The Gospel reading at Mass last Monday was of Jesus’ encounter with the man with a withered hand. They met in the synagogue and those guardians of religious rectitude, the scribes and Pharisees, watched from the sidelines, willing Jesus to transgress by healing the man on the Sabbath. Jesus’ response was simple. ‘I put it to you,’ he said, ‘is it against the law on the Sabbath to do good, or to do evil; to save life, or to destroy it? ‘
In his reflection on the Gospel, Fr Stephen drew a direct parallel between the evil in the hearts of Jesus’ enemies as they seek to destroy him and the actions of priests and religious who have used their power and authority to commit sexual abuse against children and other vulnerable people, so ruining their lives: doing evil on the Sabbath, to use Jesus’ words. Most of us, when confronted by pain or suffering, turn instinctively to God and to his Church, knowing that, whatever befalls us, God will be there to help us, through our prayer, through the Sacraments, and through the ministrations of clergy and others. For victims of sexual abuse within the Church there is little or no such source of help in their grief and pain, no comfort or consolation, because the Church, or many of those within it, have not just let them down, but have blocked their way to God or to anything like a normal life. In previous articles, I have drawn attention to the difficulties that most good people in the Church have when trying to come to terms with the enormity of the evil done under cover of their Church and I suggested that our inability to engage fully with the full import of these crimes might be one reason why so few of us feel able to offer a hand of help to the victims. As a result, the main source of help for so many victims is, too often, the support networks they have built for themselves.
But the inadequacy or guilt that many of us feel should not be a bar to our offering such help as we can because, as I have heard from victims, an important part of trying to work their way through what has happened to them comes from knowing that there are other people who, even in a small way, are ready to try to share in some part of the pain that they themselves suffer. As one victim told me, knowing that people are praying for us is a great comfort. So even if we think we cannot do much, we can at least pray for those who suffer. But prayer is not the only way we can help. We may not have the gifts and qualities needed to help victims to confront their trauma, but there are others, and the organisations they work with, who can offer meaningful, practical help, and what we can do is to help to support their work.
One such organisation is Grief to Grace. Grief to Grace engages with victims where they are at. It goes beyond what conventional therapy or counselling sometimes offer because it offers a more integrated approach, drawing on the help of skilled therapists, who are themselves sometimes survivors of abuse, and with appropriate clerical support. But these are not just one to one sessions, as is often the case with conventional therapy. Grief to Grace offers facilitated, week-long retreats to groups of victims, retreats facilitated by the therapists and others, in which the victims can explore with each other their pain and their experience and support each other towards psychological and spiritual healing.
Here is some of the testimony to be found on the UK’s Grief to Grace website.
- It was a totally mind-blowing experience. The retreat had a deep spirituality and, combined with a sound psychological basis, produced a blessed, safe oasis of healing. Words cannot really do justice to the grace and healing in this wonderful experience. It was a journey into the mystery of my own soul with and through the suffering body of Christ. I was fascinated by the retreat and speechless at the depth of the growth and healing. The commitment, love and compassion of the team and participants was awesome!
- I came in the hope that I would receive healing. What I did not expect was the depth of true healing I would receive from abuse known to me and also unknown. The recognition, acknowledgement, understanding and healing I not only received for myself, but witnessed in others is truly miraculous. Thank you from my heart.
- The Church’s ‘field-hospital’ operating at its most professional, deep behind enemy lines.
Sexual abuse occurred within our Church, and while we as individuals may not be responsible for the profound damage done to the victims of these crimes, we all have a duty to help those who suffered and continue to suffer.
- On the (UK) Grief to Grace website you will find a lot more about their work. Please do consider offering them your financial support.
- Please pray for victims: by saying the rosary, having Masses said, or by joining a prayer network. You can also offer to identify with victims by saying, on their behalf, the prayer for healing of victims. There is more guidance on prayer for victims on the Grief to Grace website.
- And please do join us here at St Edmund’s at 5.00 pm on Wednesday, 15th September (the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows) in person or by live streaming, in saying the Chaplet of the Seven Sorrows of Mary, for the victims of sexual abuse within the Church.
Grief to Grace (UK): https://www.grieftograceuk.org Phone: 020 8154 2719
Please also take the time to read the prayer below which I recommend to you. It accompanies the front page article written by Deacon Sean:
Prayer for healing of victims of abuse
We can show our solidarity with victims by saying this prayer on their behalf.
Lord, the wounds of childhood have suffocated the fullness of my natural generosity and the deepest human longings to be loved and to love. The abuses I have suffered have taught me great lies about the world, bold deceptions about my body, and the hardening of my tender heart.
Lord Jesus, melt the fear and armour that imprisons my heart. The painful legacy of sorrow and shame has turned me fearfully inward, isolating the most beautiful gifts that you have entrusted to me, concealing them from me and from others.
Lord, help me to appreciate the wealth of courage, wisdom and compassion that has been hidden away deep within my body and soul. Help me to open my heart and my history to you. Give me the courage and trust to know that you embrace each and every moment of abuse that I have ever suffered.
You did not turn away and reject the Passion caused by sin in the world. You embraced your cross and carried it, knowing that what you suffered would end in redemption for the sins of the world. Because of your great love for me, you do not turn away in contempt, but you open your arms to me in compassion; you look upon me with great care and tenderness.
Lord, help me to feel the balm of your grace, the balm that soothes the bleeding wounds of the past, the Divine Love that binds the broken heart. Amen.