‘Kevin’s’ posting on sexual abuse needs answer from Irish Church
On 23rd June 2012 the website of the ACP published a reflection by Kevin, a survivor of clerical sexual abuse. Entitled “Abuse by priests causes spiritual wounds” it begins with the following question: “Is it possible to get some kind of dispensation from the need for priests in the spiritual life of a Roman Catholic?”
Kevin then explained that as there seems to be a Catholic canonical requirement that the observant Catholic must regularly interface with clergy for the reception of the Catholic sacraments, this poses serious problems for survivors of clerical abuse – because such meetings can be unpredictable ‘triggers’ that recall traumatically abusive past events.
To date this question has received no response that could be said to fully answer it, from someone qualified and authorised to speak on behalf of the Irish Catholic church.
This raises for me the following questions:
- Does the Irish Catholic church have any agency that has the specific and qualified responsibility of reaching out pastorally to people in Kevin’s situation? (The website of ‘Towards Healing’ strongly suggests that Kevin’s specific concerns lie well outside that agency’s remit.) What arm, if any, of the Irish Episcopal Conference, or of CORI, can be said to have this specific remit?
- What efforts have been made by the IEC or CORI to understand and cater for the unique spiritual needs of those survivors of clerical sexual abuse who desire some kind of spiritual connection with their native church?
- Has the IEC or CORI sponsored or commissioned any systematic study of, or research into, the spiritual trauma caused by clerical sexual abuse, with a view to assisting the eventual reconciliation somehow of survivors of that abuse with a faith they have been taught as children to believe is necessary for their eternal salvation?
- Is there a bibliography held by the IEC or CORI, referencing literature written by those who have in any way addressed this problem?
- Has any thinking been done by the IEC or CORI on the implications of the triggering effects of clerical sexual abuse trauma for the development of a Catholic ministry to survivors, especially in light of the likelihood that lay people, female as well as male, will be indispensable to such a ministry?
- Has it occurred to the IEC and/or CORI that probably the most vital resources available to them in the development of such a ministry are survivors of abuse who might offer to be helpful in this respect, if they were merely asked?
With our bishops set to attend a synod on the ‘New Evangelisation’ in a few months time it would offer some hope to know that they were first of all attending fully to the deepest spiritual needs of those most seriously hurt by a clericalist culture that hasn’t yet been abandoned. Not until our church system has ceased to harm and alienate people, and has made reparation to the limit of its power to those already harmed, could any true Christian recommend anyone else to join it.
Seán OConaill http://www.seanoconaill.com
Excellent questions posed by Sean O’Conaill and I would suggest that he send them to the IEC, CORI and individual bishops requesting a response.This should be top of the agenda at their next meeting. I wonder if any of them actually log on to this site? It would be very much to their benefit and to all our benefit if they did, if they listened with open hearts and open minds to voices crying in the wilderness. Isn’t the parable of the Good Shepherd a lesson for those who claim to follow in that Good Shepherd’s footsteps? Of course it makes absolute sense to involve survivors in these discussions. Please God Sean’s practical suggestions will point a way forward to genuine and lasting healing of spiritual abuse.
I heard one bishop ask in frustration, in a Radio Ulster interview just after the IE Congress, what more could they do as they’d apologised enough for the abuse and cover up. (and let us not forget the “Healing” stone!) Well,I would suggest that he and his fellow bishops read Sean’s article and reflect, listen, discuss and dialogue with survivors-please!
I note that the Irish Catholic Bishops Conference in its March 2011 document Towards Healing And Renewal made the following declaration and promise:
“Spiritual Support. We also announce today the introduction of
a new initiative for survivors whose faith has been damaged and
who want to work through this particular consequence of their
abuse. A number of religious congregations and societies with
experience and expertise in this area will be asked to make
some members available for this work. Together with trained
lay people and diocesan priests, it is hoped that they will assist
those dealing with issues of faith following the trauma of abuse
by Church personnel. An experienced spiritual director will be
appointed to form and lead this initiative. Initially, this service
will be located throughout the island of Ireland. However,
discussions have already commenced to extend this service to
survivors resident in Britain. Details of the spiritual support
service will be publicised within the coming months.”
However the Website of Towards Healing makes no mention of spiritual support being available, including spiritual direction/guidance. There is only provision for Psychological counselling.
I am aware of this because I am a spiritual guide,and this unsatisfactory situation was drawn to my attention by a (very frustated)survivor of abuse. Incidentally there is a professional directory of accredited Spiritual guides(lay, religious,female,male,married,single) in Ireland http://www.AISGA.ie
My immediate response to Kevin’s question was so obvious and so futile, given the current hostility of the Vatican to reformers, that I chose not to give it. Back in the 1970s, when I worked with other women to set up rape crisis centers, we impressed upon local law enforcement the need to have female officers respond to victims’ calls to police, rather than sending two armed, authoritative-looking, uniformed males who seemed to project the powerful capacity for violence that the victim had just experienced. We persuaded local police to allow female victim advocates, at least, to meet with victims before the officers and to remain with them during police questioning.
