Archive for the ‘J. Romo Posts’ Category

Portia Nelson, in There’s a Hole in my Sidewalk, describes her life in five segments. In chapter one, she describes walking down a street and falling into a deep hole in the sidewalk. She’s lost and help­less, and it takes forever to find a way out. In chapter two, she walks down the same street with the same deep hole in the sidewalk. She pretends she doesn’t see it and falls in again. She is somehow surprised that she is in the same place. Again, she thinks it isn’t her fault and again it takes her a long time to get out.

In chapter three, she walks down the same street, sees the hole, and falls in anyway because it is a habit. She takes responsibility for herself and gets out immediately. In chapter four, she walks down the same street and walks around the hole in the sidewalk. In chapter five, she walks down another street.

I can imagine how I came to write this workbook in five segments. Stage one: A deep hole. I was sexually abused by my pastor as a teenager, memories of which lay buried for nearly 30 years. From the time I left seminary in 1984, I worked to bring social justice and the incarnation of God into the world through education.

Stage two: Buried alive. As a professor, I participated in a week long summer program for Catholic University faculty. At this time, the Boston scandal was in the news daily. My flashbacks began around that time.  More abuse memories were triggered by seeing my sons sleeping shirtless; they were about the age I was when I was abused.

I called the L.A. Archdiocese to report what I thought others must want to know in order to help others. During the next year, I contacted an attorney, filed a police report and got in touch with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. In support meetings, I heard my own story in graphic detail through many others’ and I became a spokesman.

Stage three: Letting go. During the fall 2005, when I could no longer conceal that I could not read or effectively remember lectures and material, I dragged myself to a psychiatrist.  I was on emotional edge, working and conflicting with tenured colleagues who reminded me of church hierarchy. My PTSD leave of absence in 2006, before I began meditation, became my cocoon from my life of being a victim and survivor. When a registered sex offender came to my new church to worship there, I became a spiritual support team member, and met with this person weekly.  That experience was re- traumatizing as well as life changing towards my transformation.

Stage 4: Transformation. Shortly after the 2006-2007 academic year ended, I received notification that I would not be reappointed, which circumvented my bid for tenure.  My appeal to the Provost was denied. I participated in a Chopra Center program about healing and began my path of meditation, transformation, and writing.

Stage 5: Publication. I have written Healing the Sexually Abused Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters, to help others. 39 million people in the United States have experienced sexual abuse in some form. Sadly, most victims live among us with near-invisibility. Survivors and supporters say that this book is a valuable resource for victims of sexual abuse, their support groups, and others impacted by abuse and neglect.  That it is useful, inspirational and hopeful, and will literally help save lives. Even if I didn’t write it, I think it should be in every church’s library.

Victims of abuse and betrayal carry similar toxic experiences that can continue to impact mind and spirit long after the original physical abuse occurred. This workbook guides the reader through a self-questioning process that gently leads her or him through stages of recovery. Every chapter includes exercises to help readers recognize how their hearts and minds work together with respect to self-talk, responses to authority, boundaries, roles, and action-steps. This resource helps readers examine the past and understand present actions and ways of thinking that maintain self-victimization. Practical exercises teach readers to take responsibility for the present. Chapter 5 is particularly geared for those who aspire to be effective supporters or change agents in their particular religious environment.

Healing is possible; transformation is necessary.  See chapter samples on line at www.jaimeromo.com/workbook


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“Hoke, you’re my best friend.  You are.”  That’s a line from Driving Miss Daisy, one of the many shows I find on the television relating to Black White relations in Black History month.  That scene comes from a turning point late in the film, after Miss Daisy hears a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. about the shameful history of the south where good people were silent or apathetic about racism.

There are many parallels in Black History and Survivors’ history.  Take names, for example. The fact that Black people received the names of their slave masters as their own at the time of the Emancipation Proclamation. Latinos have a similar experience of receiving our surnames from the colonizers who abused our indigenous ancestors. Survivors received our spiritual names from the faith traditions in which we were abused. My family name comes from a place called, Rincon de Romos, (Romos’ corner), in the state of Aguascalientes, Mexico.

So, in a nation that is the middle of Black History Month, I ask, “Where do we stand in the fight against racism and white supremacy?  Are churches, temples, mosques and other faith communities seen as a valuable resource in this fight for equality and social transformation towards justice?”

There are certainly a lot of mixed opinions on the status of racism and white supremacy today. By racism, I mean the basic dynamic of prejudice plus power. In this sense, many people can manifest racism in particular contexts. White supremacy is a particular form of racism under which the world has suffered for over 500 years (i.e., since Columbus came to the Americas).

