Why the trauma of abuse takes on an added weight when the perpetrator is a priest
Far too many clerics still have not accepted responsibility for their own culpable negligence.
All my life I have found it impossible to communicate the devastating, life-changing, utterly permanent effects childhood sexual abuse has on victims.
If you’re lucky enough never to have been abused, you will, thankfully, never understand what life after abuse is like.
I’ve given up trying to explain. It’s one of the reasons many of our clergy make light of victims’ pain and why they make excuses for their colleagues who destroyed our lives.
That indifference is now as painful as the original abuse is. I often have to listen to colleagues praising priests who they know were abusers.
I force myself to stay in their company hoping there might be a word of understanding for their victims. But there never is.
That is why, even today, the sexual abuse of children by priests can never be ruled out. Far too many clerics still have not accepted responsibility for their own culpable negligence.
The powers that be have set up structures to prevent abuse; they have handed safeguarding over to salaried lay people. Nothing wrong with that. But my advice is to trust your instincts and mind your children.
Research at Xavier University in Cincinnati is turning up alarming results about the lasting effects of sexual abuse.
Already, their research proves that the sexual abuse of children and the subsequent cover-up caused persistent psychological distress as well as spiritual anguish, moral confusion, social isolation and legitimate, ongoing distrust of institutions.
“When the perpetrator of sexual abuse is a priest… and represents the holy, the sacred or the entire church or even God, the trauma of abuse takes on an added weight,” they concluded.
The Xavier team will continue to refine research and unravel the implications.
They are dealing principally with adult survivors of child abuse. It is not only the survivors who are permanently traumatised by abuse but their family, friends, employers and most of all their partners.
Professor Marcus Mescher of Xavier University believes “it is likely that this crisis has really affected every corner of the church… we are all carrying a piece of the fallout.”
The confusion resulting from a breakdown of trust, a shaken confidence in one’s goodness and the goodness of others, and the absence of a reliable moral order have yet to be fully realised.
Victims lose trust in those in authority. They feel lost, weak, useless, guilty and lose the ability to have a genuine relationship with God. After all, a person claiming to be God’s representative groomed, misled and abused them (us).
Victims, years afterwards, have an overwhelming need to suppress what happened in a blanket of unhealthy secrecy — usually through alcohol or some other damaging drug.
The study concludes that abuse is not something survivors get over — this shattering experience is a life sentence.
Interestingly the team found it difficult to get church workers to cooperate with the survey. They fear that partaking even anonymously would be punished by their pastor.
That in itself is evidence that Church people still don’t get it. The same weary dysfunctional attitudes persist.
Survivors know that their stories will be contested; every effort will be made to make the victim go away.
“There is a system in place that continues to enable and protect perpetrators of abuse and stigmatise and isolate survivors,” Professor Mescher concluded.
We still have a very long way to go before we have a full and accurate picture of the wounds people are carrying and what it will take to heal us.
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