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Posts Tagged ‘spiritual journey’

I first met Jeannie years ago at a SNAP conference.  I continue to appreciate her wisdom, honesty, transformation and joy.

JR: Thank you for participating in this interview. I experience you as a nurturer or guide in various kinds of survivor healing efforts: the Farm, SNAP, and individual support. How would you describe your kind of advocacy?

 JW: Back in the early 90’s, Jaime, when everything ‘hit the fan’ for me, I was overwhelmed with memories of the abuse. They didn’t seem ‘real’ – I felt totally out of control of my life and yes, crazy, for lack of a better word. I started hearing about other people with similar experiences. I started reaching out – I jumped into the advocacy movement of exposing the crimes of the church without much focus on my personal journey towards healing. I researched priest’s assignments through the church directories for people all over the country; I worked with a reporter to expose the issues locally; supported other survivors… It took quite awhile and painful insight to realize that in my personal journey, I was using all the activity to keep one step ahead of my-self and outrun, so to speak, the work I had to do to reclaim my life and really heal my soul.

For me, now, advocacy has a much different meaning in my life journey. It’s much more ‘quiet’. I’m learning that responding, versus reacting to situations opens up opportunities to share my story and hopefully that offers support in a way that encourages people to ask more questions. Being observant and respectful of people’s ability to take in the scope of the traumatic effects of any kind of abuse is a tough challenge, when it can trigger my old pattern of outrage and the adrenaline rush of needing to challenge and change institutions and systems that enable abuse. I believe that becoming the person I was meant to be in this life – healthy physically, mentally, emotionally and especially spiritually – is an extremely powerful force that can instill hope and affect change. Encouraging other survivors to truly become them-selves is where the heart of my advocacy focus is now.

JR: You’re someone I see as deeply spiritual. What was your religious affiliation or identity growing up?

JW: I was raised Catholic; grade school education through a couple of years of college. However, I don’t equate spiritual with religious affiliation/identity anymore.

JR: We’ve talked about how, as unspeakable clergy or religious authority sexual abuse is, ritual abuse is even more difficult and upsetting for most people to even think about. What are your concerns and hopes about even discussing this topic?

JW: I have to say that even now, after so many years, my heart seems to skip a beat and I’m forgetting to breathe with this question. I wish I could say that it’s become a topic people are more willing to learn or talk about – at least think about – but in my personal experience, that’s not the case. This kind of abuse is very underground – a closed system usually involving groups of abusers. This elevates the danger involved in exposing this kind of abuse tremendously, which never should be taken lightly. And then there’s the credibility factor: exposing an individual priest as an abuser – doable; exposing ritual abuse groups within the church….?

The nature of the abuse itself – the grooming process, the ‘brainwashing’, the trauma itself, the isolation and the real, possible danger for the survivors are all things I’ve thought about through the years as I’ve processed my memories. In years past, I’ve asked questions of people much more in the know than I and I’ve always run up against doors that quickly close, but there are indications that there’s info known. Maybe someday. My concerns and hope go out to those who have experienced this kind of abuse; they are definitely not alone with their memories.

JR: Given that, can you say a little about your abuse experience?

JW: I experienced group ritual abuse involving priests and lay people. I was very young when it started and the ‘grooming’ process and abuse was extensive and traumatic. As I’ve mentioned before, my memories flooded out during a short period of time back in the early 90’s. It was years before I let myself talk about my memories outside of therapy or read about ritual abuse because I was terrified that I’d ‘imprint’ false memories into my brain. After a couple of years, through internet support groups like SNAP, I came into contact with other ritual abuse survivors. Time and time again upon hearing their experiences and me sharing mine, there were ‘rituals’ that were the same – people from all over the country. One gentleman even had known one of the priests involved in my abuse and talked about the priest’s abusive behavior towards him.

At a VOTF conference a man who was from a town where some of my abuse took place and was very familiar with a particular church building, knew exactly the room I described where I was taken to after a ceremony – down to a very unique door; I spoke with 2 women who suffered similar abuse in a parish very close to the parish I grew up in. Someday I hope that ritual abuse will be exposed – my experience certainly is not an isolated case.

