Companion Articles about Survivor Ministry
By Mayra Flores and Michael D. Hoffman
I first met Mayra Flores on a very emotionally conflicted day for me. On August 24, 2006, I presented myself to the Archdiocese of Chicago to tell my story of childhood sexual abuse by our Catholic priest at the time.
Mayra opened the door and greeted me, and I stepped into the office. This simple act was the beginning of the Independent Review Board process for me. It was also the start of what has developed into a long-standing, healthy and healing journey.
Twelve years later, I can say Mayra has continued to walk with me as I continue to heal from the wounds of childhood sexual abuse. Mayra and I collaborate on the annual Prayer Service and Pinwheel Planting. She worked with the Healing Garden Planning Committee. She continues her work on the Hope and Healing Committee as well as her role as Safe Environment Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Chicago.
Mayra is modest and shy in her work, yet she gets results. The results are a better and safer Church for our children and youth, and a safe place for victims and survivors of clergy abuse to tell their story and to begin the healing process.
Please read Mayra’s story below. She has made a difference in my life, and I know she has made a difference in our Church through her on-going ministry to safeguard all of God’s children from harm.
Mayra opened the door for me, and that made all the difference. Thank you, Mayra!
My initiation with victims-survivors of clergy sexual abuse happened long before the Boston Globe broke—that is, before the story that spotlighted a crisis in the Catholic Church in 2002.
In 1992, Joseph Cardinal Bernardin saw a need to reach out to victims-survivors not only with a reporting procedure, therapeutic services and a legal process, but also with an emphasis on pastoral outreach. It was not common at the time, and, as we identified how we were going to serve victims-survivors and their families, we were told that our primary mission was to represent the Archbishop’s wish and prayer to bring some healing to each victim-survivor.
How did we do that when there weren’t any manuals or instructions for how to help someone heal from clergy sexual abuse? Looking back, I know we made mistakes for which I am sorry. But we found that when we built relationships with victims-survivors, they allowed us to work with them to identify needs and outreach.
Victims-survivors taught us about a generosity of spirit and about being genuinely open to being simply present in the moment. They showed us how, if one were truly present, one would know there weren’t going to be manuals or instructions that could identify any one way of reaching out to victims-survivors.
There were times when I really felt the Holy Spirit working in me. There was no other explanation for how I was able to work in this ministry. I may not have had the answers, but I was surrounded by good and honest leadership in the Church who worked to support Assistance Ministry’s mission for victims-survivors’ healing.
It was difficult, at times, to walk the narrow path between being present to a victim-survivor in their sorrow, hurt and pain, and working with Church leadership in its commitment to providing opportunities for healing and hope. I witnessed both sides. They weren’t competing interests. Rather, each wanted healing for the other.
There were times I doubted myself. I struggled to reconcile the conflict between my experience with the Church which had helped to form my faith and with the Church that victims-survivors said was responsible for their sexual abuse, their loss of relationships with beloved family members and, for some, their loss of a relationship with God.
But my feelings gave way to determination. I was determined and committed to do what I could for every victim-survivor I met. It was important they knew I was humbled and honor to walk with them in their healing journey.
Then, I was there when the Church leadership responded to the crisis beyond our archdiocese, now nationally. They did not close ministries to children and youth. They did not close their school system. Instead, they made a commitment to change the culture within the Church. Better screening. A Code of Conduct. Training for adults on the methods and means perpetrators use to gain access to children. Children’s training, which is age-appropriate and research-based, to teach children they have a right to be respected and valued, and they can disclose discomfort with an adult to a trusted/safe adult for help.
That was in 2002. These are steps the United States Catholic Bishops took when they adopted the Charter for the Protection of Children & Young People. This Charter and our Archdiocesan Safe Environment policies require compliance for all clergy, employee and volunteers that include:
- Criminal background checks with automatic rechecks every three years on the anniversary of the application,
- An annual check with the Department of Children and Family Services Database for any indicated allegations of abuse and/or neglect,
- A Code of Conduct setting a standard for adult behavior in our parishes, schools and agencies,
- Virtus Protecting God’s Children for Adults Program provided by trained Virtus Facilitators that gives participants 5 concrete steps to create safe environments and prevent abuse, and,
- Mandated Reporter Training (because the Archdiocese of Chicago follows the Abuse and Neglect Child Abuse Reporting Act [ANCRA]), for clergy, school personnel, DREs/CREs, catechists, coaches and youth ministers.
The Archdiocese of Chicago also requires the annual sexual abuse prevention training for children and youth in our schools and religious education programs offered by their teachers, principals, directors and coordinators of religious education, and catechists.
These compliance requirements are verified by an annual audit report that every parish and school in the Archdiocese submits to the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth. Past audits have verified that thousands of adults have been screened and trained, and thousands of children have been trained and helped. This is good news… but we’re not done. We are no longer meeting requirements as a response to a crisis. This is a Church ministry to protect and heal.
The required compliance act as barriers to prevent abuse. No one barrier by itself can prevent any future incidence. Yet, we work hard to reinforce and strengthen those barriers.
Yes, the Church has changed its culture. In addition to Safe Environment, the Archdiocese of Chicago also has an Office for Child Abuse Investigations and Review, and an Assistance Ministry, and the Prayer & Penance Program. These are all housed under the Office for the Protection of Children and Youth.
(I invite you to visit our website at www.archchicago.org for more information regarding OPCY. This Archdiocese continues with its strong and ongoing commitment to healing for victims-survivors and to maintaining vigilant prevention efforts.)
Now, in this diocesan office, I am serving in another capacity… to prevent abuse. I do not take the responsibility to create safe environments lightly. What I do take with me from work in ministry to victims-survivors is every story, every hope, every expectation from every victim-survivor that what happened to them never happens again in the Catholic Church. Their reporting created a new ministry of protecting children and youth in the Church. The culture in the Church has changed to being vigilant about creating safe environments and an ongoing commitment to healing.
I don’t know how many lives I’ve touched. But I do know how many lives have touched mine. So, I thank every victim-survivor and family member who allowed me a place on their journey. I thank Church leadership for having a ministry to victims-survivors and entrusting me to reach out to them on the Church’s behalf. I thank all of these for making me a better Safe Environment Coordinator.
Bio: Mayra E. Flores, who has a B.A. from DePaul University, has worked with the Archdiocese of Chicago in different capacities since 1983. In 1992, while working in the Office of Conciliation that dealt with conflict resolution in a church-setting, she joined Ralph Bonaccorsi to establish the first Office for Victim Assistance Ministry in the United States, as directed by then-Cardinal Joseph Bernardin. The office served victim-survivors of clergy sexual abuse, providing resources such as therapy, spiritual direction and support groups, among other pastoral outreach. She served as Assistant to the Director in Assistance Ministry until being named the Safe Environment Coordinator in 2010, a role she continues to serve. Among her duties, she is responsible for training Virtus facilitators and site administrators. Ms. Flores works with parishes and schools in overseeing compliance requirements of the Archdiocese in its ongoing efforts and commitment to a ministry of protecting children and youth.