There is no question that we have made progress.  We have ended the Atlantic slave trade and slavery.  We have ended imperialistic colonialism and segregation.  We have established civil rights in the U.S. and in South Africa. We have even elected an African-American, Barak Hussein Obama, as president of the United States.

Some might be tempted to say that racism and white supremacy are dead.  Chris Matthews even (accidentally) declared recently that he forgot that Obama was Black.  Well, let’s not rush to conclusions that racism and white supremacy are dead.  We’ve come a long way, but we’ve still got a ways to go. We have made some progress regarding laws and civic policy, yet on the social and economic side, I don’t think we’re there.

Likewise, survivors may still sing with those who felt ripped from their homes and community, and sold into slavery, “Sometimes I feel like a motherless child.” No doubt, survivors of minority groups may feel the compounded impact of racial marginalization and colonization, plus the betrayal and trauma of religious authority sexual abuse.

While religious people or teachings may have told us that we are children of God, the powerful actions by religious authorities told us even more loudly that we were our experiences of abuse. As a result of being sexually abused by people who we perceived to be of God, our self was damaged, if not practically extinguished from us. We were left with our experiences of abuse, which we could not acknowledge, but which became confused with our self.

“When you control a man’s thinking, you do not have to worry about his actions. You do not have to tell him not to stand here or go yonder. He will find his “proper place” and will stay in it. You do not need to send him to the back door. He will go without being told. In fact, if there is no back door, he will cut one for his special benefit. His education makes it necessary.”

Those words were spoken by Dr. Carter G. Woodson, a distinguished author, editor, publisher, and historian, known as the ‘father of Black history.’  He believed that Blacks should know their past in order to participate effectively in society today.  He believed that Black history, which many tried diligently to erase, was very important for Blacks to build upon in order to be productive members of society.

I believe that there is a social parallel for survivors who are beginning to bring an important history, which many people would rather not have come forward, to light.  I believe that there is a psychic parallel for survivors who continue to ‘choose the back door’ of dignity, self worth, health and happiness, even when it appears that there is nothing holding us back.  I believe that many survivors must acknowledge that we have come to believe or act as if our proper place is to be invisible, unworthy, and/ or disconnected from ourselves and others, in order for us to become healthy and happy.

Likewise, there is a parallel for good people who do not speak up to challenge religious authority supremacy, who allow members of their churches, temples, and mosques to treat survivors of religious authority sexual abuse  as if we are invisible or second class citizens.  There is a parallel for religious leaders who sidestep laws that are intended to protect children and vulnerable adults and act as if the culture that promoted the system of religious authority sexual abuse is dead and gone.  After all, the pope met with some survivors. Some survivors received letters from bishops, didn’t they?

I got one of those letters. It says, in part, “I am so sorry for the very long, difficult journey you have suffered.  I apologize for the pain you and your family have had to endure.  I am ashamed at what you have suffered through.”  I might expect that from any bystander who didn’t have an integral part in the supervision and transfer of pedophile clergy. The letter didn’t say, I will work to repeal statutes of limitation related to sexual abuse. Or, I will speak out against my fellow religious leaders who resist repealing statutes of limitation in their states. Or, I will release the documents today that I have pledged to release ( under threat of bringing hundreds of cases to trial). Or, l will go to jail, as my attorneys repealed the criminal convictions of priests, scout leaders, and many other convicted sex offenders in their efforts to protect the churches’ interests.

I think it is appropriate to ask “Where do we stand in the fight against sexual abuse and religious authority supremacy?  Are churches, temples, mosques and other faith communities seen as a valuable resource in this fight for transparency and accountability that will lead towards social transformation and social justice?”

Dr. Jaime Romo is the author of “Healing the Sexually Abused Heart: A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters.” http://www.jaimeromo.com/workbook

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I saw parts of a documentary, “2012,” about Nostradamus’ predictions and scientific insights into the alignment of sun and Milky Way and the earth on December 21, 2012.  The Mayan calendar ends on that same day.  Will the earth freeze?  Will it explode, like the recent Hollywood action trauma? Oh, no! What will we do? Doesn’t all that hype and fear generated by this doomsday thinking keep us all very anxious and distracted from what we can do today about what is in our control?

There are plenty of real traumas that could use our attention.

I saw parts of the documentary because I was so bored by the ongoing fear and hype associated with it, I fell asleep.  I find even an explanation of problems without any sense of solutions pointless, and destruction without redemption worthless.

