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2007 STORY #5 – Forgiving the Cardinal

My name is Matt Stevens. I am 54 years old.  I was abused by a priest in my adolescent years in Orange County, CA.  Orange was under the umbrella of the Los Angeles archdiocese back then.  It is its own diocese today.

 I was abused from age 14-17.  I continued to experience intimate relations with that priest until I was 23 years old.
 My case was recently settled.  I am peaceably "OK" with that, though my perp was never brought to justice and still has managed kept his priestly title.  I went through much deep and heavy counseling over the last 5 years of my case litigation.  I worked through a lot.  I began to see that I did nothing 'wrong' in the abuse scenario.  That I was an innocent victim.  I decided to relinquish the title of 'victim' and become a healed soul.  Being a victim refers to my past, not my present, nor my future.

 On the Sunday before my final meeting in with the arbitration/settlement judge in Irvine (9/24/07), I went to Catholic Mass with 2 dear high school friends. We were in Los Angeles, so went to the cathedral where this Cardinal presides and holds court.  He just happened to be officiating at the mass that we attended that day!

The Cardinal gave a sermon about 'forgiveness'.  He said that he himself had a very hard time finding it in his heart to forgive those people who bombard him with hate mail.  He said that they don't even have the courage to sign their names to the jousts, so how can he forgive them!  About 50 people got up and walked out at that point in the sermon.  The Cardinal spouted, "See what I mean?"

I decided, even though I left the Catholic Faith at 17, that I would go to Communion with my 2 friends.  I shuttled sideways over to The Cardinal’s line up, and he kept eyeing me as I towered over all the small Hispanic and Filipino women in front of me....As I approached him, he said, "Hello, Matthew!"  Quite calmly and with apprehension.  The Cardinal knew me socially, shall we say, back in the late 80's.

I looked at The Cardinal, took the Communion host and ate it, and then grabbed his arm and said, "As one of the hundreds of abuse victims of this archdiocese, I, Matt Stevens, do forgive YOU, my perpetrator, and the entire Catholic Church for what was done and what was NOT done, and for all the cover ups.  Accept my forgiveness!"  He began trembling as if hit by an 8.9 quake, and with wide open eyes -- think deer in the headlights here! -- said, "Thank you.  Thank you very much."  I handed him a paper as he backed away, and told him that it was NOT a deposition, but the exact same words which I had written down for him to read later on to reflect on and to know that this was real.
 When I returned to my pew, I broke down and cried with my friends holding me.  IT WAS SUCH A GREAT AND POWERFUL RELEASE!!!!  I totally freed myself from any bonds with the institution and people that harmed me.  I want no more pain related to holding on to reliving that horrible past.  I am freed.

It surprised my lawyers and the judge the next day when I relayed my story.  It pleased them as well.  The judge said he'd never heard of any such forgiveness to the Cardinal in all the cases that settled.

I ask all of you to work towards that day when you too can forgive, not forget.  The forgiveness reaps benefits mostly for YOU, the prior victims.  If by chance, the 'forgiven' are healed in some way too...that is just a perk, but not our concern.  FORGIVENESS can duly work its wonders in YOUR life and heart.  It has in mine.

Note: this story is from 2007. View other 2007 stories and 2007 voting results. View current stories.