JR: What have been some of your challenges in recovery/ healing?

JW: Certainly the credibility factor was a big issue for me at first. At first I kept my ‘flooded’ memories kind of off to the side. As I put pieces together, my life ‘story’ started to have a continuum that I never experienced before. I began to realize that I had always remembered so much more than I thought. A therapist I worked with would tell me over and over again that I had all the ‘answers’ inside of me…yeah, right! It’s turned out to be so true.

Another huge challenge in the beginning was the extreme changes that happened in my everyday life. I was a small business owner at the time who couldn’t run the business anymore in a town where I was pretty visible. Many catholic friends and many family members wrote me off – no questions about what happened – only condemnation. Everything in my life shifted. Nothing on my list of challenges is unique, for sure. Today, there are still challenges that pop up, but I’ve learned how to identify them, track them down, and deal with them in a healthy way. Not always easy, but certainly makes for a happier life!

JR: I think you have some valuable insights about re-programming (physically, mentally, emotionally) as part of healing from religious authority sexual abuse. Can you share some of what you’ve learned?

JW: Programming, Jaime, is SUCH a good word to use in describing the healing process! Physically…. I never knew that people “in the normal range” (I like to use that phrase versus just “normal”) felt their whole body at the same time! I grew up very disconnected from my body. I had to deal with many body memories throughout my recovery process. CraniolSacral massage therapy was extremely difficult but tremendously beneficial. (Very important to work with a therapist thoroughly trained to work with trauma victims!) I had to literally re-train my body to feel connected and remember touch and energy flow.

Mentally….. The first thing that comes to mind was my discovery that I had to go back and re-define words! What does “being safe” really mean? – much more than that I won’t be hurt today.

What does “friendship” really mean? – much deeper than someone just paying attention to me at the moment. etc. As a child being traumatized, I latched onto meanings that helped me survive. As an adult I had to re-define so many words through healthier eyes and experiences. Throughout my whole life, I’ve experienced situations where I can’t remember things no matter how hard I try. I’ve done a lot of reading about how trauma, especially early age trauma, affects the development of memory and that’s helped a lot in my understanding this difficulty. As a child it was far safer not to remember.

I’ve re-programmed my-self now to try and intercept the “you’re so stupid” etc. self-talk when my memory blanks out and slowly the “garage doors” – as I call them – don’t slam closed as often. Through CraniolSacral massage I’ve learned how to open them when they do. Present day stress at times still plays havoc on my memory and it’s a signal I have to pay attention to what’s going on.

Emotionally…. Again, from that very wise therapist who traveled with me on my healing journey… ‘my thoughts and emotions don’t define who I am – it’s what I do with them that matters’. It took me a long time to understand and realize that I did have control over what I did with my thoughts and emotions. I can go ballistic over something OR I could choose to simply look at it and respond in the best, healthiest, kindest, etc. way I could figure out. I’ll never forget a ‘homework’ assignment my therapist gave me during a time suicide seemed like a possible option to take away the emotional pain. I was to write down all the intrusive, depressive thoughts in one column – opposite I was to write down a minimum of 3 counter-active thoughts for each one. Example: I just want to go to sleep and never wake up. Choice: I could make a cup of tea and cuddle on my sofa with a blanket; go out into my garden; take a nap but set the alarm for 30 minutes. After the list was made I was to CHOOSE just one and act on it. A life changing exercise for me! I discovered I was scared to death of going outside the box of emotions and thoughts that were familiar and predictable – being happy was outside the box! In fact, I didn’t even know what being happy meant (another word I had to re-define for my-self). It took so much practice but now I know I can choose to live my life with a serene outlook even in the toughest circumstances. When it doesn’t happen easily, I can choose to do an attitude adjustment – my choice!

JR: Would you talk about your spiritual journey? What has been helpful? What have you gained?

