Do you ever start noticing words or phrases or quotes keep popping up in your live so often that you begin to think of them as a message? A message that arrives to relate to your life and then moves you to send your own message out? This has been happening quite a lot to me lately. The two quotations that finally got me thinking were:
I thirst a thirst only God can satisfy.
I stand at the door of Your Heart and knock.
Open to me; for I thirst for You.
St. Mother Teresa of Calcutta
When I chose to disclose my having been abused as a child by church authority to the Church officials nearly three years ago, I discovered in myself a thirst that had yet not been defined for me during all these years of silence, shame, and resentment.
What was my thirst?
I thirst for a relationship with God that is based on complete trust. Much like the trust I felt as I received my First Communion; a pivotal day in my life. Pure trust. But that trust is so difficult considering God’s association with my abusers.
I thirst for peace and belief that it was not my fault. Because no matter what has been said to me by good people since disclosing, I also have inside myself the voice of a priest in confession telling me to pray harder so that the molestation will stop, giving me penance due a sinner. I thirst to here and truly believe, “You know it was not your fault. You had nothing to do with causing the act that was done to you.”
I thirst for a true sense of belonging. To belong without feelings of guilt rife in my birth family, to belong in a family of my own, to belong to a faith community that acknowledges my pain and my losses.
I thirst for accountability where guilt belongs. Perhaps it would help place the guilt outside myself. And, I feel no hate, and I wish no punishment toward my abusers. But I do want accountability. I want to hear from my perpetrator a confession of wrongdoing and some explanation why.
I thirst to know that anyone else whom these perpetrators within the Church have wounded can be provided help and support and all the things for which I thirst, too.
I thirst for the indignation on the part of all clergy, nuns, members of the faith community not simply to console me but also for the damage it does to their walk in the world as religious and as Catholics.
I thirst for recognition more broadly of the strength and resilience we survivors have as we live with the impact of abuse by church authority every day; and still work, raise families, serve our God, and hide the pain because we do not want to impose a similar grief or burden on family and friends.
And, I, like some survivors like me, thirst for the husband, children, and picket-fence life that I was afraid to have because I was hobbled by guilt and grief, certain I was undeserving because I was not a good person in the eyes of God.
The abuse of a child—whether by relative, teacher, or clergy—results in the death of a part of the soul. To be healed in some degree, that tiny part of the soul has to be aggressively, consistently, and with profound sincerity pursued. Nevertheless, for me, that tiny part of the soul is never without a fear that God does not feel the same for a survivor as for a child who remained unharmed, or that God will never forgive the guilt in a survivor of child abuse no matter how hard the child, or the adult grown from the child, may pray. That tiny part of the soul has to be nurtured, watered, warmed, and given the patience it needs to grow and regenerate. I thirst for that spiritual garden space.
Pope Francis, on his visit to the United States, was quoted as saying that when children are abused, “God Weeps”. Only the faith community (all the faith community, not just clergy) can provide that special care to address our Weeping God.
Often the faith community of Catholics ascribes the amends to be made to bishops or priests, but, no, I thirst for understanding among all my fellow Catholics that, while you may not have been a part of any of the terrible wounds inflicted, these wounds were inflicted in a setting that involved belief in God and these wounds affect and reflect on your faith lives. Only together, as a full and knowledgeable community, can we let those wounded know that God loves them, their Pastor loves them, and the whole faith community loves them. Try to look through any preconceived notions about us, and remember we are soldiers who are fighting a battle, thirsty and seeking respite. Welcome us home.
Kathleen Wilson, MS, has specialized in disability and mental-health rights for over 30 years. She has served as a Mental Health Advocate and Disability Rights Advocate in a variety of settings, including as the Director of Advocacy Services at the Disability Rights Center (KAPS) and as Program Director for a Kansas community residential program for persons with developmental disabilities. In addition, Kathleen as taught workshops and published widely in her area of specialty, including as a trainer for Matrix Research Institute (a National Rehabilitation Research and Training Center). With a Master’s in Special Education from the University of Kansas, Kathleen began her career teaching Special Education classes in Kansas elementary schools for over a decade and as a Supervisor of Special Education for the Allentown PA School District. She has also served as a volunteer rape counselor. Kathleen is a member of the Sacred Heart/St. Joseph parish in Topeka, KS. She is also the survivor of child sexual and emotional abuse in the Catholic Church.
This article appeared in the May 2017 issue of The Healing Voices Magazine.