by Mike Hoffman
April is National Child Abuse Prevention Month
It is Child Sexual Abuse Prevention month and we’d like to introduce you to Michael Hoffman. We know we are in the midst of the pandemic of the Coronavirus but we respectfully need to attend to issues of deep concern. Mike Hoffman is a man who is filled with the Holy Spirit in regard to eliminating child sexual abuse. Mike is a brave and courageous disciple of Christ who knows that fortifying the issue in order to assist children in an untenable situation is what the Holy Spirit wants him to do. He is a survivor himself, I reviewed his book “Acts of Recovery” in Catholic Profiles and I have heard him speak. With all the stereotypes we have in our society, Mike does not fit any. He is gentle, kind, knowledgeable and understands what needs to be done in order to right this situation. He has the undeniable support of his family and his parents. Mike Hoffman is willing to stay the course. He cares for his Church deeply and wants it to be the grace-filled institution that was left to Peter as the Rock of our Church. He has interacted with the important agencies, committees, and people who are in a position to make a difference, however all of us are Disciples of Christ. As Mike states, “We have the power to eliminate child sexual abuse. At Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center (ChicagoCAC),), we work toward this vision by uniting public, private and community partners to ensure the safety, health and well-being of abused children in Chicago. Under. the leadership of Cardinal Cupich is unrelenting in making sure children are protected and cared for in our society. He presents his story and the stories of others for our meditation and action.
No other child should suffer abuse imposed upon me and many other children, no matter who commits the crime. Over the past 5 years, Healing Voices ()has collaborated with clergy abuse survivors, many priests, and other professionals in child abuse prevention and child advocacy. Knowing children are protected when adults speak up and speak out, our goal is to engage in conversation from all different points-of-view and to strengthen adult partnerships wherever children are.
Personally, it has been a joy to participate in this dialogue with you. This 5th-anniversary edition is a moment to express gratitude to all of our contributors and to thank all of you for helping to ensure the dignity, safety, and love that all children deserve as children of God. For reference, please click on the links below to the previous 4 annual Child Abuse Prevention editions.
POWERFUL TOGETHER: A collaborative approach to preventing child sexual abuse
We have the power to eliminate child sexual abuse. At Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center (ChicagoCAC), we work toward this vision by uniting public, private and community partners to ensure the safety, health, and well-being of abused children in Chicago. ChicagoCAC is the city’s only not-for-profit organization that coordinates the efforts of child protection staff, law enforcement professionals, family advocates, medical experts, and mental health clinicians under one roof.
Along with our partners, we are the front-line responders to reports of child sexual abuse and since opening in 2001, we have served more than 36,000 children.
We must work collaboratively to do our best work to prevent and respond to child abuse. As we aim to reduce trauma so that children and families may begin the healing process, we must also reach all levels of society with prevention advocacy so that children and families never have to experience the trauma in the first place. From the individual to organizational to public policy levels, we cannot do this prevention work alone. It is with this core belief that I proudly serve as a co-founder of the Chicago Prevention Alliance, a coalition of organizations in Chicago who conduct sexual harm prevention education involving youth. This alliance combines expertise, resources, energy, and strategies to make the City of Chicago a national leader in the primary prevention of sexual harm involving children and youth. We know that drawing on our individual and organizational strengths and diverse skill sets make this coalition exponentially more powerful. Though newly formed, the alliance is already using its collective voice to amplify our advocacy efforts and creates innovative and effective primary prevention strategies that can be scaled to larger audiences and platforms.
We also know that collaborative work is not easy. Whether coordinating trauma-informed care and practices between law enforcement and mental health professionals or building an alliance of diverse organizations across a large city, collaboration takes real work, dedication, dialogue, and empathy. And yet it is the most powerful, effective, and necessary approach to doing healing and prevention work. I strongly believe that to restore the lives of those who have been harmed and ensure that freedom from abuse is a fundamental human right, we can and we must do this work together.
I challenge you to think about who you could collaborate with to do your work better. Think about the groups in your community or organization. Are there ways you could strengthen your partnerships or initiate or impact change? Our children deserve adults working alongside them who make time to listen to one another, work constructively and creatively to solve problems and come together to focus on important goals.
Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center
Fazenda da Esperança and the shelter for victims of sexual abuse and power
Nelson Giovanelli Rosendo dos Santos
Co-founder of the Fazenda da Esperança
Especially in recent years the Catholic Church has openly and courageously faced the problem of sexual abuse and power within it. Recently, the Fazenda da Esperança has been appointed as an entity that has made an important experience of welcoming young people who have suffered from it. Many of them have come to chemical dependency, by the way, as an escape from a family or ecclesial environment that, instead of protecting them, has connived with these abuses.