JW: This is where my life now feels most fulfilled – in my spiritual journey. I feel I’ve finally made a connection to this world and universe. The most helpful breakthrough? Probably the recognition that the religious training (I prefer the word brainwashing) I took in throughout my school years had no critical thinking component – just the ‘believe us;’the church demands adherence. For me, breaking free of the tentacles of guilt, shame, fear, etc of leaving the church has been a long, hard fought journey. Watching survivors and supporters stand up to the church and expose the abuse and hypocrisy -so incredibly courageous – was an encouragement for me to grapple with the tough questions I needed to ask about the church myself. In the practice of just being quiet within my-self, I’ve come to know the God within me. I was created in God’s image – that I still fully believe and I have a purpose in this life. Learning to be in the present moment, I’ve become aware of how we’re all inter-connected in this universe.

JR: We’ve talked in the past about the addictive aspects of advocacy work or what happens for some survivors who take up public actions to expose abuse. What do you mean by that?

JW: I shared at the beginning of this interview about how I discovered I was using advocacy as a way to “out run” my dealing with the trauma of my childhood. My body learned very early in life how to kick in that adrenaline “rush” to help me survive the abuse and stay vigilant. The ‘rush’ became what I defined as feeling like I was alive. When I attended press conferences, support meetings, just getting together with survivors in my early days of advocacy, I began to notice that a collective agitation, anger often times surfaced and we ran with it…a feeling of being alive…but with an addictive quality to it.

Over the years, it saddens me to see some survivors stuck in that whirlwind… stuck in the beginning stages of healing with such raw emotions, anger, tears, clinging to the whirlwind because it is familiar and familiar often times “feels” safe. Advocacy can be empowering but it’s not a substitution for one-on-one therapy. What if we began to place the healing of survivors on the same priority level as advocacy? I think the time has come for us to take care of our own.

JR: What has worked for you to be less in a ‘Fight-Flight’ or ‘reactive’ mode, and more in an spiritually integrative mode in your day to day life?

JW: This is an easy question…….remembering to BREATHE!!  Does all kinds of good things. It gives me a pause to reflect and CHOOSE a response instead of a knee-jerk re-action; my whole-self gets a chance to participate in my-life moment; often times, with a moment of reflection, it becomes clear that whatever was rearing up to knock me off balance, really wasn’t all that important.                                     

JR: What is your sacred space now or what is sacred to you now?

JW: I think the sacred spiritual space for me now is when I feel connected to the universe; when I sense my purpose in life, guided by the creator of this world; when my inside matches my outside. What’s sacred to me now? Everything! My children, friends, my garden, waking up in the morning 🙂 I’ve learned to celebrate even the smallest pleasures. Someday, I’m going to be successful in encouraging survivors and supporters to gather together JUST to celebrate. Everyone’s invited!

JR: I know there is so much more to talk about and learn together. Thank you for your time and sharing. I hope to continue our conversation another time. Thank you!

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In the context of either-or thinking and behavior, I believe that today’s interview illustrates both-and experience: both survivor and spiritual mentor; both religious and critical of institutional callousness.  Lindy Morelli is a Carmelite nun, counselor, and spiritual director. Her organization, Solace of Souls, believes “that persons who have had the experience of being rejected or wounded by their faith communities (for whatever reason) find it almost impossible to have a meaningful faith journey without experiencing healing and spiritual support/guidance, and that they fit into the “poor” to whom Jesus instructs us to give a preferential option, and we believe that this work constitutes loving our neighbor.”

Find out more at www.solaceofsouls.org and www.alabasterheart.org

JR: Survivors have a wide variety of responses to the church.  Some join other churches and some stay away from religion entirely.  I think it’s extraordinary that you’re a survivor and also a Carmelite nun. Can you give a little background about yourself and how you reconcile those aspects of your identity?

Even before the sexual assault by a clergy person happened, I had a deep personal faith in a personal God who was living, real, vital and I had built my life on making my relationship with this God the center of my life and the purpose for my life.

