following reflection for Child Abuse Prevention Month is from the victim assistance coordinator for the Diocese of Jefferson City:
“There is a garden in every childhood, an enchanted place where colors are brighter, the air softer, and the morning more fragrant than ever again.” — Elizabeth Lawrence
All children deserve an enchanted garden, but sadly, that is not the reality for so many.
April is Child Abuse Prevention Month; isn’t it perfect it falls during the month of Easter?
Talking about child abuse has prevented many children from being harmed.
In the past, the widely held belief was if someone was sexually abused, it shouldn’t be discussed because talking about it caused too much pain.
Family secrets were kept secret because the topic was taboo. We now know, from solid research, talking about the abuse is key to healing and moving forward.
A victim of abuse needs to feel safe to share his or her story. And victims need to know they will be believed. The National Sexual Violence Resource Center puts the false report rate at between 2 and 10 percent. Only 23 percent of sexual assaults are reported to police.
The Catholic Church has experienced its own #MeToo movement, beginning last summer when the McCarrick scandal sent shockwaves around the world. Soon after, the Pennsylvania grand jury report hit the news and our own Bishop W. Shawn McKnight, brand new to our diocese with a commitment to transparency, released the names of credibly accused priests in our diocese.
It was extremely painful for many to read the list. Our first reaction to the reality of abuse is often denial. Our brains don’t want to believe a person in a trusted position could hurt a child.
For the victims of abuse by those priests, however, seeing the name of their perpetrator in print caused unbelievable pain.
For so many victims, their childhood garden was destroyed in the most wicked way by the priest who abused them.
I have been praying for the magic formula, the perfect words for victims of priest abuse to read, so they feel safe to call me.
Since the list was released last November as part of our efforts to create a safe environment in our diocese, 19 survivors of priest abuse have felt safe to come forward.
A few days ago, I visited with one of those survivors who has become my friend. We realized as we sat and talked it had been six months since his first call to me, prompted by an article in The Catholic Missourian.
He finally felt safe to share the story of his abuse after decades of attempting to will it away.
When I first listened to him six months ago as he shared with me details of his abuse, I looked into his eyes and didn’t see a 65-year-old man. I saw the 14-year-old boy who is still suffering, whose childhood came to a screeching halt the day he was harmed.
I grieve for that little boy. I also know that releasing that pain is the beginning of his journey of healing. I was the first person he had ever told; he kept that secret for five decades.
I promised him that day he would get better if he kept going. He said to me, “I just want peace. I’ve never had peace.”
You wouldn’t know it by looking at him walking down the street. He retired from a very successful career, he loves to attend his grandchildren’s school and sporting events and have coffee with friends.
He is your neighbor, your coworker, the guy sitting behind you at church. He is smart, funny and very compassionate. He is a survivor. Accompanying him on his journey of healing brings me a joy words cannot describe.
I have borrowed a daily prayer from Bishop McKnight: “May victims come forward to become survivors and then healers.”
Perhaps your childhood garden cannot be restored, but you can find a new garden of peace.
If you are a survivor and have tried to convince yourself you don’t need to share to heal, please reconsider. Please call me.
If you don’t call me, find a therapist or call the National Assault Survivor Hotline — 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).
Nancy Hoey is the Victim Assistance Coordinator for the Diocese of Jefferson City. She may be reached at (573) 694-3199 or firstname.lastname@example.org.