This reception is fundamental in the process of recovering the lives of these victims. In this sense, our method on the Fazenda is simple, because it is based on an equally simple understanding and practice of the words of the Gospel. In a word, it corresponds to concrete and disinterested love for the brother who suffers.
This evangelical love creates a favorable environment for young people to open up and share their own experiences of abuse. Admitting the problem and putting it in common is the first step towards healing and freedom from this suffering. For the victim, a natural consequence of this process is the forgiveness of the other aggressor, of all those who ended up colluding with the abuse and of themselves.
In addition, formation is offered for healthy affectivity and sexuality of these young people, who are quite committed to the violence suffered, in general, in childhood. For this, we have sought help from other organizations.
But this experience would be incomplete if we did not also open ourselves to welcoming the abuser who, repentant, wants to change his life and overcome his inclination to abuse. In fact, following the same Gospel, we could not allow ourselves only to condemn those who commit this violence, but to offer them an opportunity to start again.
The fruits of this experience have been disseminated in the many testimonies that we have been able to share through the different channels at our disposal and at the invitation of the Church and other organizations.
One of these experiences is that of César Augusto Coutrim, today responsible for the unity of the Fazenda da Esperança in Marechal Deodoro (State of Alagoas). He tells that he grew up in a family that, from an early age, did not treat him well. He was beaten a lot, practically every day and for any reason, especially from his mother, who counted on his father's conniving silence. He felt as if he was not welcome in that house. Even with his family broken down, his mother took him to Sunday masses. He ended up finding some welcome in the church from the choir coordinator, and he felt happy, especially when he stayed in the backroom, making little plaster angels. "I felt safe, away from hell at home," he says.
He even had a positive impression of the priest, who showed affection for the children. However, one Sunday afternoon, when the priest offered him a ride to his family's place, he sat him on his lap and took advantage of little Caesar. "Don't tell your parents anything," the priest said to the boy on the occasion. In time, these situations of intimacy were repeated and intensified. Why didn't he react? Caesar says he believes he would rather endure that situation than stay at home.
Without knowing when, he tells us that, at a certain point, he rebelled with all that and ended up burning what he had of the church: the crown tunic, books, the children's Bible. The emptiness of meaning was an open road for drug consumption and the relationship with drug dealers with whom he ended up feeling respected. Naturally, from then on, the problems with the family only increased.
At the end of the crisis, Caesar was led to seek the Fazenda da Esperança. He considers that, deep down, his big problem was not drugs, but his family. On the Fazenda, it was as if "God took him by the hand," according to his words. The Gospel life lived on the farm not only helped him to free himself from the use of drugs, to rebuild his life - and, over time, his relationship with his parents - it made him trust again that there is a true Church.
Nelson’s BIO: Start of Fazenda da Esperança
Nelson always looked for opportunities to love concretely. One day, one of the youths from a "Corner" near his home borrowed his bicycle with the intention of selling it to buy drugs. But, this guy also chose to do an act of love: they returned the bicycle clean and repaired!
Through this act of courage, Nelson gradually conquered the guys who frequented Corner. And after several experiences through living in the group, one of them, Antônio Eleutério, asked for help to get off drugs.
On June 29, 1983, Nelson and Frei Hans founded Fazenda da Esperança together with those young people who frequented The Corner and wished to find a new lifestyle.
And after more than 38 years of experience in the recovery of drug addicts, minors at risk, care for people with the HIV, among others, with 146 communities of Fazenda da Esperança spread across 23 countries on four continents, he was nominated by Pope Francis as a member of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.
By Wina Schaufler
When asked to write a heartfelt essay on why children shouldn't endure what we survivors have, the image of the empty tomb popped in my mind.
As an early childhood clerical abuse survivor, and now a beyond middle-aged woman, I was sent back to that moment my life stalled: innocence was lost. When coming upon the tomb confusion is relived, the searching, questioning and untangling of truth begins. What is happening? What is real?
Through faith we know Jesus is gone, Christ is risen and that's a good thing! However, as a child of abuse, emptiness may mean lifelessness, loneliness, isolation, fear, hunger, abandonment, exclusion. As children, we haven't the capacity to experience loss as transitional: we stall. Stalling childhood development can be a death, not a good thing.
