by Kathleen Hoy Foley
Reading the accounts of what thousands of children were forced to endure under the domination of perverted, sadist pedophile priests in the diocese of Philadelphia is gruesome. The grisly violence perpetrated against innocent, vulnerable children by men in black is ghoulish: the purposeful imposition of physical agony and emotional death sentences. And those who chose church over children? Diabolical.
Rolling out insulting and dismissive words like “healing” and “moving on,” the diocesan spokesperson echoed typical cultural rhetoric. Laughable if the situation wasn’t so catastrophic and heartbreaking. Wave the magic, holy scepter and all the thousands of victims and generations of their families can now put all this behind them and glide peacefully into the healing waters. It does not work like that, ever. Not ever.
The sexual pervert deforms his victim. The consequences of sexual abuse are permanent, cemented organically into the biology of our cells. Sexual abuse trauma becomes part of the victim’s framework--the prism through which victims unknowingly interact with their loved ones and the world outside their door. Sexual abuse sets the life stage for its victims. We are unwitting puppets tied to trauma with taunt strings, behaving according to the overriding destructive impulses implanted into our bodies by the sexual pervert, reinforced by the resulting trauma, exacerbated by social attitudes that forbid truth, and cultural strictures that impose silence upon victims so as to maintain the comfortable status quo whether it is in the family, the church, social groups and organizations, the government, or adherence to fairytale illusions.
These destructive impulses are so firmly imbedded, so expertly disguised that most times victims remain naive, unable to recognize the red flags pointing to the shattered parts of themselves and how those broken pieces are systematically destroying their lives. If a victim does have a cognizance of the living trauma within, oftentimes they are unwilling or unable to generate the self-love and determination necessary to make constructive changes.
The magic scepter and healing waters do not exist. When the Philadelphia diocese preaches about “moving on” and “healing,” they are supporting the deadly fallacy of wishful thinking and imposing upon all victims and their families the cruel burden of the unachievable. A layperson—someone who has no understanding of the depth and magnitude of sexual abuse trauma—has no idea of the strength, courage and fortitude required to simply begin the journey toward wholeness. The process of resolving the consequences of sexual abuse trauma is grueling, intense, and often brutal. The progress slow. The promised rewards intangible and only attainable through sustained, lifelong effort. How inhumane to lecture victims of sexual abuse who know only emotional torment that “healing” is available with a splash of holy water and forward moving feet.
The role of laypeople is to listen. To learn. To hear and embrace the difficult, the uncomfortable, the personal truths about sexual abuse: the who, what, when, where, and how. And never attacking the victim with the blaming accusation of why. The layperson must relinquish their ego, the need to control the victim by burdening them with good wishes and lectures of healing and hope. The challenge to laypeople is to acknowledge that they do not have the answers for victims of sexual abuse. Their task is to listen and learn and to support the victim in whatever way is beneficial and meaningful to the victim of abuse.
Laypeople must understand that sexual abuse trauma is deadly serious and that truth and knowledge must be encouraged at all costs. Truth and knowledge do not ruin anyone’s life. Truth and knowledge transform lives.
Yes, with truth and knowledge, a life will forever change. It changes how a life is lived and who is allowed in, and who must leave. Truth creates light. That is how victims of sexual abuse learn to see, to understand. That is our recovery, our resolution. That is how we create our freedom.