By Jasmine Salazar
Since the latter half of 2018, and throughout 2019, I have been taking part in Listening Sessions throughout the diocese, as a member of a panel. The focus of these listening sessions has been the sexual abuse crisis in the Church. These sessions have been nothing less than challenging. Yet in the midst of taking on a topic which has been so profoundly hurtful for so many, somehow as only God makes happen, His presence is felt.
At these sessions we have come face-to-face with anger, hurt from betrayal, profound sadness, confusion, and hopelessness. Despite this, often towards the end of the session, when there is honest and open dialogue, healing begins. This is where the dim light of hope is sparked again. What is it that occurs to begin to foster healing and ignite hope again? Perhaps, transparency – honest talk about what happened in Brooklyn and Queens, what was the mindset then and how it has changed, and an understanding of all the precautions in place to protect children now. Also, recently with the addition to our panel of an expert in dealing with sex offenders, we have begun to learn more about this illness, and how to lessen risk in our communities as a whole.
Now, does everyone leave feeling uplifted? No. And that is for various reasons. One of which is that when trust is ruptured, it takes a lot more than just one listening session to repair that trust. But, it is a start.
During these sessions, we have also been accompanied by survivors who have been part of our panel. For me, the most powerful experience in these sessions is the testimony of a survivor, who despite what he or she has experienced, is still open to being part of our Church, and is active in rebuilding our Church. It is through their woundedness, that they can empathize with the Catholic that sits in the pews struggling with their faith. It is an experience they know all too well and therefore can speak from a profound understanding of pain and hopelessness, yet allow God to use them as an instrument to stir hope again in others.
We have a long way to go, to repair what has happened in our Church. But we must start, and it is not in isolating ourselves or adding to division but in coming together as a community. One place to start is in dialogue, listening to what each of us is struggling with. Sometimes it is a confusion of facts, that the media at times presents in a skewed manner. Often the community of survivors in our diocese has wanted to pitch a positive story about acts to rebuild our Church that is suffering due to this sex abuse crisis but, we know very well, those are not the stories that are picked up by the secular media.
Therefore, we must rely on each other to be active in repairing what has happened, to be active in spreading the word that despite the trauma of abuse, we have a community of survivors reaching out to others to help our Church heal and to be active in proclaiming that our Church will not fall because it is grounded and founded on Christ.
In dialogue there is healing. In dialogue we reach out to another and say, help me understand. In coming together, we ask another, “Can you help me with this heavy load I am carrying?” And in coming together, we say to one another, “I am here for you, my friend in Christ, and though I am struggling too, together we will carry this and make it over what seems like an insurmountable mountain.”
Another opportunity to come together and support one another in healing will be at our Annual Mass of Hope and Healing, which will take place at St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst, on Tuesday, April 30, at 7 p.m. This is an opportunity to come together in the Eucharist to pray for hope and healing for all those impacted by abuse in our Church. This is a Mass planned by survivors for survivors, those who love a survivor and our entire Catholic community.
At this Mass, all clergy, survivors, religious and lay faithful will come together to pray for the body of Christ to be whole again. You are invited and are encouraged to bring someone who is struggling with their faith due to what the Church is going through. It is in coming together that we will heal and rebuild our Church.
Jasmine Salazar is a Vice Chancellor and the Victim Assistance Coordinator of the Brooklyn Diocese.