by Mike Hoffman Profiles in Catholicism
For me, healing from childhood sexual abuse began at my home, with my wife and our children. At first, I was anxious about telling my wife my story of childhood sexual abuse because I thought she would think less of me as her husband and father to our two beautiful children. My wife didn’t feel that way, and now after 10 years after first telling her my story, she has supported every possible effort I have taken to heal from those wounds. But I still pray, every day, that things remain right at home.
For the past several years my children have seen me get involved in child abuse prevention efforts. I help to plan the annual Child Abuse Prevention Mass at our parish, St. Mary of the Woods. At this Mass, I speak about my story of abuse and how I would never want any child to endure what was imposed upon me when I was a little boy. My children have participated in this Liturgy and they have helped plant Pinwheels for Child Abuse Prevention, along with all of their fellow parishioners, on the grounds of the church and school. This is simply one way for our parish community to break the silence which surrounds childhood sexual abuse in our society, and to leave behind a dramatic, visual, public display of support for protecting all children from any kind of harm. There is no question this activity is therapeutic for me to make something positive out of something so heartbreaking and tragic as childhood abuse. Each year during the month of April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month, it is a joy to drive by the parish and see over 500 pinwheels spinning in the wind.
But I worry about my children, and I pray they are able to process the complex issues about their Dad, and the actions I am taking to try to make it better for somebody else, so no one else suffers abuse like I did. As my children have grown older, I pray that things remain right at home.
Both my daughter and son are graduates of Saint Ignatius College Prep in Chicago. As one key aspect of their on-going faith formation, both Colleen and Michael chose to participate in the Kairos retreat. This retreat is based upon the spiritual exercises of Saint Ignatius of Loyola and helps the participants to contemplate God’s role in their lives. During the retreat, both adult and teen leaders, give talks based upon certain core Gospel values. The leaders describe personal and relatable ways in which they have attempted to live Christ’s call to live out those values. After my children participated in the retreat, and with further discussion and discernment with their campus ministers, both chose to be leaders – Colleen on Kairos 138 during her senior year and Michael on Kairos 151, two years later during his senior year.
During their talk preparation both worked closely with priests, teachers, and staff from the Formation and Ministry Department. It is during this time spent with the adult leaders that my children were able to talk about and to process, intellectually and emotionally, their Dad’s story and how I have chosen to move forward. Only concerned about their well-being and helping them to “talk it out”, the adult leaders helped to answer my prayers. As leaders on retreat with their classmates, in their own words, Colleen and Michael were able to express themselves to their peers. I feel these actions by all concerned, helped this clergy abuse survivors' family to reconcile our faith and our Catholic identity, with the truth of the abuse and its tragic impact on us and our Church as a whole. Additionally, I feel these actions helped my children and all of the young adults on retreat to experience a fuller and deeper meaning of reconciliation. It is my sincere hope this example will serve them all well as they grow older and become our church leaders in the future. That would be a prayer come true for me.
In a deeply personal way, I am eternally grateful to St. Ignatius College Prep priests, teachers, and staff who assisted my children during this time. I understand this subject of a school parent working towards healing from childhood sexual abuse by a Catholic priest and how that could affect the children’s well-being, is a topic many adults would want to avoid, especially at a Catholic school. But they didn’t avoid it. They faced it, and they worked through important issues alongside my children to the benefit of all who participated in the retreat.
The actions by the staff of St. Ignatius College Prep helped my children in a very unique and profound way. In so doing, they helped this school parent and clergy abuse survivor in a deeply heartfelt way. My only concern is for my children to be healthy and safe, and know they are loved by their Mom and Dad. In its own special way, leading the retreats, preparing their talks and in working with their educators at school, all of that together is a prayer being answered for me. All of that helped foster good and healthy conversations at home. All of that helped to provide healing grace to this victim-survivor of clergy abuse. All of that helped to answer my prayer that things remain right at home.