Mayans and others believe that we’re entering a new age, but one driven by survival of the wisest, not survival of the fittest. Not pointless destruction. If we created an economic disaster by spending money we don’t have on things we don’t need to impress people we don’t like, then this new age might be more economically driven by wellbeing and sustainable, meaningful uses of time, talents and resources.

But what if we really take this end time warning seriously?  What if it’s true that we have less than three years on this planet as we know it? Wouldn’t it make sense to live this new age now and to help others live full and free lives now? I don’t remember the theologian who said that true atheists and true believers should both work to improve life for all now. Believers would be motivated by realizing the kingdom of heaven and atheists by the thought that there is no afterlife and this life must be as good and meaningful as we can make it.  Maybe I imagined I heard that during my seminary studies.

In any case, I don’t think that most people, particularly church leaders, believe that we’re facing the end times. If so, why do church leaders continue to protect the ‘interests of the church’, spending money that they claim to not have on public relations firms and attorneys or to stay out of courts that they supposedly don’t need to avoid, to respond to people they don’t like?  Why not begin to promote well being, healing and use the time, resources and talents they have to help survivors of religious authority sexual abuse be free?

What do we believe about religious authority sexual abuse? What if it’s true that most sexual abuse happens in family settings? Still, it’s very true that clergy abuse against children and vulnerable adults continues to happen. Numbers are hard to use that are context specific because there are so many variable in any one context.  That’s why the 39,000,000 number of people in the U.S. who have been sexually abused is such a conservative number.  Within the church context, a recent study by Dr. Diana Garland that included 17 Christian and Jewish affiliations concludes that “More than 3% of women who had attended a congregation in the past month reported that they had been the object of CSM at some time in their adult lives.”

So that means that in a congregation of 400 people, 60% of whom are women, that 7 women will have been sexually abused, as adults by a minister.  So what if it’s true?

And what if it’s true that Cardinal Mahony covered up sexual abuse by priests?  What if it’s true that rabbis and imams and monks and nuns and religious leaders everywhere have perpetuated, sometimes conspired with, child sexual abuse or abuse of vulnerable adults?  Is it the end of the church world?

Will the next vile revelation of abuse make a difference? Will it make a difference if a cardinal or bishop or rabbi or monk serves time in jail for his part in concealing pedophiles?

Will it make enough of a difference to change the practice of protecting church assets into doing justice for victims of religious authority sexual abuse?  Will it make enough of a difference to end the practical ‘don’t ask, don’t tell’ culture about sexual abuse in churches, mosques, temples and other religious settings? Will it make a difference to those that act like the person on Oprah years ago who said about clergy abuse, ‘Even if it’s true, I won’t believe it!’

Maybe the end of the world isn’t about a physical calamity.  I believe it’s primarily about a shift in consciousness that will lead to changes by taking care of people and using things, and not the reverse.  About 10 years ago, Petco responded to the discovery of harmful pet food by recalling massive amounts of pet food and then reaching out to anyone impacted by the product.  Today, Toyota has already recalled 8 million cars and is making great efforts to protect people.  These corporations have acted as if they saw the end of their world and wanted to prevent it.  And they deal with pets and things, not children and vulnerable adults.

I welcome an end of the world of religious authority sexual abuse and welcome a world of believing what we see and not seeing what we believe.  I welcome an end of the world of clerics hiding behind religion and others’ unwavering, blind faith in their innocence to avoid accountability for their criminal behaviors.

Would it be the end of the world if a religious leader went to jail for his part in the rape of children and vulnerable adults?  I don’t think so. But it might cause a breakthrough in the denial in enough people’s consciences to recall unreliable and harmful people and fix the systems that allowed for the destruction of lives through religious authority sexual abuse.  That could bring meaning and redemption to a doomsday story.

Dr. Romo is an educator, consultant, and author of “Healing the Sexually Abused Heart:  A Workbook for Survivors, Thrivers, and Supporters.”

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In the wake of the massive disaster in Haiti, we have seen a worldwide supportive response to the people of Haiti. Fortunately, religious and other groups and agencies are doing all they can to save lives, rebuild the infrastructure, and even improve the quality and safety of homes in the future. What a wonderful example of public and private, inter-faith cooperation to help those impacted by this event.

At the same time, another disaster is unfolding around us. It also brings negative mental and spiritual trauma that can stay with and impact victims negatively for years if not treated. The trauma can infect the capacity to live in the present, and function well; paraphrasing the words of 2nd century Iraneus, the trauma can keep a victim from being the glory of God by being fully alive.

