By Deacon Philip A. Franco
Sitting on the couch of a therapist’s office all those years ago, I never imagined I would be happy with the possibility of having a published list of names that includes my own abuser. In fact, I was adamant that there would never be any form of confrontation or public revelation: this was a private matter.
How things change!!
The doctor wisely said little except that he predicted a day would come when I would feel a great weight lifted by “going public.”
Major Step Toward Healing
Seeing the recent list of credibly accused clerics was a one major step on the road toward healing. The painful journey for survivors, which always varies in its details, is a long one that never completely ends, but my doctor was correct. The recent action taken by our diocese to release the list of credibly accused clerics was quite therapeutic, as you now see in print the truth you once refused to see in reality. It was a moment of grace and affirmation.
I must admit, it was also a moment of some vindication, as those few who doubted your story or defended the abuser now view it in black and white.
If we were to release a list of dentists, teachers, politicians or entertainers credibly accused of sexual misconduct, I am confident the list would be considerably longer than any list of American priests accused of abuse.
However, as Pope Francis pointed out in Rome last week, the priest, who represents the Church, is expected to be more. He is expected to speak with moral authority and ethical credibility. He is expected to be another Christ. How far some fall from this lofty vocation.
For many of the faithful, the publication of this list of abusers brings with it many different emotions. Some told me they were shocked to see names they never knew about.
Another lamented, “This was the priest who baptized my children.”
Others are just understandably horrified that such activities ever occurred. Sad indeed.
Lifting the Veil of Secrecy
But the Truth must come out, and it is essential that the veil of secrecy that was once wrapped so tightly around this issue is now removed. Like the shroud that once wrapped the battered body of our Lord, the impression of the horror remains, but we find hope in knowing that Christ is now very much alive and no longer held by his burial cloths.
I pray that this list will continue this new openness and help us to eradicate the scourge of abuse and silence that plagued society and the Church. While the imprint of scars will remain forever, the Church will hopefully rise again to a place of trust.
Victims, now unwrapped from the shroud of secrecy and hidden pain, will hopefully rise as well. This is why the Church is releasing names and why survivors welcome this transparency.
This list, the Office of Victim Assistance and the aforementioned meeting in Rome, are all ways in which the universal and local Church are seeking to end this problem and bring healing to survivors.
Each one of us plays a role in healing, from prayers to kind words to vigilance and action. I pray that every member of the Church will help in the process.
As I sat on that couch over a decade ago, I never dreamed I would be writing this brief article for public viewing. Most survivors would say the same.
You Are Not Alone
I hope anyone out there who has suffered abuse can somehow feel encouraged to come forward, and I believe the list can be one element in helping people move toward that difficult decision. It shows you are not alone. If you are in need of coming forward, we are here for you. You will not regret it.
Whether you are a survivor, a disheartened Catholic or anyone in between, you may understandably feel hurt or betrayed by the Church, but we are definitely on the road to recovery.
Take a close look at the history of the Church and we see that God must indeed be in charge.
May each of us continue to keep our eyes fixed intently on the first and most important Truth: Jesus Christ, who is forever the priest who cannot let us down.
Deacon Franco is the assistant principal of Cathedral Prep and Seminary, East Elmhurst, and serves the parish of Our Lady of Mount Carmel-Annunciation of the Blessed Virgin Mary, Williamsburg.