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  • Writer's pictureFaith Hakesley

One Year After McCarrick Scandal Breaks, Sex Abuse Victim Shares Her Thoughts

Originally Published on Faith Restored June 20, 2019

+JMJ+ As hard as it is for me to wrap my mind around, it’s been one year today since news of the McCarrick scandal broke. I’ve spent a lot of time trying to discern the will of the Holy Spirit for me in regards to how I can best help and serve those who are suffering. As a survivor of clerical abuse, I often feel so helpless in this fight against evil – it’s painful to witness the suffering of my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ! My heart breaks to see my beloved church in so much pain and infested with diabolical forces but, at the same time, I am clinging to the hope that we can and will rebuild.

Since coming forward publicly following the trial of my rapist in 2003, I have had the privilege of meeting some very amazing and inspiring individuals. Of course, my meeting with Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI in 2008 during his visit to Washington, D.C. definitely tops the list, but another person who continues to regularly inspire and encourage me is Teresa Tomeo of EWTN. We’ve gotten to know each other a bit over the past year and she has given me the opportunity on several occasions to share my story and thoughts on her radio show, Catholic Connection, in an effort to offer hope to others. Teresa recently asked me if I would be willing to write something for her to share at a women’s conference she is speaking at in Scranton, PA. Seeing as PA is at the heart of a lot of the priest sex abuse scandal in America, she would like to address this issue and wanted the perspective of a first-hand witness of the crisis.

I would like to share my letter with you today on the one-year anniversary of the McCarrick scandal. While it is addressed specifically to women (as it will be read at a women’s conference), this letter is really for anyone and everyone who is struggling to hold onto hope during these troubling times in our church and in our world. My prayer is that the Holy Spirit speak in some way to each of you reading this!

Dear Sisters in Christ,

When I think of the sexual abuse crisis plaguing our Catholic church, many things come to mind – anger, frustration, sadness, confusion, and betrayal just to name a few. These are difficult times in our church and in our world and I should know – I was a victim of rape at the hands of a Catholic priest when I was 15 years old. By the grace of God, I came forward a year later and saw justice done. My rapist served time in prison and, upon release, was deported by ICE to his native Columbia.

Having been raised in a Catholic home, my faith was always at the core of my life. When I was raped, I questioned everything I ever believed about God and my church. I suffered with shame and self loathing as victims do, and I blamed God for “letting” the abuse happen. It was a long time before I was able to come to terms with what had happened, accept God’s gifts and move forward in my healing journey. It’s been a long road and it’s not always easy, but it’s a road worth traveling and, even if I have only recognized it in hindsight, Our Lord has been with me every step of the way.

Now as an adult, a wife, and a homeschooling mother of three children, the Catholic faith is central to my family’s life. One of the most frequent questions I get from people who hear my story is, “How/why are you still a practicing Catholic?” Here’s my simple answer: I remain a devoted Catholic because this is the only church that can boast to having the True Presence of Jesus Himself – his body, blood, soul, and divinity in the Most Holy Eucharist. What more do I need?

I’ve seen so many lifelong Catholics throw their hands up in disgust and leave the church, whether they have been victimized or not. Too many Catholics have used the sex abuse scandal as an excuse to leave. When people say they can’t trust priests, I’m quick to point out that the problem of sexual abuse goes on everywhere – schools, sports, businesses, Boy Scouts, and other religions. I’ve heard more times than I can count, “I don’t need the church because I’m spiritual in my own way. I have God in my heart.” Is it sometimes difficult for me to go to church? Sure it is! Sometimes I get anxiety just walking through the church doors. Talking to priests can be difficult – the white collar can be an emotional trigger for me at times- and going to confession sometimes makes me extremely anxious since my rapist was a spiritual adviser of sorts to me. However, despite all that, I recognize that there is something so amazing about my Catholic faith that, without it, I would be lost and I have worked very hard over the years to overcome the various anxieties I face. It is only by God’s grace that I have held onto hope and it is specifically the Holy Eucharist that has provided me with the strength to persevere no matter what. God didn’t fail me. God didn’t hurt me – a human being did – a human being who went against his vows and gave into evil. It is God who helped get me out of the dark pit of despair I lived in for so long and God who has brought so much good out of the bad. It is God who has helped me find beauty in the various crosses I have carried over the years and, as strange as it may sound to some people, it is through the Catholic faith that I have persevered.

Yes, there is corruption within the church and it absolutely needs to be addressed and fought against. Evil was allowed to infiltrate it and many souls have been lost as a result. Lives have been deeply wounded and the scars will always remain. Another reason I remain in the Catholic Church is because I figure the devil would not be working so hard to corrupt things if this was not the true church of Christ! Jesus never said that being his follower would be easy and we were never promised a life without suffering. Sadly, sin is a part part of our human existence (the result of original sin) and, where there are human beings, there is sin. We are all part of this body of Christ and so sin affects us all. Our priests, bishops, and even the Pope are not above human nature.

I don’t say this to excuse any of the atrocities that have taken place in our church. There are no quick fixes for the issues at hand. Our leaders could hold meeting after meeting and still never fully come up with solutions! Why is that? I believe it’s because there are some very deep underlying issues that so many people are afraid or unwilling to address. We have become a culture of cafeteria Catholics, barely fulfilling our obligations as Catholics and viewing the 10 Commandments as mere suggestions. How many Catholics truly live their faith “beyond Sunday” as Teresa Tomeo has so wisely put it?