My faith was rooted in this deep personal relationship with God, and although I encountered a great crisis when the institutional church responded to the abuse I suffered in a way which I perceived as calloused and re-victimizing, I believe that it was through the grace of God alone that I was able to separate the institutional church from the living God.  The institution was not God for me, and although I was profoundly traumatized by their lack of attentive caring regarding my sufferings, my faith in the God I knew and loved and who I also experienced as loving me, went on and grew in spite of the institution’s great failings.

My call to give my life to God as a Carmelite, and the call I have responded to live as a person in consecrated life in vows (as a nun) is also rooted in the fact that giving one’s life to God and feeling the desire to respond to God who has loved one, is indeed that, a response of love for love; it is giving my response of yes, to the God who has shown Him/herself as the God who has loved me and who has invited me to be in deep union with Him/herself.

Carmelite spirituality is a call to prayer; it is a call to pray for others, and it is a profoundly joyful life of love; love for others, service and love for other who are in need, and a life of deep love shared with God, myself and the whole world. No crisis, no tragedy, no abuse, no matter how shattering, can affect this type of spiritual groundedness in knowing one is loved, because this love I have experienced is supernatural and eternal.

I hope this answer is not too abstract, but the point is that, when one has been touched by God, crises, traumas and tragedies e.g. abuse can be healed and overcome.  The pain of such abuse no matter how all -encompassing can be transformed and used for good and that is what I have tried to do with my experiences of pain.

JR: You are a counselor. How has your work as a counselor related to your personal experiences?

I was studying to be a counselor before the abuse occurred.  It occurred while I was in graduate school.  I found my study then, as well as ongoing study, in psychology to be helpful in my own healing journey.  My own study has given me insight into myself and into what may be healing for others.

JR: We’ve talked about the need for survivors to really engage in therapy or whatever helps them to process and/ or let go of their toxic feelings or ideas related to their abuse, as a way for survivors to reconnect with their spirits or spirituality.  What has helped you to do this inner work?

I initially went to therapy after the abuse occurred and while I have found certain types of therapy helpful, for the abuse itself, and for the re-victimization which happened because of the actions of some church officials, I did not find therapy helpful.  I attended twelve step groups and found that environment to be a non-threatening safe place for me in which to work through serious emotional issues.  I feel that God, once again, sent the right people at the right time into my life to help me and I strongly believe that the healing I have received has come through the grace of God.  I personally do not believe that therapy alone can affect such deep and profound thorough healing and I experienced healing and release from painful recurring memories at a deep level through my relationship with God and through contemplative prayer.

As a Carmelite, I feel called to engage in deep communion with God, and in my experience, the healing that has taken place in my soul at a very deep level has been a gift from God as I opened myself to God in silence, in transparency and in prayer, setting before God all the misery of my heart and asking for help.  Healing also occurred for me as I was able to tell my stories over and over to a very select couple of persons who I believe were sent to me by God.  Because these persons were gentle, nurturing and nonjudgmental, affirming, compassionate and very, very tenderly discrete in their responses to my pain, I was able to regain integration of myself body, soul and spirit. I, too, believe this was a gift from God.

At that time, I had a very special friendship with a caring person whom God put into my life, and we spent a lot of time in nature, hiking and be out of doors in very quiet peaceful places, near running water, out in the spring time sun, listening to the birds etc.  I believe strongly that healing happened in me by being in God’s creation and that nature has the power to restore.

JR: What has helped you in your spiritual journey?

As a Carmelite, certain autobiographies of people who have discovered the true meaning of life have given me purpose and fulfillment.  As a very young child, I realized, perhaps because of my total lack of sight, or because God gave me  special blessings, that life was very short and that nothing was lasting except love and how one loved others.  Nothing for me was lasting except God.  I knew this from an early age, so when I read of other people who had also suffered in very deep and profoundly painful ways, and when I read about how they made sense of their suffering, by realizing that this life is not really what we are truly living for, I was able to find great joy and new meaning.  Such persons as Theresa of Lisieux, and reading her autobiography Story of a Soul helped me unspeakably and immeasurably.

