The Forgotten Victims of Clergy Abuse (Updated)

My latest post at Catholic Mom is a revised and updated article I originally wrote in 2018.

The Road to Hope copyright Joshua Hrkach

Almost four years ago, the revelations about the now-defrocked Theodore McCarrick and the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report were disturbing, especially to the most devout Catholics. Since then, many members of the Church have left in disgust. 

In the years that followed, revelations that homosexual networks exist within seminaries and dioceses have caused some Catholics to have a crisis of faith. Numerous seminarians have tried to alert higher-up prelates to no avail. It’s unacceptable that a bishop – or as in the case of McCarrick, a cardinal – would not only be complicit but also participate in the abuse. 

For every abuse reported, there are likely hundreds, perhaps thousands over the past 70-plus years, that were not—and have never been—reported.

Whenever I hear a story about clerical sex abuse, it opens a wound, not only because I’m Catholic but because my father was abused more than 70 years ago. He is one of many who never reported the (likely ongoing) abuse. I recently wrote a novel, Where Angels Pass, based on his story of abuse and the consequences on him and our family.

My father’s abuser was a priest who happened to be one of his teachers in high school. This information was something that my siblings and I didn’t find out until after my father died in 1978, as he had only told my mother about the abuse.

Back in the 1940s, Catholic laity viewed priests as sacred and placed them on a pedestal. My father couldn’t go to his parents or anyone else because he was ashamed, and he didn’t think anyone would believe him. To say the abuse confused him is an understatement. 

Dad later met and married my mom and tried to settle down into married life. But his troubles were far from over. He dealt with depression and other mental illnesses on and off for a few years before he had a mental breakdown in 1961 and was committed to the local psychiatric hospital. I remember visiting him there and, despite the odd surroundings, I was always happy to see my dad.

He was eventually diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and manic depression (now called bipolar disorder) and was prescribed a regimen of medication.

My dad continued to battle with mental illness for the rest of his life. He eventually became an alcoholic and died tragically at the age of 49. His life ended not unlike many other abuse victims.

When I first found out my father had been abused, I was angry, but my father’s troubled life made a lot of sense in light of his abuse. Of course, I wanted to strangle the priest who traumatized him.

There are many like my father out there, some living and some already deceased, who are/were unknown victims of clerical abuse.

But we as a family were (are) victims too. As a family, we watched my father struggle and suffer. We watched him go through drunken stupors and depressive episodes. We watched him get on and fall off the wagon too many times to count. It wasn’t unusual for him to break down and cry. While I know that many factors someone to have a mental breakdown or become an alcoholic, I believe the abuse contributed substantially to his ongoing despair.

To read the rest, click here.

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