The Heavy Toll of Priest Sex Abuse

Readers share their stories of growing up in the Catholic church and of the culture that allowed the abuse to happen.

To the Editor:

“‘Pray for Your Poor Uncle,’” by Elizabeth Bruenig (Sunday Review, July 19), about the child abuse victims of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, features a conclusion both startling and important.

Ms. Bruenig writes that the main survivor profiled, Francis M., reflects that “he thinks it’s possible to distinguish the church from the people who have for decades debased it.” She adds, “How dearly I wanted to hear that; how crucial it was for me to believe it.” These are sentiments I appreciate as a member of the deeply wounded Catholic Church.

Many people, if not most, may have written it off, but Francis notes that “all throughout the church, and the church’s history, you can see times where there were people who were really living testaments to their faith” at the same time that some church leaders took advantage of the power that they had.

Indeed, a leading example of this faithful witness was also named Francis: the poor friar of Assisi, admired worldwide for his radical love of God and neighbor. And as Dorothy Day, herself under official consideration for sainthood, put it to a fellow Catholic peace activist: “I never expected much of bishops … It is the saints that keep appearing all through history who keep things going.”

Julie Leininger Pycior
Hastings-on-Hudson, N.Y.
The writer, professor emerita of history at Manhattan College, is the author of the forthcoming “Dorothy Day, Thomas Merton and the Greatest Commandment: Radical Love in Times of Crisis.”

To the Editor:

This article shows the insidious way predatory priests weaseled their way into families at a time in history when sexual violation was not on the radar. The psychological abuse is so creepy and deep. The isolation and secrecy are deadly.

I was sexually abused by a charismatic Catholic priest who befriended my dad, drank with him and groomed my family before going on to rape me at 7 and countless other children.

Capturing the raw pain is hard, but the systemic piece is huge: one targeted family, feeling unique yet creeped out, surrounded by Catholics who are wowed by the hierarchy. The family and the victim then have to sort and sift alone. But when support and courage emerge as well as public support and courage, victims speak out.

Multiply this story by thousands, and the truth is revealed once again.

Patricia Gallagher Marchant
Franklin, Wis.

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