JR: What would you hope for survivors or others with respect to healing?

I think church officials need to be held accountable for the negligence in the ways they have not handled enumerable cases of abuse.  I feel that this also is a deep spiritual problem.  No amount of money paid out in law suits can truly heal survivors and their families in my opinion, because unless the church and its leaders (and those responsible) change from the inside and truly show that they are completely regretful and changing in the ways they have neglected poor helpless shattered victims, nothing will help survivors.

What do you hope for survivors and their spiritual development?

I would like to offer days of retreat, individual spiritual/companioning or guidance to survivors and their families who are ready to grow in that facet of their lives.  I do believe that without the spiritual component of one’s life being addressed nourished and healed, true integration and a complete possibility for an abundant life is not possible.

JR: You’re beginning to work with survivors and supporters to offer spiritual development support to survivors and supporters.  How is that going?

For a long time, I felt like I encountered inconsistency etc, but I have great respect for people’s limitations, and trust that when and if something is to materialize it will. I have a heart and gifts for it, but I didn’t have any real connections with groups of “survivors”. I do not want to agonize or force anything to happen even though it is in my heart and mind, because I want it to be done in peace and to be what God desires.

I still want to help people who have been hurt along these lines, but the timing has to be right. Recently, I got one call from someone who said she needed help. It is good to know that some people are indeed ready for inner and spiritual work!

JR: What inspires you?  Who are some of your heroes?

Saint Therese of Lisieux would be one of them, because she was able to transform her deep sufferings into something which was beneficial for her development as a person and into something that benefited others.  There are lots of other reasons why she would be an example I would like to follow, but those reasons are too hard to explain in this post.

JR: Thanks so much.

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Virginia Jones co-founded a group, Compassionate Gathering (www.compassionategathering.com) with clergy abuse survivor, Elizabeth Goeke, to bring survivors together with other Catholics for mutual healing and understanding.  Other survivors and supporters came to the group for healing.  One supporter decided to walk across Oregon in 2008 to stop child sex abuse. She asked Virginia for her help with the media.  Virginia saw the potential for healing and outreach as well as consciousness raising and walked across Oregon again in 2009.  She plans to keep walking across Oregon every summer to end child abuse.

JR: How did you get involved with the work to promote healing from clergy abuse?

VJ: I think this work found me rather me finding it.  I was baptized Catholic in June 2001.  Eleven months later the dynamic Franciscan priest who baptized me was removed because he abused boys.  My first response was to believe everything the Catholic Church said, but from the very beginning something bothered me.  Church leadership seemed insensitive to the needs of ordinary parishioners for healing.  Our church had a wonderful Parochial Vicar, Fr. Chuck Talley.  Fr. Church presided over several forums in the weeks that followed the removal of the abusive priest.  People were very angry, very hurt, and very divided.  Fr. Chuck managed to reach out to everyone on all sides and make them feel cared about and welcomed.  But instead of making Fr. Chuck pastor, the Franciscans brought in a priest who I would describe as emotionally clunky.

The result was parishioners began to drift away from the parish.  I began my own slow, anguished search for the questions the Franciscans left unanswered.  In the process I discovered that the abusive priest’s proclivities had been know for more than twenty years and that the survivor who had come forward more than twenty years before, had never been properly cared for.  I shared my newfound knowledge with other parishioners and got myself kicked out of my parish.  Several months later, a new Franciscan pastor of the parish, Fr. Armando Lopez, apologized to me for how I was treated by previous church leadership and eventually supported forums being held in the parish on the issue of clergy abuse.

JR: What has been difficult in these efforts?

VJ: Remaining in the Catholic Church after being thrown out of a parish was incredibly difficult.  The disbelief and lack of support from other parishioners has been incredibly difficult and disheartening to cope with.  This work has also taken an enormous toll on my private life.

JR: What has been surprising or positive?

