Up Front and Personal

What Do You Say to One Abused by a Priest?

By Father Christopher O’Connor

“You want to know why I don’t go to church anymore, look at the front page of the New York Post!” I was taken aback as a groom I was preparing for marriage called me and said that to me. I had not read the Post, so I asked him to hold on for a moment and I asked a retired priest I was living with for his copy.

On the front page was a story about a former priest of the Diocese of Brooklyn who had sexually abused a number of boys in a parish in Brooklyn. I was immediately sick to my stomach.

I told the groom that I had the paper and I was looking at it. He told me he was one of those boys. He told me over the phone some of the things that had been done to him. My heart was breaking as I listened to this good man tell me the horrors he had been living with for all those years.

After he was done, I thanked him for trusting me, and I told him I would help him in any way possible. His main concern, at that time, was that no one else would suffer at the hands of this individual.

I told the groom that this man was no longer active as a priest and had not been for a number of years. I could hear the pain in his voice and I began to pray for his healing.

After we ended our conversation, I immediately called The Chancery to see what could be done. The offer was made to meet with the groom, to listen to him and to pay for any counseling he wanted. I called him back to let him know, but he declined. He said that he just wanted to make sure this individual did not hurt anyone else. He then called the Post and gave them his story.

I think of this man over the years and I pray that he did find some healing. I had been working with him and his fiancé. I was trying to get them to go to Mass on a regular basis. I was sharing my love for Jesus and the Gospel and I wanted them to rejoice in the love of God.

How then do I invite him to church when he was hurt and deeply wounded by a priest? How do you show him the good when he had seen the evil? I shared with the couple my anger at what had been done and I listened to their pain. I apologized on behalf of the Church for what had been done and I told them I hoped they could see that which is beautiful about our Church.

Over the years, I have dealt with hundreds of victims of sexual abuse. Each one suffers. Each one is haunted by the betrayal. Each one carries the wounds and scars from these reprehensible acts. Although the majority of victims I have walked with were abused by family members or friends, I understand the horror when a priest commits these vile acts. Not only has trust been violated, but the victim’s whole relationship with God and the Church has been severely damaged.

I pray this groom and others may find hope and healing and that the peace of Jesus Christ may dwell in their hearts. I am so sorry this was done to him.

Father O’Connor is the pastor of Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians parish, Woodside.