by: Barbara A. Blaine
Founder of SNAP
Acknowledge your courage. It takes courage to acknowledge
that weve been abused and it is not easy to even admit it
to ourselves. Just looking at this web site is a big step.
Know that you are not alone.
There are many more survivors of abuse by priests, and other clergy
members, than any of us wants to believe. One study from University
of Chicago estimates that there are probably about 100,000 survivors
of sexual abuse by Catholic priests in the U.S. Most of us believed
that we were the only victim of the priest that abused us. Over
time we have learned that there is rarely, if ever, only one victim.
we were being abused we were isolated and felt extremely alone.
Now it is possible to join with other survivors to find healing.
We do not have to be alone anymore. If you want to attend SNAP meetings
check other places on this web site to learn of meeting dates and
times. If there isnt a SNAP group meeting in your city would
you like to start one? (If yes, call the SNAP office, 312-409-2720,
and leave a call back number and well tell you how to do it.)
If there is no SNAP group in your area consider attending a self-help
group for survivors of sexual abuse. Your local rape crisis center
may offer group therapy sessions that are free-of-charge. You might
also find it helpful to go to counseling. Whatever you decide just
know that others too suffer like you.
Dont go to the Church.
Many survivors have gone to church officials to look for help, guidance
and/or healing. Many of us went to the church leaders, after building
up loads of courage and strength to face them, because we wanted
to make sure that our perpetrators didnt abuse anyone else.
We mistakenly thought that the church leaders would want to ensure
others safety too and that the perpetrators would be removed
from ministry. So many of us did this without ever telling anyone
else. Then we found out we were wrong. The church leaders did not
care about protecting others and they did not care about us. Most
of us found the experience of going to church leaders just awful.
The church leaders were insensitive and acted like they did not
know how to respond to us. We were looking for healing and consolation
but found further victimization. Most of us left feeling devastated
and the entire experience of talking to church leaders left us hurting
more than ever. Here are some of the responses received by church
leaders across the country:
Sometimes they acted kind and then ignored the promises they made
to investigate our allegations.
Usually they said that we were the first person to ever come forward
to allege that Father So-and-so is a sexual molester. Many of
us found out later that we werent the first to come forward
and that church leaders had known about our perpetrators for years.
Others had the Chancellor, Provincial or even Bishop tell us that
they are sure that Father So-and-so would never do such a thing.
We must have misunderstood or misinterpreted Fathers affection.
Sometimes it was suggested by church leaders that we were bad
for even saying such a thing. A few of us were offered the opportunity
to go to confession.
More recently the Church leaders offer to pay for counseling for
But sometimes this comes with strings attached. Some survivors
were told they had to attend counseling at Catholic Charities.
We strongly recommend that you think twice before agreeing to
this arrangement as in at least one case a court of law determined
that the Catholic Charities counselor had to turn over records
about the counseling to the church attorneys. There was no confidentiality.
Sometimes survivors have learned later that their first encounter
with a church leader was recorded without their knowledge or permission.
Frequently, church leaders wanted us to tell all the details
and in some cases became angry at us for telling those details.
The experience left survivors feeling both invaded and blamed
for the abuse while they were only telling what happened and what
they had been asked to tell. Insult was added to the injury.
Here are some reasons why you could be hurt by going to church
i. When first beginning to deal with the abuse we might
not have all the facts straight regarding places, dates, times,
etc. Frequently our memories become refreshed with lots of details
only as we engage in the healing process, taking days, months,
even years to uncover fully. If weve disclosed some details
one day and recall more later we will be discredited for being
inconsistent about the details.
ii. Growing up Catholic has taught us to trust our priests
and bishops implicitly. So we approach the church leaders with
full trust and disclosure. We look up to them and they are in
positions of authority and power over us. They on the other hand,
do not trust survivors. They may even view you as the enemy.
While we think they are trying to help us they are in fact building
a case against us without our knowledge. Things said during initial
meetings with church leaders can easily be twisted to be used
against you and has been used this way against lots of survivors.
iii. Other survivors have gone to the Church leaders and
have been hurt by doing so. Some of us were strung along for months
while the church leaders waited for our statute of limitations
to run on any legal action we had while we didnt even know
we had a right to any legal claim.
iv. Most survivors do not want to receive money from the
church as compensation for what was done to us. Most of us merely
want to ensure that our perpetrators are removed from being able
to abuse others in their position as trusted priests. Wed
like some apology for what weve endured. Sometimes we want
an apology or acknowledgment given to our parents.
we want the church to pay for our counseling or other expenses
we may have. None of us wants to sue the church for millions of
dollars. But one thing we have learned over the years is that
when we do file law suits the church becomes accountable. Unfortunately,
without any legal obligation to promises made by the church to
you, there is little chance that you will actually get what you
bargain for. The church is not bound to do anything for you unless
there is a legal contract or court order mandating that it happen.
Id like to tell you that you can trust what the church leaders
tell you but so many survivors have received nothing but empty
promises after being assured that certain things would occur (or
not occur). So I feel obligated to warn you that it is probably
best not to trust any one in a church position.
must go further to say that this remains true, even when you personally
know the church leader. Many survivors have found themselves being
employed by the church as Catholic school employees, DREs,
parish workers, campus ministers, youth ministers, etc.
These church employees have not been treated any better than everyone
else. In fact, the mistreatment by the church leaders has hurt
some of these folks even more because they were friends of the
church leaders. The betrayal is extremely painful. For many survivors
this is much worse than the pain from our actual abuse. We can
understand that there is a bad apple in the bunch
of priests of each Diocese but what we fail to understand is why
the Church leaders leave these guys in ministry when they know
they have abused other kids. We also fail to understand why the
church leaders have to be so inconsiderate to survivors.
Dont go alone!
If you still decide to go to church leaders, dont go alone.
Taking someone with you provides a witness to the event and gives
you someone to debrief with when its over. Write down
what is said. Dont believe what you hear just because they
said it. Check it out with other sources before relying on what
they tell you. Have a prepared time limit on how long you will meet
with them and stick to it. Prepare ahead of time what you will and
wont tell and stick to your prepared plan. Protect yourself.
Take time after any meeting with church leaders to debrief
and go over what occurred . Keep track of all info you give them
and exact details of what you tell. They are keeping track so you
Seek alternative Help!
As an alternative to going to church leaders we recommend that you
go to a trusted family member or friend, or seek professional help
from a counselor. Many others have gone through a process of healing
from sexual abuse. We do not have to invent the wheel.
We may as well learn from others and for many SNAP members a professional
counselor is very helpful.
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