Up Front and Personal

Facing Abuse? Don’t Do It Alone!

The Diocese of Brooklyn sponsored a Mass of Hope and Healing for and with survivors of clergy sexual abuse on Wednesday, April 15, at 7 p.m. at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn. To prepare for the event, The Tablet offered a series of stories about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.

By Phil and Tara Franco

Most of us at one time or another has probably seen the many prescription medicine commercials that remind us: “Depression touches everyone in the family.”  How very sadly true this can be. Often we fail to fully realize or appreciate how one person’s problems can so powerfully impact those he or she loves.

When we were married in 2003, taking those well-known vows “in sickness and in health,” we could not have completely known the difficult road that was unfolding right before us. In fact, the difficulty was very literally before us, as Phil would soon come to finally accept that the priest who was witnessing our marriage had abused him over the course of several years while Phil was still a young child.  As his newly minted wife, I had no idea that the man who seemed to be such a father figure and member of the family was in fact not what he seemed. In some sense, neither did Phil. Abuse is something that comes to the fore slowly, and the mind seems to try to keep it as far down as possible.

Not too long after our wedding, Phil began to experience a great increase in anxiety and other issues that just could no longer be bottled up or ignored. Slowly but surely he was able to come to accept that he had been abused, and there we were, relative newlyweds, grappling with this reality and trying to work closely together in coming to some level of healing. I was the first person he was able to tell. We could not have known what a long and arduous journey that would be for us. In some sense, it is a destination that is not completely reached because the memories and effects of this great and terrible problem are never completely gone. We learn to cope. Together, we survived and continue to survive. The most essential part of our personal journey has been taking it together.

The effects of abuse most certainly influence loved ones just as much. It is very difficult to describe. From nightmares to mood swings, and from therapists to physicians, we walked together from one milestone to the next. From admitting it to himself, to confronting the abuser and then going public with the story, these were all major steps that we could not have made if we were not very much in this together. Each event inevitably took its toll on our relationship, even, indirectly on our three beautiful children, who had to live in a stressful home. Some days are better than others, and some days stress and anxiety simply rule. With much patience, therapy and understanding, we have come many miles.

With faith and love, and the grace of the Sacrament of Marriage, we have pulled through all of this together. This is why we are so grateful that the diocese, along with other survivors, sponsored a Mass of Hope and Healing. With the Lord, we can all journey together, never alone. We need not be alone in such difficult circumstances. With the community, with love and family, this difficult journey, somewhat different for all survivors, can be travelled together as a family. Celebrating the Eucharist together is so essential. We are all in this together and we will all survive, as a family.

If you or someone you know has been, at any time, a victim of childhood abuse, whether by clergy or anyone, the most important thing to remember is that you need not be alone. When you are able to speak to someone you truly love and trust, that will make all the difference.

One thought on “Facing Abuse? Don’t Do It Alone!

  1. Thank you for your courage. Our story reads like a page from Virtus : priest, baptizer, married the children, while grooming and abusing one of the children, who suffers in silence to this day.