Our generational story progresses with the woman disciple waiting, weeping and not recognizing Christ. Our savior calls out "Mary!", perhaps with some annoyance or attitude of "snap out of it!" As a survivor, there is a difference between Jesus calling our name out of love and a world wanting us just to get over it. Recognizing the resurrection means we can share in it, forced to move on leaves us at an empty tomb. We protect children because we want them to live in the fullness of Christ's love and resurrection.
I have the privilege of witnessing a committee of diocesan pastoral care professionals, counselors, academics, restorative justice leaders, religious and priests seeking healing and reconciliation. My family and friends support my involvement because continued awareness is needed. Our history requires us to carry the truth into the next generation with love, patience, kindness, and mercy. Forgiveness and reconciliation with self, others, reality, church, and God takes time; more than some have or are willing to give. The work is priceless in a cost-effective world.
Our church is a gift of the risen Christ from an empty tomb. In these times we may be more concerned about what he wore than where he is now. Do we have the confidence in our faith and actions to declare: Secret's out! Alleluia! Alleluia!
Signature Bank Supports Pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention and Many Other Charities Through Jeans Day Fundraiser
Once a month, Signature Bank selects a charity to support that is near and dear to the hearts of its customers or employees. Each employee who contributes to the selected charity can wear jeans to work that day. Signature Bank also matches their contributions dollar for dollar with 100% of our contributions going directly towards the charity.
Over the past two years, Signature Bank has raised more than $20,000 for nearly thirty charities through the Jeans Day fundraiser. In addition to supporting Pinwheels for Prevention, Signature Bank has also supported Misericordia, the Ronald McDonald House, Special Olympics, ALS Foundation, Folds of Honor, Crohn’s & Colitis Foundation, and many more.
One of the founding principles of Signature Bank is the importance of giving back to our community and for employees and customers to feel a part of that. This year, Signature Bank is proud to support the 30th Anniversary for Pinwheels Child Abuse Prevention coming up in April. The bank will be providing employees with pinwheels to display throughout our office.
Signature is a Chicago based bank and committed to helping local businesses and our community grow and thrive. For more information, visit www.signaturebank.bank.
Healing from Childhood Sexual Abuse: My Journey
My name is Mike Hoffman. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by clergy. I am 55 years old. My wife and I are married for 26 years, and we have 2 beautiful children. I remain an active Catholic, despite the abuse I endured when I was a little boy. My wife Kathy and I are parishioners of St. Mary of the Woods Parish in Chicago. We raise our children Catholic and we send our kids to Catholic schools.
Given the sexual abuse imposed upon me from the ages of 12-16 years old by our Catholic priest at the time, the reader may not understand my decisions. Typically, it is easier for many people to relate when a clergy abuse survivor walks away from the church. My efforts to find healing and hope from underneath devastating pain and sadness involves many people and is intertwined with the same Church who allowed my abuser to remain in ministry at the time.
My abuser told me what he was doing to my body was normal ways in which adults show love and affection for one another. He was the adult and I was the child and that’s not the right relationship. Additionally, not only was he held up in high regard in our community, but he was also a dear friend to my parents, so my parents trusted him. Against that backdrop, I was unable to process the sexual nature of the relationship, my parent’s expectations, many other family and social implications and my own needs. I was 12 years old at the time. My coping mechanism was to keep it all inside.
I kept the secret until 2006. Kathy and I live in the City of Chicago on the Northwest side at St. Mary of the Woods Parish. Many people in the Chicagoland area identify where they live by their Parish. I am one of them. We love our parish. We attend virtually every social or fundraising event there. Our children graduated from elementary school, and all of their sacraments were celebrated there. I am a lector. I was previously involved in the Liturgy Planning Committee. Kathy works at the school. Our social circle mostly consists of fellow parishioners who sent their kids to the school too. The parish represents a significant portion of our married lives. Additionally, I’ve always had a good job. We live in a nice home. Our children are healthy, and our marriage is strong. I felt safe and loved.
My primary act of recovery was telling Kathy my story of childhood sexual abuse. We had been married over 12 years at that time and I never told her or anyone my story. I didn’t want to introduce such sick and depraved story like that into my marriage. Initially, I thought she would think differently of me, as her husband, as a provider, as a father to our children. Exhausted from the inner struggle, I decided to finally tell her. With tears streaming down my face, hands shaking and heart pounding, I told her.
