Tribute to a Priest who Supported Survivors

By Michael Hoffman

Editor's Note: The VIRTUS Programs recognizes the great importance of listening to survivors of sexual abuse. Because people who have been abused have courageously come forward to share their stories, we now have a better understanding of how to help prevent sexual abuse from occurring as well as how to address it appropriately. We offer our sincere appreciation for all survivors who have come forward to share their stories and recognize their role in helping to foster healing and prevention in our Church. This article was written by a survivor and advocate about his own experience and how caring adults can work together to promote healing.

Father Pat was one of the pastors of the parish I attended as an adult. He supported every possible effort to heal from the wounds of childhood sexual abuse by clergy for myself—as a parishioner and an individual survivor of clergy abuse—and for our Church as a whole.

In fact, Father Pat showed his support through action, too, by participating in the annual Prayer Service and Pinwheel Planting event. Held each year at the Healing Garden of the Archdiocese of Chicago, we raise awareness of child abuse prevention efforts through these events to protect all of God's children from harm. As children and adults sing and pray together, we plant pinwheels in the ground as a public reminder that all children deserve to be safe wherever they go. During one of these events, Father Pat was so filled with hope, he turned to me and enthusiastically asked me what else we can do together to make a difference regarding this difficult subject. I was so happy he shared his hope, joy and enthusiasm for the annual event and for seeing it as a healing opportunity for our Church.

Let's rewind a bit. I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by clergy. Years later, after I initially told my story of being abused by our Catholic priest when I was a young boy to my Archdiocese, I also began individual counseling. It was during this time in my therapeutic process that I wished to reconcile myself to the truth of the abuse and how that has affected me even now, as an adult. One aspect of my healing journey was to reach out to the current pastor of the parish where I grew up, which is the parish where much of my abuse occurred. In the spirit of healing and reconciliation, I wrote a letter to the person who was the current  pastor of that parish. He immediately replied and invited me to come back and visit. I accepted his invitation, and I asked Father Pat if he would go with me. He agreed to accompany me.

I picked Father Pat up and we drove together. We stopped for lunch prior to our meeting time, and while we talked, I could see Father Pat struggling with some of his words. Father Pat then told me about a priest friend of his, who had sexually abused children and was now in prison. He took a risk in telling me, a clergy abuse survivor. As I listened, I recognized that he was aware of what I was doing to heal from the wounds of abuse in my life, and that he wanted to share his heartache about how his friend had harmed children. It took courage to reconcile himself to the truth of what his friend had done, and it took courage to tell me. Two good people wounded by abuse in different ways, now had spoken the words, shared our heartache with one another, and agreed to work to make it better for ourselves and for our Church.

We finished our lunch, and together we met the current pastor of my childhood parish. Sitting in the same rectory where much of my abuse occurred over 30 years earlier, I told him my story, with Father Pat sitting next to me. The pastor listened to me, thanked me for coming back to my former parish and he thanked me for sharing my story. He told me that the sexual abuse of children by clergy cuts so close to the heart and soul of every abuse victim, as well as every good and faithful priest.

I was surrounded by two good and faithful priests, and I remain thankful to them for listening, and for being able to hear the depth of my sadness.

That was several years ago, and as I reflect on our time together, I hold up this experience as a model of healing, reconciliation and restoration. To reclaim what was lost to the reality of child sexual abuse, it is a long and painful journey. However, I believe that healing starts when we can share our stories of what happened.

I want to point to Father Pat as an example of courage, compassion and heartfelt outreach to me, as a child sexual abuse survivor of clergy abuse. Father Pat was blessed with a glorious ministry as a Catholic priest, and he walked with me on my healing journey. I will never forget my experience with him. I share his hope, joy and enthusiasm for any and all healing opportunities within our Church.

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