing to stop it? That they protected abusers over the children, blamed and defamed victims of clergy sexual abuse. Moved predators from one parish to another so they could keep on abusing children. Moved them out of state or out of country to protect those abusers and their own reputations. Colluded to protect the predators from the law and to leave the innocent children at their mercy. That’s what Mahony did. And he lied. He claimed he reported clergy abuse whenever he was informed of it. Not even once did he do so. He lied.

How do you think that makes me feel? I’ll tell you: Sick to my stomach.

And now they want to honor him by having him speak at a conference attended by 40,000 Catholics? A conference most likely attended by victims still suffering from the clergy sexual abuse Mahony enabled? In a city still teeming with the fruits of his betrayal?

How do you think I feel when I read about Bishop Zanchetta of Argentina invading the privacy of seminarians as they slept at night with his flashlight and his sexual filth? I’ll tell you: Violated. Violated on their behalf. How do you think I feel when I read that Pope Francis returned his good friend Zanchetta to ministry after the first complaint and then created a prestigious position for him at the Vatican after later complaints? I’ll tell you: Betrayed.

How do you think I feel about the Church’s silence on the sin of actively homosexual clergy when it is clear that the vast majority of clergy sexual abuse is homosexual in nature?

Clericalism??

How do you think I feel?

DEVASTATED.

Submitted by Odilia.

 


Interview with a sexual abuse victim

1. Have you ever had flashbacks? PTSD symptoms?

I don’t think I had any flashback or classic PTSD symptoms. Though as a teen I misunderstood sleep paralysis and thought I was being attacked by demons and wondered if it was related. I also felt very uncomfortable in later years sleeping in the same bed where the abuse had happened as a child (in current terminology, that might be called triggering). At points, I questioned my own sexuality and I know my ability to form lasting relationships has been affected (I am over 50 and still single). In many ways I have overcome the effects of what happened, and I don’t like to dwell on it or use it to excuse my shortcomings. Still, I think it helps explain/understand some of them (including continued struggles with the common vices associated with the deadly sin of lust).

2. How does the public discussion of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?


 

I have very mixed feelings. I don’t want all clergy (much less the charism of Holy Mother Church) damaged by the actions of some. But, when a culture of corruption and coverup and complicit silence develops; it is hard to know who to trust. I am currently in spiritual direction with a retired bishop, and don’t know if I can even trust him to recognize the seriousness of all of this. I don’t know if he appreciates how hard it makes it to witness to my niece, nephews and godchildren about the beauty of the church.

3. How does the cover-up of clergy sex abuse affect you emotionally?

It angers me greatly, less because of my own abuse than because of my experience working with other survivors and because of the damage it does to the Church’s credibility in other areas.

4. Do you have anything specific you would like to say to Cardinal Mahony, or the LAREC organizers?

Sardonically: Get a damn clue?

Seriously: How can we maintain any credibility as a moral teacher when we celebrate and advance those acting with such blatant disregard for the truth and/or morality. It is not that forgiveness isn’t possible. It is that lack of repentance and lack of accountability is galling and makes us think no one cares.

5. Any of this information that you are willing to share, would give people the context that would help them understand:

5a. Your age when the abuse took place,

I’m not exactly sure, repeated occurrences somewhere between the ages of 4 and 8?

5b. Were you abused by someone you knew and trusted? Clergy? Coach? Relative?

An older brother.

5c. whether people believed you,

Generally, yes.

5d. how long it took for you to reveal what happened

I was probably college aged before I first started talking about it (so at least ten years, probably more).

5e. whether the Church treated you appropriately (if relevant to your story)

Not relevant, my brother had no church position at the time of my abuse. Interestingly however, my brother eventually spent several years in the seminary; but, the abuse happened long before then and I don’t think it was known to them. For whatever it is worth, he did not make it through until ordination (though he got close).

Submitted by Oliver.