by Gordon Nary
Gordon: As a childhood sexual abuse survivor, please share with our readers what happened, how old you were, and how long it continued.
Miguel: I was first abused at the age of five by a mentally challenged man in my neighborhood. He performed oral sex on me and a friend. It happened twice. After those two times, we ran when we saw him. We didn't understand why he did that to us.
Gordon: With whom did you first discuss it add what was their response?
Miguel: The first time I discussed being abused by the neighbor in 1957 was a week after I told my therapist about the priest abusing me in 1971. This was in 2001 and her response was "We just discovered the key to your problems".
Gordon: When you first discussed it with a priest, what was his response?
Miguel: The first priest I ever discussed being abused with was Father Gavin Vaverek VP of MGN. His response was perfect. He made it clear he believed me and that my abuse wasn't my fault. The fault was with the adults that betrayed my trust. He's everything we need in our priests. I thank God for him every day.
Gordon: Were you able to forgive your abuser? How difficult is forgiveness after being abused?
Miguel: I was able to forgive my first abuser fairly easily since he was mentally challenged. They said he had the mind of a child. Later, when I was eighteen, a priest inappropriately touched and hugged me. I have never been so shocked in my life. I left the Church for years after that. As I started working with Catholic and Baptist survivors in 2002, I saw how abuse was enabled, lied about, and covered up by leadership and higher-ups. I became furious with the American bishops and the SBC (Southern Baptist Convention). SBC leaders said it was a Catholic problem. They didn't have a problem like the Catholics because their ministers were allowed to marry.
Gordon: Based on your experience, what role has forgiveness had on your healing process?
Miguel: I'd like to mention Pope John Paul's II forgiveness of Ali Agjca who came close to killing the Pope, made a huge impression on me when it happened in 1981. The bishops who lied to parents and parishioners, who committed criminal and immoral acts to deny and obstruct justice, they were the ones I had the hardest time forgiving. I was physically getting sick from anger. So for me, I couldn't forgive and it was killing me. Forgiveness saved my life. This is how I learned that even when we can't forgive, we must try. How can the unforgivable be forgiven? The only answer I found was in the lives of saints. We need examples to follow. Forgiveness is just not stressed in America.
So how do we do it? Maria Goretti, Josephine Bakhita, and Maximillian Kolbe show us clearly what forgiveness looks like. It also shows us the priceless benefits of forgiving. This is the model we use in MGN. Real life examples of people forgiving the unforgivable. For non-Catholics who attended MGN meetings, I used the example of Louis Zamperini from WWII, the subject of the award-winning film Unbroken.
Forgiveness without God's Graces is impossible as far as I'm concerned. It's a process sometimes not simply a decision. Forgiveness saved my life and has allowed me to achieve a level of peace and happiness I didn't think was possible. I still get angry but I can bring myself back to reality much easier now that I've had some practice with forgiveness.
Gordon: What impact did this experience have upon your faith?
Miguel: In the end, my faith in Jesus and Mary has been made much stronger because of abuse. I learned from saints to thank God for our troubles. I thank God for my trials because that's how I found purpose in life. I saw a meme one time that said: "If being hurt by the Church causes you to lose your faith, then your faith was in men, not God". I agree totally!
Gordon: Please, share with our readers how you began to heal from your abuse.
Miguel: I began to heal when I consciously chose to be happy no matter what it took. Happiness is a choice.
Gordon: How challenging was the healing process for you?
Miguel: It was Extremely challenging remaining in the Church when I saw the utter corruption and law-breaking among the bishops in 2001. I lost my faith but not my bond to Mother Mary. She understood when no one else did and She brought me back in the fold. I'm very, very lucky, and blessed to be alive and well and part of the renewal of the Catholic church.
Gordon: What inspired you to cofound the Maria Goretti Network?
Miguel: What inspired me to co-found the Maria Goretti Network was seeing the tremendous suffering and need of victims and their families. I saw a list of over 200 names of young men who committed suicide after being molested by a priest. It was compiled by the mother of one such young man. It moved me tremendously. The Church had literally nothing but thoughts and prayers for these good people. A Catholic version of SNAP was needed, one where people acknowledged they needed God they were hurt so bad.
Gordon: Approximately how many participants do you currently have in the Maria Goretti Network?
Miguel: It's impossible to know how many participants there are in MGN because we have people that contact us and pray for us all over the world.
Not everybody involved goes to meetings. Many never get to that point because they don't want others to know. We hear through various sources that knowing a group like this exists within the Church helps people even if they don't attend meetings. We have about 350 people that follow our Facebook page. That's not a lot but I always tell people we are a very grassy, grass-roots organization.
Gordon: When did you first learn about St. Maria Goretti and what impact has she had on your life?
Miguel: I first learned about Maria Goretti in 2001 from an ex-Catholic priest by the name of Joe Eisenberg. He fell in love with a lovely woman. Maria had an impact on me but Alessandro Serenelli had an even bigger impact. Through him I saw no matter how bad you are, you can be forgiven and your life can be turned around. Through him, I learned to forgive myself for my many mistakes and hurtful actions when I was in the throes of my rage and anger. In the end a lot of times we're the last ones we forgive but we need to forgive ourselves for not knowing what we didn't know.
Gordon: Thank you for an insightful interview and your leadership is helping promote forgiveness for sexual abuse.