These are frightening times we live in. Make no mistake we are experiencing the spiritual battle of our lifetime and the devil is determined to win. He loves that people are doubting and leaving, he loves the gross sin and corruption, he is celebrating the fact that so many people have been hurt and he is manipulating their hurt to turn them away from God. The devil knows that the Holy Eucharist and the sacraments are the greatest sources of grace for us – hence why he wants people to leave. Jesus did say that the “gates of hell will not prevail” against his church, but he never said that the devil wouldn’t try his hardest. However, we cannot just sit back complacently, assuming that we can do little to help, and leave all the work to everyone else. It’s all boots on the ground!

Venerable Fulton Sheen said, “Who is going to save our church? Do not look to the priests. Do not look to the bishops. It’s up to you, the laity, to remind our priests to be priests and our Bishops to be Bishops.” It’s up to us, the laity! We all have a part in this battle against evil. Each of us needs to pray for the guidance of the Holy Spirit so that we may be led to whatever battle position we are best suited for. I know that sometimes we look around at all the corruption surrounding us and we feel frustrated and hopeless. Remember the Crusades? People fought for hundreds of years. They fought and they persevered.

I know that oftentimes the church is seen as a male-dominated institution. However, as Catholic women, ours is truly a unique and beautiful role and one that is not to be underestimated! St. Pope John Paul II phrased it as the “feminine genius” and, in his Letter to Women, encouraged women to embrace their strengths, to embrace the very essence of our God-given femininity to serve God here on earth. “In fact, woman has a genius all her own, which is vitally essential to both society and the Church. It is certainly not a question of comparing woman to man, since it is obvious that they have fundamental dimensions and values in common. However, in man and in woman these acquire different strengths, interests and emphases and it is this very diversity which becomes a source of enrichment.”

We are mothers, daughters, sisters – all with unique and beautiful talents that Our Lord has gifted to us. The Catholic Church is often referred to as Holy Mother Church and it’s no wonder – the church is like a family being nurtured by its mother. It is this nurturing that the church needs so much of right now. Would you abandon your family in their greatest time of need? Did the Blessed Mother, the greatest example of womanhood, abandon her beloved son? No, she didn’t. Mary was with Jesus through all of his suffering – she stood by as he was tortured, she was there as he carried his cross, she was there at the foot of the cross when most of Jesus’ other followers had abandoned him.

We can’t abandon Our Lord. We can’t abandon our family. Now more than ever we need to pray, fight, and help to rebuild our church. There is no greater time to become revitalized in our Catholic faith. There is no greater time to fight for change, no greater time to fight against the evil that has seeped in. Yes, there are some serious issues within the hierarchy. People need to be held accountable. Certain things need to change. We may feel frustrated and many of you may wonder, “Well, how can I help?” Let’s start by creating change within ourselves and in our own families and in our own parish communities. Let’s start by being more than just “once a week Catholics.” Let’s support the good, holy priests and bishops who are fighting alongside us – without them, we have no Eucharist! Let’s remind the world of what it means to be a truly devoted Catholic. Most of all, let’s prove our love to Our Heavenly Father by showing that we will fight to rebuild his church and that we will never abandon him.

Never have I looked to the courage and the wisdom of the saints and martyrs more than now. Despite their fear, they did whatever they needed to do in order to defend and protect the faith. The words of St. Pope John Paul II ring true now more than ever, “I plead with you – never, ever give up on hope, never doubt, never tire, and never become discouraged. Be not afraid.” It is our faith that brings hope! In my own life and through my own trials, it is my faith that has awarded me with hope, courage, strength, wisdom, perseverance and, ultimately, freedom. Yes, there is freedom to be found in following Christ no matter what obstacles are in the way. It’s not an easy path to follow. Believe me, my own wounds have been opened again and again every time I hear about the sex abuse crisis, every time I hear of any kind of corruption in my beloved church. Yet, I have come to realize that what we believe as Catholics is extraordinary and my faith is worth holding onto. Our church is worth rebuilding. Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once predicted that the church would one day become smaller but more faithful. This, I believe, will come to pass.

There is a tremendous need now more than ever, for each of us to say, “yes” to God. Remember, it was the “yes” of a woman that changed the course of human history. Our Lady’s “fiat” to God at the Annunciation was the greatest “yes” there ever was! Her willingness to do God’s will never ceases to amaze me. She didn’t ask, “Why?” She only asked, “How?” Her life of faith, grace, and strength should encourage us serve as a guide for each and every one of us.

I can’t think of the role of women in the church without considering some of our greatest saints. These faithful women did some pretty amazing things that led to big changes. St Teresa of Avila initiated with St. John of the Cross, a reform of the Carmelite community which had become corrupt. St. Catherine of Siena often wrote to bishops and Popes, sometimes advising them and at other times scolding them for their corruption. Let’s not forget St Joan of Arc, a young French girl who led an army to battle. I think it’s safe to say that most of us have not been called into that kind of battle! Then again, we are all called to live out different roles in whatever battles we face.

Please – I beg of you, don’t abandon Our Lord in his greatest need! Don’t give the devil anymore power than he already has. I want to close with one of my favorite quotes from the great Mother Angelica, “God wants you to be in the world, but so different from the world that you will change it. Get cracking.”

Ad Jesu per Mariam,

Faith Hakesley

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