The parallel in Kevin’s case would be women priests or at least women Eucharistic ministers, which I associate with the argument made at the end of Seán’s point #6. Yes, #6 is plain common sense, and one of the most compelling reasons for real reform in Church structure! Seán’s other recommendations are important as well; they would signify repentance and change within the hierarchy. I pray you have some success in getting officials to listen.
Take it out of their hands altogether. They’ve dropped the baton. Sean O’Connell appears to me to be an ideal person to answer Kevin’s questions. Is the ordained priest and essential element of the celebration of Christ’s commemoration meal? Cannot the Eucharist be celebrated by and in the presence of people who obviously understand the pain that abused people have endured. Why perpetuate their pain? So get together and celebrate the Eucharist. Do this in remembrance of me. Jesus would not have pain perpetuated. “My yoke is sweet and my burden is light”.
Thanks for that Sean.
“A number of congregations and societies with experience and expertise in this area.”
Considering the damage done by a number of congregations and societies, I’d be curious to know exactly what levels of ‘expertise’ these people possess, or would hope to. I’d be looking credentials, experience and successful outcomes.
And anything set up by and consisting only of, for want of a better word, ‘practising Catholics’ – might not be the best offering in a hope of inspiring the necessary confidence, and more important trust, in such encounters.
It’s a vast area and the sooner heads bang together the better – and I would hope they have survivors involved all the way. If they cannot advise them on what to do – at least they can help advise what not to do.
Sean, I believe you are operating from within your framework of understanding to try and get justice and relief for the many victims of clerical sexual abuse. In my view, a major cause of the clerical sexual abuse scandal and cover-up is focused in clericalism. Until the RCC takes serious measures to end the concept of clericalism that has entrenched itself in the church’s very structure, there can be no meaningful help provided to the survivors of the clerics’ abuse. I think it is ludicrous to expect victims to look to the RCC for help when the very cause of the scandal remains untouched and unattended to within their church.
Obviously the system/church is corrupt; why would the very victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse wish to go back to seek aid from the perpetrators. This was not a case of a few mutinous clerics going rogue but rather of a system that is dysfunctional and acting contrary in every way to the teaching and philosophy of its founder, Jesus the Christ. Before the RCC can ever expect to be able to be of service to those it abused, it needs to clean up its own act and undergo a metanoia of massive proportions. Until that occurs it is simply giving lip service and blowing smoke.
The fact that the International Criminal Court in The Hague has been asked to investigate Pope Benedict XVI for crimes against humanity indicates the level of corruption and duplicity within the RCC. May God grant grace and aid to the victims, something that they can never find in this church.
You may find it helpful to talk to an ordained female minister in Church of Ireland.
There is a dispensation from the need for priests in the spiritual life of a Roman Catholic. That dispensation is called conscience. Conscience is above canon law. I would refer you to the second edition of the Catechism of the Church: part three, article 6: moral conscience.
Even with all that you have suffered, it is evident that you remain a man of faith in God. If a sacramental encounter with Christ is hindered by a priest who triggers recollections of abuse, then you do not need any canonical dispensation. As the Catechism states, you know what is just and right, so follow your conscience.
To put it bluntly, forget about the official church responding to your spiritual needs. Remember these leaders from whom you seek a dispensation are the very enablers of the priests who abused you and so many other innocent children. The bishop who asked what more could be done since the bishops have apologized for the abuse and cover-up is reflective of a mindset that still doesn’t get it. Guys like him will never get it.
I hope that you can find other survivors who can support one another, and I think that it is critical that you have someone who has the spiritual and psychological skills to facilitate your conservations and healing.
I pray for you and other survivors. Trust the Lord and yourself.
Arguing for Catholic practice without priests is like arguing for a heathcare system without doctors.
Kevin is not denying that a priest is necessary to administer the sacraments. He fears that participating in a sacrament(e.g.,Reconciliation) might trigger traumatic memories of being abused by a priest. As I read him, he is also not saying that the priest administering the sacrament is in any way an abusive person.
Gene Carr comments:
“Arguing for Catholic practice without priests is like arguing for a heathcare system without doctors.”
This analogy with medicine is interesting to pursue as far as it will go without limping.
There are indeed conditions that inhibit contact between medical practitioners and people in need of medical attention. Google reveals very quickly that medical phobias and other inhibitions are well documented – e.g. the condition known as ‘white-coat hypertension’.
