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Protection of Minors: The voices of survivors

Five testimonies from survivors of clerical sexual abuse from across the globe were heard on Thursday during the opening of the Meeting on the "Protection of Minors in the Church".

By Francesca Merlo

The first of five testimonies came from a man from Chile, in South America, and although he was asked to talk about the “pain that comes from sexual abuse”, he chose not to. Because, he said, “everyone knows that sexual abuse leaves tremendous consequences for everyone…the consequences are evident, in all aspects, and remain for the whole of life”.

“Instead” he continued, “I would like to speak about myself as a Catholic, of what happened to me, and of what I would like to say to the Bishops”

The difficulty of speaking-up

The survivor, who along with four others who told their stories in a video, chose to remain anonymous. He began by saying that for a Catholic, “the most difficult thing is to speak about sexual abuse”. The first thing he thought to do at the time was to go, “tell everything to the Holy Mother Church”, where he believed they would “listen to” and “respect” him.

“The first thing they did”, he said, “was treat me as a liar, turn their backs and tell me that I, and others, were enemies of the Church.”

He said he is aware that the Church is discussing how to “end this phenomenon, how to prevent it from happening again and again, and how to remedy all of this evil”.

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Do not force forgiveness

“First of all”, he said, “forced forgiveness does not work. Victims need to be believed, respected cared for and healed.” It is “You” he said, to the bishops, who need to “repair what has been done to the victims” as, he explained, “You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed – in some cases – into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith.”

Work with justice, for justice

His final plea was to those who are impeding the restoration of trust in the Church. He asked that “those who do not want to listen to the Holy Spirit and who want to continue to cover-up, leave the Church” in order to “give way to a new Church, a renewed Church and a Church absolutely free from sexual abuse”. His hopes, he said, are that “we work with justice” to remove this “cancer from the Church” because, he said, its destruction “is what the devil wants”.

The condition

The second video testimony came from a lady, from Africa, who answered the question “What hurt you most in life?” by saying: “From the age of 15 I had sexual relations with a priest. This lasted for 13 years.” She told of how she “got pregnant three times“ and of how the priest made her “have an abortion three times, quite simply because he did not want to use condoms or contraceptives”. The survivor spoke of the beatings she would receive when she refused to have sex with him. She spoke of the fact that she was not allowed to have boyfriends, again, because he would beat her. “At first”, she said, “I trusted him so much that I did not know he could abuse me”. She was completely dependent on him economically, and that, she says, was the condition: “He gave me everything I wanted, when I accepted sex; otherwise he would beat me”.

The feeling of a life destroyed

After having suffered so many humiliations, she said, she does not know what the future holds for her. “I feel I have a life destroyed”, she said.

Her message to the Bishops is one of love. She said “when a person loves someone they think of their future, of their good”. Priests and religious, she said “have a way of helping and at the same time also destroying: they have to behave like leaders” she said, “like wise people”.

Learn to listen

All of the survivors who appeared on video asked the Church to learn to listen; to look to Jesus as an example. The religious priest from Eastern Europe who gave his testimony as a survivor said he is thankful to God, he is grateful to be in the Church, and that many of his friends who are priests helped him. However, despite his concerted efforts to reach his Bishop, 8 years later, his letter still remains unanswered. It is to these Bishops, said the survivor from the United States, that survivors look to for “leadership, and vision, and courage.”

21 February 2019, 16:21