SUNDAYS AFTER: For priest’s victim, home is a sanctuary

WOODLAWN, Calif. (AP) — Angels stand watch from Dorothy Small’s doorway.

Her house is full of them: gold-gilded angels tacked on the wall of her prayer room, painted ones in a semicircle on the coffee table, pale porcelain ones perched on the kitchen counter.

In the morning she sits with the angels, threads a rosary through her fingers and reads from her leather-bound Bible. In the evening, she slips into the hot tub in her backyard, closes her eyes and listens to prayers in French on her headphones. It’s a baptism of sorts, a private ritual that has helped her navigate her shifting faith and emerge, clear-eyed, from one of the darkest and most challenging periods of her life: the aftermath of a sexual assault she endured at 60, at the hands of a priest.

Small, now 65, survived it all because she had to, she said. But to her own surprise, she’s found strength in the solitude.

Her home is her sanctuary. It used to be the church.

For years, the parishioners of her Woodland, California, congregation were family, and she relied on the collective energy of the flock for spiritual fulfillment. But Small said after she reported her relationship with the priest and he was removed from his post, she was ostracized and stripped of her position as soloist in the choir. Her world collapsed.

“I felt awful because I got Father in trouble,” she said. “I thought it was all my fault.”

Isolated and distraught, Small clung to the hope she’d be welcomed back someday. Then a conversation with a priest from a different church changed her thinking.

“He said, ‘You were assaulted, you were raped,’” Small said. “It was the fir...

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