Editor’s note: This article was published in the February 2023 issue of the North Star Catholic.
As Catholic Christians, we are a people of hope. We put our trust in the mercy, love, and healing power of God. With this new year, may we renew this sense of Hope that is given to us all, through Christ Jesus, the Son of God. In a 2016 article in America Magazine, Paul J. Wadell, a professor of theology and religious studies at St. Norbert College in De Pere, Wisconsin, explains:
“Hope empowers us to live differently because a Christian understanding of hope is rooted in the unshakable conviction that God loves us and wants our good, a fact memorably exclaimed by Paul’s declaration in Romans: “If God is for us, who can be against us?” (8:31). To live with hope is to take those words to heart and to allow that knowledge to change our lives in creative and surprising ways.”
But how does one find that hope when trust is violated by a member of the clergy or others, representing the Catholic Church, due to abuse of their power?
It is vital that we, as a church, understand that the abuse that happens from someone representing the church is a violation of sacred trust as we support efforts toward healing, and express our care and concern for those who are suffering. This includes victims/survivors, their families and friends, and all members of the church. The significant impact of this type of violation often creates doubt in one’s dignity and erodes trust and reliance on the church and its representatives.
We, as a church, can model this hope by showing our belief in the dignity of each person because of God’s love for everyone. We communicate our hope for healing through how we treat and support others, especially those who are vulnerable, struggling, or suffering.
Hope opens new horizons, making us capable of dreaming what is not even imaginable.
Many victims/survivors receive help through counseling where they find the strength to share their stories and talk through the impact of the abuse. Bringing the matter to light can be a step toward healing.
There are also both dioceses and organizations that establish groups that offer support to victims/survivors, advocates, family, and friends providing support for someone who suffered abuse. These groups are not only for victims/survivors who were abused by someone representing the church but for others as well. They also provide information, education, and specifically, support for victims/survivors from across the United States.
Highlighting this approach is the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, which offers information for support groups for those sponsored by the archdiocese and those not affiliated with a diocese. The title of some groups includes Victim/Survivor Support Groups for “Those Who were Adults When They Were Sexually Harmed by Clergy;” “Support Group for Family, Relatives or Friends of Victims of Clergy Sexual Abuse;” and Victim/Survivor Support Group for Anyone Who has Experienced Sexual Abuse by Clergy or Others in Their Lives.” This information can be found at https://safe-environment.archspm.org/healing/.
One organization is called Spirit Fire, formed by survivors of abuse and through pastoral care within the church. They explain that they provide “fellowship of survivors of abuse within the Church who share, as part of our ongoing recovery, a spiritual practice which permits us to offer our wisdom, experience, and faith to all others who seek healing, growth, and reconciliation in the wake of the abuse of children and vulnerable adults in a faith setting – in particular in the Catholic Church.” They further explain on their website that they “partner with Church leaders to: protect children and all vulnerable persons, and promote integrated and trauma-informed responses to abuse and to its lasting impact on persons, relationships, families, parishes, ordained, religious, lay ministers and professionals, and institutions.” According to Spirit Fire, they are “grounded in the principles of restorative justice.”
More information about Spirit Fire can be found by going to https://spiritfirelive.wordpress.com. Also, local and national resources and support can be found on the Archdiocese of Anchorage-Juneau’s website.
In Pope Francis’ book, “On Hope,” he states: “Life is often a desert, it is difficult to walk, but if we trust in God, it can become beautiful and wide as a highway. Never lose hope; continue to believe, always, despite everything. Hope opens new horizons, making us capable of dreaming what is not even imaginable.”
In this new year, may we all reflect on ways that as individuals, and collectively, as a church, we can promote, through care and accompaniment, the hope that God provides especially to those who are struggling to find hope and healing in their lives.