When we listen compassionately to someone who is deeply wounded, we become a part of his or her healing process.  Helping someone heal is incredibly uplifting.  The Compassionate Listening also helps survivors of clergy abuse forgive and reconcile.  Reconciliation feels wonderful for everyone in the room not just the people reconciling.  I think if more survivors and other Catholics understood how healing and uplifting the reconciliation produced by Compassionate Listening is, they would be rushing to participate.

JR: When I heard about your walk across Oregon, I was reminded of Peace Pilgrim, a woman who walked across the U.S. several times in the 70s/80s for peace.  How did you come up with the idea of Walk for Oregon??

In September 2007, a woman whose children had been abused by a family member heard about us on local NPR affiliate in Oregon.  Not only were her children not abused by a Catholic priest, but her family wasn’t Catholic.  This mother wanted justice for her children but found many closed doors.  She wanted to connect with people working on sex abuse.  She kept to our Compassionate Gatherings for emotional support.

The first Walk Across Oregon was her idea.  She saw a documentary about Granny D running for senate in New Hampshire and walking around New Hampshire to publicize her ideas and decided to Walk Across Oregon to rally people to put an end to the statue of limitations on the criminal prosecution of abuse.  However, her children were so afraid of the man who abused them; they forbad their mother from revealing her name in public.  The mother asked for my help with both walking and speaking to the media.  I also helped with writing an itinerary, press releases and contacting the media.  Although I agree with ending the statue of limitations on abuse cases because the lack of access to justice is really wounding to many survivors, outreach and support for healing were always my focus.  The law the Mother wanted passed the Oregon legislature in the first half of 2009, so she went her way, but I decided to keep walking Across Oregon because the opportunities for outreach and healing were so enormous.

Because my children are still relatively young I adapted the Walk to their need to have fun.  It turns out that we make more contacts with other people when we have fun.  Fun, particularly fun in nature, is also healing.  A domestic violence survivor and a child abuse survivor accompanied us on the 2009 Walk along waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.  Both found walking by waterfalls very uplifting and healing.  We plan more time spent both walking through towns and relaxing in nature on the 2010 Walk Across Oregon.

JR: You also host Compassionate Listening sessions.  How did these begin?  How are those going?

VJ: Our Compassionate Gatherings during which we listen to people wounded by abuse on all sides of the issue grew out of forums on clergy abuse I helped to inspire in my parish.  Unfortunately these forums were run by lay people employed or under contract with the Catholic Church.  When one couple talked for fifteen minutes about their pain over finding out that an abusive priest served in our parish, she allowed them to speak uninterrupted, but when I brought up the painful truth about leadership knowing about the abusive priests’ abuse, failure to care for the survivor, failure to remove the priest from ministry, and failure to tell parishioners about it, she attempted to stop me from speaking and allowed other parishioners to interrupt me, criticize me and put me down.  I found the forum incredibly painful. The lesson I learned is that not many Catholics, either leadership or parishioners, are able to embrace compassionately the stories clergy abuse survivors tell.  Following one forum, while doing research on the Internet, I found a reference to The Compassionate Listening Project.  I knew instinctively that Compassionate Listening was what is needed to bring all sides together.  I started studying Compassionate Listening with The Compassionate Listening Project

We humans think we are compassionate.  The problem is we are often triggered to anger or pain by words that challenge our beliefs.  Catholics want to believe in the goodness of their Church.  The stories survivors tell are painful for them hear.  It is not that the people of the Catholic Church are evil or uncaring, they are just wounded and scared themselves, and they don’t know what to do.  They are wounded that so much abuse happened in their church.  They are wounded by scandalous media stories and expensive lawsuits.  They want to believe that everything has been taken care of.  Finding out that there are still many wounded people who don’t feel cared for and supported and that abuse still takes places, is incredibly painful.  Healing the wounds of clergy abuse is a spiritual journey for survivors.  It is also a spiritual journey for the people of the Church.  Just as we can’t expect survivors to forgive and forget and move on quickly, we can’t expect the ordinary Catholic to “get it” and heal their own wounds and do the right thing by clergy abuse survivors quickly.  Many Catholics don’t have the emotional tools to listen, process and respond compassionately to the stories clergy abuse survivors tell.  But these skills can be taught and that is what Compassionate Gathering does.  We train our members to listen compassionately.