As the practice of medicine has always been open to radical evolutionary science-based change we surely couldn’t use the medical analogy to argue that Catholic priesthood can’t continue to evolve also, in the light of experience. Here again, aware as we are of the importance of medical research, what research has been sponsored by the church into spiritual aversions caused by any kind of priestly malfeasance?
Presumably barbers couldn’t have become surgeons without preliminary dialogue between members of these two avocations. Is there a similar dialogue going on today between Catholic clergy on the one hand and e.g. Catholic psychiatrists, psychotherapists and counsellors on the other? If not, why not?
Just catching up with this discussion now. Sean has hit the nail on the head…who exactly cares about the spiritual needs of clergy sexual abuse survivors. 20+years supporting victims abused by clergy & ministers in the UK tells me that NO spiritual director/spiritual counsellor has the ‘skills’ or ‘sensitivity’ to engage with victims. There are no courses SPECIFICALLY designed to teach such spiritual directors how to do this work. I am now putting together a 12 week course on ‘pastoral care of victims of clergy sexual abuse’. Victims see a clerical collar and emediately they have flashbacks, lack of trust, fear and anger. Yet there is no doubt that many victims struggle with WANTING to be Christians, wanting to belong to a Church yet find the effects of abuse simply stops them at the door. It is my view that spirituality outside of the Church structures is urgently required, if only as a first step. In Liverpool an Anglican woman vicar set up a ‘bread-making’ group where survivors of abuse could come to make bread and share bread together. The making and the sharing became ‘communion’ and whilst baking issues were discussed and painful feelings supported. we have to ‘look outside the box’ and ministry here is not going to be necessarily by ordained clergy or religious sisters. i ran a christian survivors of abuse group for ten years. forthnightly meetings where we shared what we thought of god, jesus, church, priests, clergy….all things spiritual, all things religious. we took weekends away for retreats which were co-led by someone used to running retreats and a survivor of abuse. the survivor’s role was to educate the spiritual director on what might or might not suit a victim trying to face the issues. on one such retreat no-one would sleep in a room labelled ‘maria goretti’ , on another we had to ask the centre manager, a monk, to put bolts on all the doors. there were no locks. the survivors would not go to sleep in rooms with unlocked doors. the poor man spent all day doing this. surprising what the issues are. what do you say about ‘our father, who art in heaven’ , if your father abused you…what about forgiveness, as one victim wrote on retreat ‘fuck forgiveness’, yes and she had every reason to say that. yet i know some priests and nuns who think that appalling and determine to ‘heal’ people of their ‘forgiveness’ issues. thats where pastoral care has to meet where people are at, not where you want them to be. how about this question: ‘if god is so powerful why did he allow this priest to abuse me?’ well something about ‘free will’ might come to mind but that does not work for many victims. God is powerful, ergo, he could have stopped it. result: i’m off out of the church bye, bye….
No Patrick I have not said, suggested or implied, nor do I believe that the priest administering the sacrament is in any way understood in a negative light, or the sacrament itself indeed.
I will give an example of a post traumatic stress event in the ‘confessional’ again, fairly recently. This happened not three years ago.
I was trying to read again about the Catholic faith. I was visiting a monastery – taking some relatives who wished to avail of confession before travelling to England. I was sitting waiting and an elderly priest walked past me sitting there and asked if I’d like to go to confession, if I were waiting for that. I wondered if it might be a hint from above – the reluctant mister gullible. I thought it would do no harm to avail of this now, newly named ‘sacrament of reconciliation’ – and I was wanting to reconcile. Christ reconciles all things to Himself, we are told.
I went into the room and sat with the man. I was not in ten minutes till I had to almost run out and slam the door after me. I was trying to relate some of my past experience and why it was difficult for me in the process of seeking reconciliation with the past, present and the ‘Church’. Before hearing anything I had really to say, or being told the outcome of a certain situation with the abusing priest in my past, which did end in true reconciliation, I was told in no uncertain terms that I was full of hate, consumed by it in fact, and had absolutely no desire or capacity to forgive – and some other things I won’t go into. I felt like I was Lucifer incarnate. And anyone knows me knows how far that is from the truth.
I came out of the room and stood, violently shaking from my head to my feet and wanting to vomit. I thought at one point I was going to go into a convulsion. I’ve been with many people in the past convulsing and that’s why I believed my own body might actually convulse at that point. It really did ‘trigger’ such a violent reaction in my mind and my body. A woman who worked there saw the state I was in and asked me to sit and have a cup of tea. I couldn’t sit – I had to get out of that place and away from those people.
But I was shaking so much the woman convinced me that if I got into the car I’d crash and kill myself and/or someone else.