There are parallels between earthquakes and sexual abuse.

Many sexual abuse victims’ lives have already been lost. Many survivors’ careers demolished, and relationships buried under the rubble of the toxic impact of religious authority abuse. Daily news reports from every continent provide ample evidence of the ongoing pandemic. Bishop Accountability tracks Catholic offenders. StopBaptistPredators tracks Baptist offenders.  The Awareness Center tracks Jewish offenders. I believe these are important efforts. There’s a saying, “To name the disease is to be able to cure it.” But those are just the religious tips of a societal iceberg.

I’m not particularly interested in finding out if one religious group has a higher percentage of sexual abusers, or if sexual abuse is more prevalent in religious groups than in general. I’ve been searching for an accurate number to describe how many people in the United States have experienced sexual abuse in some form.  Not just victims of religious authority sexual abuse, but anyone in society who has experienced sexual abuse. And that has been a difficult process.

Studies from justice departments and the National Crime Victim Center, the Center for Disease Control and Prevention are over descriptive and not inter-connected.  Even recent studies note that the majority of sexual abuse cases are not reported.  The National Sexual Violence Resource Center reports that every two minutes someone is sexually assaulted in the United States. The most conservative numbers give us a base of 39,000.000 people in the United States who have experienced sexual abuse in some way.

39,000,000, and I believe the reality is much higher.

I imagine that many readers may be approaching this topic with some distance or detachment, as neither an abuser nor as a person who has been abused. I imagine that it is difficult to see value in taking up such a tragic and toxic topic, especially when there are other disasters that call for attention. It may even be seductive to dismiss this issue as only involving a few individuals who did some very serious damage to some vulnerable children. But whether you consider yourself religious or secular, we as Americans have looked the other way while this happened and did practically nothing to prevent this ongoing abuse of power, this betrayal of confidence, and erosion in trust in our very culture.

What’s at stake in this issue? In a word: civilization.  A society where children mistrust adults because children are abused and because other adults allow this to happen, and do not believe or protect children, is no civilization, certainly no democracy. Instead of our society benefiting from the vast gifts of these persons, their gifts are often lost to us along with the abuse they endured.

So is it any wonder that church or education or other important values driven organization leaders or groups are not believed and not trusted?

What’s the solution for an organization, particularly a religious one, which is no longer credible or trusted by those we intend to serve? It’s simple, but not easy. If we want to be trusted, we have to be clear with our boundaries, our roles, and how we understand authority. And if we want to be believed? If we want people to believe in us– we have to be active and consistent in our actions to prevent abuse and live up to our visions or missions.

So, if we cannot trust churches or church leaders to protect children and vulnerable adults from sexual abuse by religious authorities, no wonder we have so much sexual abuse in society. Two years ago, California church leaders agreed, as part of legal settlements in order to avoid the public humiliation of victims reporting lurid details of their abuse and to avoid the threat of even greater civil settlements determined by juries, to release documents. And we still do not have them.

42 years ago, the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. said the following about the Good Samaritan parable, “And so the first question that the priest asked — the first question that the Levite asked was, If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me? But then the Good Samaritan came by. And he reversed the question: If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him”

It seems that the documents about sexual abuse are only partially available, just like the documents about religious authority sexual abuse—even though the release of church documents has been one of the conditions of the ‘settlements’ with many churches. Survivors of religious authority sexual abuse have been fighting for these documents to be released for years. We know that to be able to name the problem is to be able to solve it.  We know that the problem is much worse than has been reported or than many imagine. And if we cannot get information about sexual abuse from organizations that have the information and have agreed to release them, how can we diagnose, let alone treat, this cancer of sexual abuse in particular organizations or in society?

Survivors’ trauma and healing will be best discovered and then affirmed in a healthy and responsible community, where people ask If I do not stop to help this man, what will happen to him? If you and others can face this deep, shameful, and unspeakable reality and find in yourself the outrage and compassion necessary to correct systemic perpetuation of clergy sexual abuse, then the more than 39,000,000 survivors can begin to know justice; then you will have taken up your role, as adults, to address crimes against humanity, and to do no less than save civilization.

As with the Haiti disaster, it’s not about us feeling better about ourselves because of what we believe or even because we’ve done something for someone else.  It’s not about me or you individually. It’s about ending Child Sexual Abuse; everyone working together in whatever way is most helpful to survivors.


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