Pain and shame! You can see both in their eyes! If they are
on the road to healing, you'll see anger growing, and that's a good thing! St. Augustine tells us that anger is the beginning of courage. All wounded people need to harness anger to heal. There is a need to harness it, and add hope to it, and onward they go! So that negative cycles of abuse won't repeat throughout their lives, it's important they come to understand their own situations, and to understand that vulnerability draws abusive men or women to them like a magnet.
Obviously we all know now that there are men in the priesthood, as well as brothers and sisters, who are there for the wrong reasons. I'm not talking about the good priests here. Sadly they are too often overlooked because the good they do gets overshadowed by the "priests of the lie." The latter who abuse may begin as innocent victims themselves, or simply be dealing with the repressed sexuality--but for the benefit of those we are helping it doesn't matter why their abusers were in that place of power, but it is important to know they were, recognize it, and be able to recognize the dynamics should they happen again. This stuff is about power OVER--rather than the power of love FOR others--which is the true call of priesthood and religious life. These abusers are so screwed up spiritually, as well as psychologically they lose all memory of what their life is SUPPOSED to reflect. They become obsessed with what they cannot have, and the women, just like the children who are abused by pedophiles, become objects to satisfy their needs, not humans deserving of respect--and Christian charity.
The fact that these are adult women does NOT make their relationships loving ones! Love never abuses! If a priest falls in love (which does happen--we need only look at the men in CORPUS, and those like it around the world, who did the right thing), he takes the measure to seek spiritual guidance, counseling, and have the integrity to leave the priesthood and not just go on to "stay and play."
We can pick out the playboys because they rarely if ever stop at one woman! They have a series of women through their entire priestly life, and often it does not even begin until they reach middle age. The Church manages to use their youthful zeal to keep them too busy to remember what they gave up. But when middle age hits, and REAL loneliness sets in, if these men are not called by GOD to celibacy (as opposed to celibacy demanded by the Vatican) they really face the struggle of a lifetime. Some leave for all the right reasons, others just make do, and can't give up the 3 squares and a roof to try to earn a living. They may not be bad men, but it is a slippery slope once they forget why they are there, and ignore their promise (to obey the celibacy requirement on Latin Rite priests) and disregard Christian Chastity entirely. Women become the easy targets for their adolescent experimentation which goes on forever because men such as they generally just don't grow up unless they decide to do so and take all the right steps.
What support groups offer is extremely important--peer support, and encouragement to claim their own power and future. Listening is vital, because most such victims cannot find the listening ear within their family/friend circle. Family and friends get sick and tired of hearing it. So peer support group listening is all the more important. From my experience with such women, encouraging therapy is also important. We can't change the past, but we need to learn from it. Vulnerable women are not to blame for the abuse they suffered. Yet, as adults, as opposed to abused youth who are immature, after they are clear on what caused their vulnerability (via counseling) they do need to take action, or their inaction will be a choice in itself simply to allow the vulnerability to continue and some form of repetition will follow--if not with a priest, then with some other person in power. Taking action to reclaim their lives is very much the healing journey of the child victim who later as an adult takes similar steps, and it must be so for adult victims. Whether those are legal/civil actions to regain their own power and control, or personal choices to better themselves and continue to walk their own healing path--or (hopefully) both--ONLY the women can do this for themselves. Our role as people who care is to empower them as best we can.
All of us who have been victimized in life had needs which we wanted met. Those needs were NOT met by our abusers--not at all! Oh, but the abusers certainly can and do recognize vulnerable youth and adults who have some kind of need--whether it is for a sympathetic ear and heart, a warm hug, an encouraging spiritual mother/father image, general sense of security and trust, something which makes us think our needs are being met by the fake affection of abusers. FAKE AFFECTION--not love! Yet to the vulnerable, that is a very, very difficult distinction to make. A woman who is carrying her own baggage may turn to a priest in full trust that he is sexually safe, just to unload her burden on a person who has publicly proclaimed that he IS SEXUALLY SAFE (by his promise of celibacy and Christian mandate of chastity). He, like therapists, MUST keep the boundaries because by the very nature of some
ministry they are going to deal with men and women whose boundaries have already been shattered or perhaps never truly existed. It's the priests' duty to keep those people safe, not to exploit their vulnerability.
When I talk privately with women who've been abused by priests, and ask them directly if they were ever sexually OR emotionally exploited as children OR as teenagers, I find most have been. Or, they have they been abused in some other way by adults when they were young. The cycle never begins as adults, because by healthy adulthood boundaries are normally in place, and the radar for safety is strong. But for those who have lived through the cycle--none of that is secure. AGAIN, that is NOT to blame the adult, but simply to recognize the horrible dynamics that create this ongoing vulnerability which predatory people seek out, sexually or in any number of ways. This self-awareness is vital to the empowerment of abused women! Otherwise they may have their sexual radar up and running from learning the hard way from the priests, but their boundaries demanding respect from all may well be very insecure in all other areas of life and relationships. Their own kids might disrespect them. Their employers. Customers. Co-workers, etc.
Those are some of the dynamics such women have taught me over these 27 years, and believe me I am still learning and fine-tuning what I learn. We, involved in Good Tidings, don't deal with issues of pedophilia. This is different. What we find (most of the time) are basically good men who have never matured enough to understand their own obligations as adult men, let alone priests--who then easily cross a line with adult women, when they would NEVER do such a thing with a child or youth. These priests, then, are totally messed up and that is because they too have been victimized by the Church itself who took them in as youth and kept them immature, stupid, thoughtless, and selfish, rather than demanding that those who joined the priesthood already be mature men who make truly free choices about celibacy (and this is NOT an unrelated issue), and not just accept celibacy because it is a package deal to minister as a priest. What we have, all too often, are boys in men's bodies. That is NOT to excuse the priests, not at all, but it is a part of a far larger picture of abuse orchestrated by the institutional Church--which has been organized and run by men such as these! WOW! Talk about a very sick cycle!
Recently, while thinking about abuse of power, I wrote a blog about what's going on in Ireland now as the people demand accountability from the clergy: http://approachingiona.blogspot.com. We in America can look to the Irish Church as to a spiritual motherland--regardless of our personal ethnic roots because the Irish Church became the American Church and transported the horrors they were given by Rome and other powers that were over them. The psycho-sexual power dynamic imposed upon the American Church by the powerful Irish hierarchy and clergy that ran the show here in the USA/Canada/Australia/New Zealand, as was done in Ireland, becomes very obvious when one knows Church history. This crap goes back 1,000 years theologically to them trying to "make sense" of mandatory celibacy, but it hits home when an individual, or an entire people, or class seek power because they themselves have been brow-beaten by other abusive powers. History repeats itself, personally, culturally, nationally, and inter-nationally!Good Tidings...since 1983
The only answer is to break the cycle of abuse by taking back the power.
The only answer is to break the cycle of abuse by taking back the power.