We haven’t helped large numbers of people.  This is a step-by-step process of helping one person, one family at a time.  We have also listened to parishioners.  From the very beginning, people other than clergy abuse survivors have been attracted to our Gatherings.  We ended up listening to anyone who came to us.  At the same time, this practice of compassion for the whole community increases our legitimacy within the Catholic Church.  We aren’t simply going after the Catholic Church; we provide a service for the whole community.  Moreover we have been enriched by people who have nothing to do with the Catholic clergy abuse issue, for example the mother who inspired the Walk Across Oregon.

JR: You strike me as a tenacious person.  What gives you strength?

VJ: Truthfully, my faith in God gives me the strength to go forward.  I feel insecure about our group being so small and then I read descriptions of Jesus that describe him as leading just a small group of followers.  Two thousand years later Christianity is a religion with hundreds of millions of followers.  I read Jesus’ words about following the narrow rocky path, and I understand that doing the right thing isn’t about doing what is easy but about overcoming great challenges.  I am also inspired by many saints and by Christian and non-Christian mystics, such as Gandhi, who persevered through incredible odds to achieve their goals.  I am also inspired by the Dalai Lama, who has yet to achieve his goal of returning to Tibet, but his loving and nonviolent resistance of the Chinese communist government has turned Tibetan Buddhism into a world religion.  No I haven’t managed to change the minds of many Catholics about the Church’s approach to the clergy abuse issue, but sometimes the journey is more important than the destination.

JR: How has your understanding of God and church changed over the years, as a result of your work to raise awareness and promote healing from Clergy Sexual abuse?

VJ: The honest truth is that as a convert, I have always struggled with concepts such as papal infallibility and obedience.   I did not become a Catholic because I was inspired by Pope John Paul II or the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of Portland, the Honorable John Vlazny, because I was not inspired by them.  I was inspired by Catholic saints and mystics including St. Francis of Assisi, Theresa of Avila, John of the Cross, Catherine of Sienna, Elizabeth of Hungary, Anthony of Padua and Joan of Arc.  I was impressed by how the Catholic Church inspired these saints and then sometimes oppressed them, but ultimately recognized them and supported them at least did so after they died.  I wanted to be a part of a force for good in the world.  At first I tried to follow Church leadership.  I put priests on pedestals as holy men.

The clergy abuse scandal challenged everything I believed.  In my pain I clung to the church at first.  I felt media hungry people and greedy lawyers were persecuting the Church I loved.  Finding the truth was a slow, step-by-step process.  Everyone in the Catholic Church I put on a pedestal, fell off his pedestal.  At the same time every single Catholic I work with is very devout and is deeply involved in their parishes.  The challenge to faith is not to believe in infallibility of Church leadership but to believe in the Catholic Church knowing all of its flaws.  For all of its flaws, the Catholic Church has inspired thousands, if not millions of people, to do good in this world, over the last two millennia.

JR: What is giving you encouragement in your work as an advocate to end child abuse?

VJ: The work we do is incredibly uplifting.  First I get thanks from people for helping them.  Thanks feels really good.  I feel great when I help people achieve their dreams such as the mother who inspired the Walk Across Oregon achieve her dreams, but the greatest uplift I feel is when there is obvious healing such as when there is a reconciliation.  During one of our most moving Gatherings we brought a survivor who had been abused by a Santa Barbara Franciscan priest together with Fr. Armando, who is also a Santa Barbara Franciscan priest.  The survivor told his story and then Fr. Armando apologized to the survivor as a Franciscan priest in a way that the survivor felt was genuine.  The two men hugged.  My partner in this work, clergy abuse survivor Elizabeth Goeke, had tears in her eyes.

“I am so honored to be a part of this; we are on holy ground here,” she said.

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