Of course, Kathy didn’t think differently of me. She responded to me with compassion, love, and understanding. To be able to share my story, which I had kept secret for over 3o years, and still feel safe and loved, is such a profound experience. I believe God’s grace was, and remains, amongst us. Soon after that, since we are active parishioners at our parish, I felt I should tell our pastor, Father Greg Sakowicz. As you might imagine, it was difficult to tell my current parish priest that I was sexually abused by my Catholic priest when I was young. I felt Father Greg might think I had a problem with him, or I was questioning his good ministry or his good character. Father Greg listened to me and he heard the depth of my sadness. We continued to talk and because that conversation was so good and went so well, soon after, I felt comfortable reaching out to the Archdiocese of Chicago, and I began the Independent Review Board process.
During this time, I was able to tell my story to officials of the Archdiocese, who responded to me with professionalism, decency, and compassion. In short, they believed me, and with that, I was able to begin a therapeutic process of healing. I participated in individual counseling for 2 ½ years as well as a support group of other survivors of childhood sexual abuse for 1 ½ year. Another aspect of my healing process was a meeting with Francis Cardinal George, Archbishop of Chicago at the time. I had never met a Cardinal, Prince of the Church, before. I was anxious about this meeting. I was conflicted out of deep respect for his office, but also want to tell my story as a way to unburden myself. I told Cardinal George my story of childhood sexual abuse and the impact it has had on me and my family throughout my life. The Cardinal listened. He apologized to me for the abuse imposed upon me when I was a little boy. Also, I brought family photographs of my abuser at many of our family functions to the meeting and shared them with Cardinal George. The Cardinal asked about my parents and my siblings. We had a very nice discussion and because of the time he spent with me, and because that conversation was so good, I feel comfortable continuing practicing my faith.
Another milestone in my healing journey was returning to my former parish, where I grew up and where my abuse occurred when I was young. In the spirit of healing and reconciliation, I reached out to Father Michael McGovern, the pastor of Church of St, Mary in Lake Forest, Illinois. Father McGovern responded to my letter welcoming me back to the parish, and willing to meet me. We agreed upon the date. I asked Father Pat Cecil, my current pastor, to go with me. Sitting in the same rectory where much of my abuse occurred, I was visibly uncomfortable. Father McGovern thanked me for coming. Now that the silence was broken, I gathered my thoughts and I began to share. I told Father McGovern how much my parents loved the parish, and how active they were. Dad was a lector and Eucharistic Minister. Mom worked at the library, helped found the Youth Ministry group and sat on the Parish Council. My brother and I were altar servers and my sister was involved in the Youth Ministry group and sports. My parents attended virtually every event sponsored by the parish. I went on to describe how the “head of the altar boys” was the Associate Pastor at the time. My parents considered him a dear friend. They felt any time I spent with him would be quality time spent in a mentoring relationship. I felt no need to describe the acts of abuse themselves to Father McGovern, but I did describe how that abuse affected me and my family. My abuser manipulated my parents and betrayed their genuine affection for him. Beyond the physical and emotional scars I carry, the truth of the abuse drove a wedge into the heart of my family relationships.
Father McGovern thanked me for sharing my story, and he apologized for the abuse I endured. He spoke about how this issue cuts so close to the heart and soul of both the abuse survivor and every good and faithful priest. I agree with him. He went on to connect the active parish life at Church of St. Mary my parents enjoyed with the active parish life my family and I enjoy now at St. Mary of the Woods. Talking about that connection to my parents, and my upbringing, helped me to realize I should not allow memories of my abuser to cloud the many positive and healthy experiences my parents, siblings and I experienced in our parish life. The three of us concluded our discussion with a prayer for abusers and those who have been abused. I am grateful to Father McGovern and Father Cecil for walking with me on my healing journey.
I continue with my efforts to heal wounds caused by the sexual abuse imposed upon me and many other children. Many of these efforts are personal and private. I call them “little bites at the apple” each day which helps me cope with on-going heartache and pain from my childhood trauma. My other efforts are public outreach efforts with other victims/survivors of abuse and their families, as a way to heal from the pain. I am a part of a team of abuse survivors, clergy and staff from the Archdiocese of Chicago. I consider this committee the finest example of collaboration with the support and encouragement of Cardinal George and Cardinal Cupich. We have been working together on the annual Hope and Healing Masses and other healing initiatives, like the Healing Garden and Peace Circles for over 10 years. I propose this model of abuse survivors working side-by-side with clergy and staff, with the support of leadership, to be a model for healing our Church.
 Fazenda da Esperança is a therapeutic community that has been active since 1983 in the recovery of people who seek freedom from their addictions, especially alcohol and drugs. Present in 23 countries, this entity has 143 communities in which it serves about 3500 young people. More information on the portal: https://www.portalfazenda.org/.