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  • Writer's pictureFaith Hakesley

Remembering the Victims of Clerical Sexual Abuse

+JMJ+ Are you tired of hearing about the Catholic Church sexual abuse crisis yet? Speaking as a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest, I'm sure tired of it. Believe me, some days I just want to snap my fingers and make all of the chaos disappear!

Each of the victims who met privately with Pope Benedict XVI in 2008 during his visit to Washington, DC, was given a copy of the book of names presented to the Holy Father. This book contains 1,500 names of victims of clerical abuse in the Archdiocese of Boston. There is also a blank page dedicated to those individuals who never came forward.

Here's the thing, though: as painful as corruption is to face, we can't brush it off like “yesterday's news.” When the Boston Globe's Spotlight Team brought the issue of sexual abuse of minors out into the open in 2002, few people realized that they had uncovered just the tip of the iceberg. At that time, I was in the midst of preparing to face my own rapist in court. The prosecutor was genuinely stunned (as was I) when my story attracted more media attention than anticipated and gained national headlines. I think that many people were convinced that sexual abuse in the church had happened in days long gone. My case was recent and so people were surprised to learn that the issue was still present. There have certainly been fewer, new cases in recent years but the sad fact is that most abuse victims don't come forward right away – years often go by before a victim comes forward and many never come forward at all. The only reason I came forward a year later was because I found myself unable to bear the burden of, not only the sexual abuse I had suffered, but also the trauma of losing my oldest brother who died unexpectedly from a heart condition. In 2002, everyone was scrambling to figure out “what went wrong” and to put new programs in place to ensure the safety of children. Here we are almost 20 years later and the long-hidden cases of sexual abuse within the Catholic Church are still coming to light. The Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report released last summer sent us reeling once again as we learned of the horrors of sexual abuse of children and we've heard similar stories out of California, Chicago, Oregon, New York and many other place. Let's not forget, I'm just talking about the child victims. I haven't even broached the subject of the sexual abuse of adults, seminarians, abuse of nuns, abuse by nuns, etc. A cancer has grown and festered in the darkness and the silence. I think what has particularly blindsided so many of us is, not just the abuse alone, but the fact that so many priests and bishops have continued to cover it up. There was a time when sexual abuse wasn't truly understood, it wasn't discussed openly and the accepted way to handle a predator was to maybe move him/her away from the victim or even get him/her some counseling. Problem solved! Right? Clearly, the church's handling of abuse cases was severely flawed but, while one can make the excuse that “it was just the way things were handled at the time,” one would hope that we've come a long way since the days when children were to be “seen and not heard.” Have we, though? In the years that followed the flood of information released in 2002, I heard apologies from priests, bishops, and popes. They made promises – promises to create the necessary changes in order to protect children (again, I'm not sure that we truly know how prevalent the abuse of adults has been), programs and procedures were put into place, promises of swift and severe consequences for perpetrators, and millions of dollars have been paid in settlements (as if money is going to repair the damage that's been done?). At first glance, our leadership did what they should have done and I'm not arguing that their new procedures and programs haven't been effective at all. If anything, there is certainly a greater awareness in the community at large of the pervasiveness of sexual abuse (not just within the Catholic Church). Sexual abuse is a very serious issue that we see everywhere. However, once the adrenaline died down from the initial release of the Spotlight Team's reports, things fell back into routine as they so often do. The church was clearly damaged but, after awhile, I think many Catholics put the scandal into the back of their mind and, clearly, this is exactly what so many leaders were waiting for. Once the rest of us became complacent, the predators and those covering for them were free to slither back into their unholy dens of sin and destruction.

The evil and the corruption that has come to light since last summer and continues to surface even now is sickening - that's putting it mildly. Simply put, evil (in a variety of ways) was allowed to infiltrate and we are seeing the result. The devil is real, folks, and he's attacking our shepherds so that we the flock will stray. There is no one particular cause to where we are at (one can blame pedophilia, homosexuality, clericalism, increasing liberalism, and other issues) but one thing is perfectly clear: Satan started out by hiding in the shadows and now he parades proudly around taunting faithful Catholics everywhere. His attempts to desecrate what should be good and holy can be clearly seen all around us. Am I tired of hearing about the scandal? I am sick about it! I'm back in therapy in part because of it. I suffer immensely because of it. However, I understand all too well that this wound needs to be allowed to fully drain before true healing can take place. Sadly, there are too many leaders who are preventing healing due to their own pride and greed. I'm not saying that tearing the band-aid off in one quick rip would have been easy, but I sure would have preferred to deal with the pain all at once instead of having the wound torn open again and again and again. Too many Catholics (leaders and laity alike) have become too complacent about the corruption that runs so deep within our church. - there is more than "just" the abuse of children. Pick up Phil Lawler's book The Smoke of Satan which describes the disaster the church finds itself in and the failures of Church leaders that have contributed to the sexual abuse crisis. It's a difficult book to read and I've shed many tears while reading. This book has also put me on my knees in prayer! I could go on and on about everything I see the bishops doing wrong but of course there are plenty of more learned individuals writing about that (Phil Lawler for one). I do want to mention one big concern of mine that may not seem like a huge deal at first to some people. I am concerned that victims have become “just victims.” We forget that each victim has a name, a face, and a story and they are reduced to nothing more than a number, a statistic. During the meeting between four other abuse victims, me, and Pope Benedict XVI in 2008, Cardinal Sean O'Malley of Boston presented him with a book. This book contained the names of the *known* victims of sexual abuse from the Archdiocese of Boston. The Holy Father was visibly moved by this gesture and it brought tears to his eyes. I really wish that every single victim's name would be written down into a book and a copy of that book given to every bishop. While this obviously wouldn't solve anything per se, at the very least a book such as this might make these guys stop and think and help them to better experience the dimensions of the very serious problems we are facing. Each of these victims is a human being, a man or woman (once a child) who was betrayed by someone who they trusted.

The book we gave to Pope Benedict XVI contains 1,500 names and those are just the names we know of from Boston. Imagine how large a book containing all the victims of clerical abuse (children and adults) would be! We will never know just how many there have been and, as I said before, we're still learning more, not only about the abuse of children and teenagers, but of adults as well (priests, nuns, and seminarians included). The cowardice of so many of our leaders is pathetic and diabolical to say the least. Many of them are not shepherds but wolves. They've become far better politicians than shepherds. That being said, we still need to pray for them just as we pray for our good, holy priests and leaders (and, as I wrote about in my blog post last week, there are many of them out there!!!). We are a church in mourning, a church whose faithful are enduring a white martyrdom. Satan can't win - he won't win - but the faithful need to stand strong and fight. None of us can afford to be complacent. We are in the spiritual battle of our lifetime and one of the most serious battles in the history of the Catholic Church. The Holy Spirit is calling each and every one of us to “put on the whole armor of God” (Ephesians 6:11) and go into battle.

Pray, pray, and pray some more, and please never stop fighting. Don't forget the victims Pray in a special way for us! We have stories and so many are suffering more deeply than anyone will ever know. Perhaps Catholics are sick and tired of hearing about the sexual abuse crisis, but it's not going away any time soon. This is a dark time in our Church. Our Lord and His mother fight with us, they will not abandon us, and we must face all the ugly corruption head-on. But let us also take time to remember everyone who has been directly impacted by the scandal. Let us be there for them, mourn for them and with them as we seek to rebuild what has been broken.

My own name is on this page. Note the small crosses next to some of the names. These represent the victims who have died. Many died due to suicide or accidental drug overdoses.

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