The Forgotten Victims of Clerical Abuse

me and my dad

Summer, 1961, visiting my father at the psychiatric hospital

“He heals the wounds of every shattered heart.” Psalm 147:3

The recent revelations about Cardinal (now Archbishop) McCarrick, and the newly- published Grand Jury report from several dioceses in Pennsylvania, are disturbing, especially to the most devout Catholics.  Some members of the Church are leaving in disgust.  I haven’t yet read the PA Grand Jury report, but from what I can gather through social media, it will take someone with a strong stomach to endure the entire document.

The most recent announcement that homosexual networks existed within seminaries and dioceses has caused some Catholics to have a crisis of faith because numerous seminarians tried to alert higher-up prelates, to no avail. It’s unacceptable that a bishop – or as in the case of McCarrick, the cardinal – would be complicit.  Pope Francis has now made a public statement promising justice for the victims.

For every abuse that was reported, there are hundreds, maybe thousands over the past 70-plus years, that were not – and have never been – reported. There are many victims who will never see justice.

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 over 70 years ago. He is one of many who never reported the (likely ongoing) abuse.

My father’s abuser was indeed 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 1940’s, priests were placed on a pedestal. My father couldn’t go to his parents or other teachers or anyone because he was ashamed, and he didn’t think anyone would believe him. At the time, my father was discerning the priesthood.  To say the abuse confused him is an understatement.  I can’t imagine having to attend school and see your abuser every day and not be able to say anything.

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 illness 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.

It wasn’t easy to lose my father. But the first time I saw him in the casket after he had passed away, he looked more at peace than I could ever remember.  I felt confident that God would take care of him.

When I first found out my own 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’s struggles and suffering.  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. I know that there are many factors that cause someone to have a mental breakdown or become an alcoholic, but I believe the abuse contributed substantially to his ongoing despair.

So with the recent allegations, what is the way forward?  First, I’d like pass on encouragement to the many faithful and virtuous priests with the words of Dr. Janet Smith when she said: “To all you wonderful, faithful, chaste, devout, self-giving priests out there, my heart goes out to you. Thank you for answering the call and thank you for staying. The temptation to leave will be great. Please stay. We need you now more than ever. And please know I am praying ardently for you!”

Second, many of the links below give detailed ways the Church can move forward. One thing is for certain: leaving the Church is not an option.

Did my father ever leave the Church of his youth?  No.

Following his example, I will do the same. Why? Because my faith is not dependent on the pope, any priest or any human being. I’m Catholic and will remain so because of the Eucharist, because of Jesus Christ and because I believe God’s Word.  My faith also tells me I must forgive: the priest who abused my father, anyone who tried to cover it up, and any past and present priests, bishops and cardinals who have been guilty of any wrongdoing.

As Frank Sheed said in the early 60’s: “We are not baptized into the hierarchy; do not receive the Cardinals sacramentally; will not spend an eternity in the beatific vision of the pope. Christ is the point. I, myself, admire the present pope (Paul VI), but even if I criticized him as harshly as some do, even if his successor proved to be as bad as some of those who have gone before, even if I find the church, as I have to live with it, a pain in the neck, I should still say that nothing that a pope (or a priest, Bishop, Cardinal) could do or say would make me wish to leave the church, although I might well wish that they would leave.”

And there is always hope.  I believe very much what Fr. Joseph Ratzinger (Pope Benedict XVI) predicted in 1969: “From the crisis of today the Church of tomorrow will emerge — a Church that has lost much. She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning. She will no longer be able to inhabit many of the edifices she built in prosperity. It will be hard going for the Church, for the process of crystallization and clarification will cost her much valuable energy. It will make her poor and cause her to become the Church of the meek… But when the trial of this sifting is past, a great power will flow from a more spiritualized and simplified Church.”

As we pray and make reparation in the days ahead, I ask you to pray for all those forgotten victims (like my father) who never reported the abuse, and for all families of abuse victims.

Let’s continue to pray and fast for all victims and their extended families.  As much as we yearn for a renewal of the Church and the defrocking of any cleric who chooses not to live a chaste priesthood, let us also continue to pray and fast for the conversion of the abusers.  As difficult as it is, we are all called to forgive.

Read more about the Grand Jury report here.

Read more about the homosexual subculture in the Church.

Read more about another victim

Read more about the root of the crisis.

(Opinion) Read more about why men with same sex attraction shouldn’t be priests.

Dr. Janet Smith’s Message to the Bishops: Save the Church, Tell Everything

Another excellent article from Dr. Janet Smith: McCarrick, Dissent from Humanae Vitae and the Sensum Fidelium

Sex Abuse Scandal Saps Trust in the Church, but Not in Church Teaching.

Chastity for All is Central to a Life of Holiness

Novenas and Prayers

Novena to the Holy Spirit for the Church

A Novena to the Saints for a Church in Crisis

A Novena for the Abuse Crisis

Copyright 2018 Ellen Gable Hrkach

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