And at that moment part of me wanted, after these seemingly endless abuses and betrayals, to do just that – drive that car off some bridge and be done with all of it once and for all. The only way to be rid of this RCC that permeates so much of our beings to our cores.
I soon learned, from my own past training and experience, observing this man again before I left the place – that he was not well. I was correct and it was sorted in time.
I later went to see a psychologist friend and explained this to her. She said it was post traumatic stress and a real re traumatising and abuse. I should have taken them to court and cleaned them out.
But instead I made sure that sick priest was taken care of. I did it – not the ones supposedly looking after him, cause they were not trained and had no clue how to.
I asked my friend about the anger I felt. That if I were a ‘violent person’ I might have hit that man so hard I could have killed him.
She explained how I internalised the anger – what I had learned to do, compounded by church teaching, when hurt ‘must forgive’- and that that accounted for my thinking to drive off a bridge in the immediate aftermath. Rather than externalise the anger and hurt the priest – I internalised and would have hurt my self more, or self destructed.
The entire experience was a triggering event to past abuse in the ‘sacrament’al experience – confessional in this instance, as well as others more recent to that time – re abuse, re trauma and could have ended in disaster. My body was reacting to years of trauma – not just that one event.
That man was not well, elderly and vulnerable in his own right, and should never ever have been left in a position with the potential to harm others, or himself.
So the ‘vulnerable’ clerics are not being adequately cared for as well as the some times highly vulnerable members of their congregations.
Who in their right minds would expect anyone to expose themselves to that level of danger again, in or outside some ‘sacrament of reconciliation’.
I am growing more convinced that as Catholics we suffer something akin to “Battered Wife Syndrome.”
Trying to escape an abusive partner, spouse, who beats the crap out of us, promises never to do so again, apologises profusely and makes no real effort to change the real heart of the problem.
I have no issue with all the good priests, or sacraments – but people should not be put in danger, especially vulnerable people and that is part of the remit of “Towards Healing.” If I’d been someone else who externalised anger – someone could have been killed that day. That is a FACT, the potential for the REALISTIC outcome of such events.
That’s post traumatic stress and triggering.
If people can be helped to feel safe again in any of that – well and good.
That permanent exit door is getting closer by the day however.
And the medical analogy is beyond ridiculous, and shows, apart from lack of intelligence, lack of the remotest understandings of what this is about and the seriousness of it.
Patrick, I heartily endorse every word you wrote. Jesus taught us that ‘the law was made for man, not man for the law.’ The Declaration on Religious Freedom from the Second Vatican Council teaches that we must follow our conscience even if it diverges from the official teaching of the church. Canon law is subservient to personal conscience and LOVE of God trumps everything. It certainly is perfectly clear to even the most legalistic traditionalists in the church that Kevin is in love with Jesus!
When criticized by the canon lawyers of his day [Scribes and Pharisees] for picking corn on the Sabbath, Jesus was the first one to jump down their throats for their legalism. Surely, Jesus would be telling Kevin to forget about canon law and the legalistic Scribes and Pharisees who would require his observation of the sacraments. It is my belief that since the sacraments are merely ‘outward signs instituted by Christ to give grace’ that Kevin has proven by his loving life that he is invited by Jesus to go directly to the source of all grace and needs to bypass the ‘outward sign.’ When the ‘outward sign’ becomes a real obstacle to spiritual union with Jesus, it needs to be avoided. We are here for Jesus, not for the RCC. The RCC has created this situation of fear and trauma and ought not have ANYTHING to say to the victims but should be asking them for instruction. God bless Kevin and all those who were betrayed by the RCC. As the Benedictine nun, Sr. Joan Chittister is fond of saying, “Don’t confuse Jesus with the RCC; frequently they are two different things.” If ever there was a case of it, this is surely it.
In your recent reflections, I am not sure if you meant to say, no Gene, rather than no Patrick. I totally agree with you. Please reread my response to Gene’s comment.
I am sorry Patrick. Sincere apologies. I am waiting for new glasses – poor excuse but true. My eyesight is rapidly getting worse.
Thank you for your excellent reflections.
Right now I am just lying in bed praying for peace, for all of us in our own ways, in our hearts. No idea if anyone listening – but trying anyway.
I continue to pray for you and all the survivors as well as those people who have reached out to you. No need for any apology.
Thank you Patrick. I have thought about this and am not giving up my Mass or praying the rosary, which is a real gift for me. I need and want them and am not having those taken too. I will try and exercise more humility and not let some of those people get to me. Put my faith in God alone and let God relate to me How He will through any of it. I had found real peace of late in my Mass and rosary again though and I’d be a liar to say otherwise. Sometimes it’s tricky. But as I learn to navigate that.
Thank you for your prayers. I am praying for yas all here too.
I just want to support Kevin and I am heartened by the many wise and compassionate responses here.