By Teresa Pitt Green
I made the call around the same time when I had settled on attending Mass in the most unconventional way. I would sit with my dogs, parked outside a church on Sundays, and follow along in my missal. It was one way I coped with having survived clergy abuse as a child and teen.
A Catholic Office of Victim Assistance ad had popped up while I was surfing the web. It’s hard to say why I dialed the number. My first words were, “Is this window-dressing?”
“You’ll need to decide for yourself,” she replied, offering a list of options: Masses, prayer services, discussions, spiritual direction. It was as if someone had been waiting for me. I found it suspicious.
Before the call, I had misspent many years avoiding my past misery. That failed, so I engaged in excellent therapy. Yet, even therapy proved insufficient when I tried to understand the seeming triumph of evil in my childhood and in my Church.
What is true for survivors is true for those who love us. Parents. Siblings. Spouses. Children. Our wounds are shared by a degree of separation. Sometimes we grow closer in pain. Sometimes the pain drives us apart. We are still connected by doubt, rage, spiritual hurt, irrational shame and reasonable distrust.
The wound of abuse scales even more broadly. Catholics who love the Church see her vilified. Those who need guidance doubt her precepts. Others, fearing danger, stay away. In society, victims and priests alike are blamed, pitied, or reduced to media caricatures.
Ask any survivor. Healing after abuse is not linear. It is not conclusive, nor predictable. One thing is certain: abuse is inflicted in relationship, and in relationship we heal best. This explains why we are discomforted until we reconcile.
Not all reconciliations are possible, or wise. Many reconciliations are, however, restorative, like with the Church in a caring diocese. How to begin? When? I don’t know. I do know that you can rely on guidance in grace from our God Whose very nature, as Trinity, is relationship.
Be prepared. Grace is a disruptor. We build smart defenses in an abundance of distrust and moral outrage, then find ourselves encased and limited. This is true not just for survivors of abuse, but all who have been wounded by abuse among us. The problem is that just showing up for a single hour on one night out of 365 nights in a year can feel like you are lifting up your whole world and shaking it like a snow globe. So, why bother responding to any invitation to gather for healing, and maybe, to reconcile?
Here’s what I know. We bring the pieces that make the peace. Even if you arrive in pieces emotionally, God will not leave you there, and you may just be the critical portion for another’s healing. So, if you have the slightest inkling of a call on your heart to explore healing, don’t miss the chance.
Start by letting the music and prayers and quiet of evening rush over you at the Mass being offered at St. Nicholas of Tolentine, Jamaica, on April 25, at 7 p.m. for all those wounded by abuse, bearing in mind that our Savior died to save us, not only from our sins, but also from the burden of sins which others visited upon us as children, families, communities and Church.