The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

Survivors' Wisdom
Compiled by: Barbara A. Blaine
Founder of SNAP

1. Acknowledge your courage. It takes courage to acknowledge that we’ve been abused and it is not easy to even admit it to ourselves. Just looking at this web site is a big step.

2. 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.

While 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 isn’t 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 we’ll 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.

3. Don’t 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 didn’t 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:

3A. Sometimes they acted kind and then ignored the promises they made to “investigate” our allegations.

3B. 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 weren’t the first to come forward and that church leaders had known about our perpetrators for years.

3C. 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 Father’s affection.

3D. 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.

3E. More recently the Church leaders offer to pay for counseling for us.
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.

3F. Sometimes survivors have learned later that their first encounter with a church leader was recorded without their knowledge or permission.

3G. 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.

3H. Here are some reasons why you could be hurt by going to church leaders:

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 we’ve 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 didn’t 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. We’d like some apology for what we’ve endured. Sometimes we want an apology or acknowledgment given to our parents.

Sometimes 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. I’d 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.

I 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, DRE’s, parish workers, campus ministers, youth minister’s, 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.

4. Don’t go alone! If you still decide to go to church leaders, don’t 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. Don’t 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 won’t 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 should too.

5. 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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Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests