by Eileen Quinn Knight, Ph.D. Profiles in Catholicism
Dr. Knight: I was wondering if you would help us to think about Healing issues. Could we start at the beginning? What were your grade school and high school experience?
D: I attended the same Catholic School from kindergarten to eighth grade. I then attended a Catholic all-girls high school from 9-12th grades.
Dr. Knight: What about your parents and brothers and sisters stood out for you?
D: I have one sibling, a brother, who is quite a bit older than I am. He was already out of the house by the time I was born. My parents were very involved in our Catholic Church, my Catholic school, and my activities. We had a large extended family that lived out and celebrated our Mexican traditions.
Dr. Knight: When the incident happened what support did you feel as you moved forward?
D: I was abused as a young child and as many of us who were abuse as children, I remained silent, confused, and troubled. Decades ago there was no mandatory reporting, no victim support groups, and an incredible amount of stigma about abuse. I had no direct support from family, church, or community. I know now that it was solely God who was my support, my guide, and my healing.
Only recently as an adult have I felt a bit more supported by groups both in and outside the Church.
Dr. Knight: What does the Church offer in regard to the healing from sexual abuse?
D: The Church offers Jesus Christ and the Sacraments. For me, that is the only reason I stay in the Church. I acknowledge that the Catholic Church has created many helpful procedures to help us be aware of, report, and offer practical steps to healing from abuse. The Church’s awareness and reporting programs are models for other organizations. But the Church is woefully behind best practices and holistic methods to provide healing for victims.
Dr. Knight: Are there groups who join together for the healing process?
D: Yes! I am personally involved in several groups that provide support to survivors. These groups are lead by survivors, attended by survivors, and are focused on survivors. Some of the groups I work with are Maria Goretti Network, Hopeful Hearts Ministry, Spirit Fire, and Mending the Soul Ministries.
Dr. Knight: If you have children how did you let them know what happened?
D: It was relatively recent that I could even acknowledge anyone else what happened to me as a child. I shared the journey with my husband first. I was able to share very basic information with my children. With time, I responded to their questions. I don’t think I ever would bring up the topic of clergy abuse if I had not been so active in survivor ministry.
Dr. Knight: Are there aspects of social media that helps with healing?
D: Some of the groups will meet virtually online, eg via Zoom. We have private Facebook groups and try to advertise via many social media sites.
Dr. Knight: What was the most difficult aspect for you in the healing process?
D: Though the original abuse at the hands of a priest was traumatic enough, it was the reporting of the abuse as an adult that caused me the most harm, and still does. Though the protocols for reporting abuse in the Church are fairly uniform, each (arch)diocese is so varied in how it supports the victim/survivor. Some dioceses have robust victim support services with trauma-informed investigators and clergy. Others unfortunately further traumatize victims by their lack of personnel who understand trauma and abuse. I had never felt so alone, attacked, and victimized than when I went through the investigative process as mandated by the archdiocese where the crime occurred. Fortunately, practices in many places have changed and there are more support services for survivors.
Dr. Knight: Our digital magazine is publishing a special edition in regard to Healing from sexual abuse. We want to emphasize the healing aspect as we move into a new time for our culture. How can all of us help with the healing?
D: Become educated on trauma—not just from clergy abuse, but from any physical or emotional adverse event. Help remove the stigma of mental illness, for many abuse survivors have diagnoses of mental illness such as depression, anxiety, and addictions. Make churches and communities safe for victims to come forward. Talk about trauma and abuse, train staff, and clergy on trauma, and reach out to survivors. Pray for healing for all victims of trauma and abuse.
Dr. Knight: Are there any other issues we should figure out in regard to healing in our Church?
D: There is a concept in some Christian churches called the “Theology of Trauma”.God’s story is in fact a story of trauma and abuse. It is a story of ultimate victory over the trauma. If you look at the Bible, you see stories of rape, incest, torture, humiliation. The only true meaning I ever found for my suffering and healing is in Scripture. I invite survivors and those who love and support survivors to place their story of abuse into the pages of Scripture. We should not be afraid to talk about these very difficult topics (clergy abuse, violence). We should look at how God addressed these same topics. There we will find true healing.