WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

A response to article on clerical abuse

WelCom May 2019:

In the April 2019 edition of WelCom, Dr Christopher Longhurst wrote an article entitled ‘Theologies of Lament, Listening and Healing – Responses to Institutional Crisis of Clerical Child Sexual Abuse’. The following response is by a WelCom reader.

Firstly, I would like to thank Dr Longhurst for his engaging discussion on how we, as the people of God, can take steps towards healing from the abuse crisis that has left few members of the Church untouched. Participating in his process of lamentation, listening and healing through justice, may be helpful to those who have suffered abuse and those who have had their faith in Church leadership shattered. Much needs to be done before we can move on from this crisis.

Nevertheless, I do not think Dr Longhurst solution is applicable to all. When abuse occurs, the victim is powerless. However, they do have power over their story. Dr Longhurst said, ‘Theological lament encourages victims to cry out loudly and in public.’ If someone wishes to do this and finds it valuable, that is wonderful. However, he later states, ‘Theological listening also counters the evil of silence because it requires victims to speak out.’ I would disagree. To require victims to speak out is usurping their power, just as the abuser did. A person who has suffered abuse, is not required to do anything. Some people find speaking in the public arena a road toward healing; many do not. What happened to someone belongs to the person and they are free to share, or not share their story.

One person close to me who was abused deals with it by self-medicating with alcohol. While this is not beneficial, he would rather die than speak in public about what happened. Another person that I know shows little empathy for others and is self-absorbed; abuse leaves deep wounds.

For me, it would not be healing to speak in public. I know that the person who was abusive, did so because they believed I had no value. My way of dealing with this has been to believe that I am of value, to believe in God’s justice and to work toward forgiveness. By forgiveness, I do not mean saying it was nothing; what I mean is letting go of the situation, not allowing someone for whom I have little respect remain in my thoughts; and working to trust people when my first reaction is not to do so. Suffering is part of the human condition and, although each person’s suffering is their own, our suffering can bring us closer to others. People have different ways of working through trauma and I would not suggest that my way is the right one.

Writer’s name withheld on request.