In recent months, given all the bad publicity that is now undeniable, we, at SNAP, have been asked many questions by Catholics. One in particular was from a mother who asked about her choice to raise her child Catholic. How could she do that without fear, given all that she knows now about the mishandling of paedophile priests in the Catholic Church. For each of us, our response was somewhat different, as it should be.
All of us come at this at differing times of our healing and all of us have had differing, yet similar experience. It is tremendously hard for survivors of clergy abuse to, at times, not be very negative about the religion that hurt them so much, not just once, but every time we are re-victimized.
Ones spiritual road must be ones own journey. No matter what religious upbringing each one of us has, the experiences we have are unique to us. Because our experiences were so negative, we obviously have large hurdles to overcome to embrace any religion. I can tell you that EVERY survivor I have met struggles with this issue. I, personally, have tried other religions, and have yet to find one I am comfortable with. Given my experiences, I tend to view religion as a business because having come forward with my truth has taught me that the religion I knew was by and large, not a spiritual institution, but a well run business whose main concern was, and still is today, to protect its’ reputation at all cost.
The cost of my soul, and the other survivors I have come to call my dear friends, has long been overlooked. I have struggled with the religious upbringing of my own children because of my distrust of Catholic institutions. I was abused by a priest. My son attended Catholic School until second grade when I confronted a priest in our parish about things I heard about him being a predator and the priest was removed from that parish the next day, even though he denied it to me. My daughter was baptized by a priest, who in accused in recent months of abusing members of that same parish. The parish my brother belonged to in R I had a priest dismissed for the same reasons.
In my world, there is no safe Catholic Church. Too much has personally been proof for me that the institution of Catholicism doesn’t in any way, shape, or form, have a handle on how to effectively deal with this issue. Meanwhile, it worries me a great deal that my kids don’t have positive thoughts about religion as a whole. They have my reality as their experience and that has tainted their view of a safe house to put their hopes of eternal life and reason for them to believe there is actually a loving God out there. This weighs heavy on my heart.
*****As a parent, my advice is to simply be vigilant about who your kids spend time with. Be it the coach, the teacher, the dance instructor, the neighbourhood elderly man, and most importantly, the relative who likes to spend time alone with your child. Be suspicious. It may seem cynical, but it is safe and isn’t it our jobs to provide that safety first and foremost for our children? Be sure to make surprise visits, check references, and personally be as involved as you can be. Any religious leader should be viewed no differently than a babysitter.
The best possible solution to preventing this very painful experience is to arm your children with knowledge about safe touch, appropriate behavior and boundaries. Make sure your children know that they CAN and you WILL question authority for their safety. Be the kind of parent that your child can come to with ANYTHING. Open communication is the basis of trust in any relationship and a parent/child relationship should be no different. It is necessary to be available, open, forgiving, loving and supportive. That unconditional love goes a long way when a child is fearful that they did something wrong, which is how they will be made to feel if this should happen to him/her.
At your local church, ask the parish priest where he was stationed last. Be suspicious of leave of absences, houses of affirmation, treatment facilities or long sabbaticals. These are red flags that you should pay special attention to. This should be information available to every parishioner. If you meet resistance, that usually means they have something to hide. There should NEVER be a situation in which you, as a parent, is not welcome to attend be it religious education class or after school programs–anything your child in enrolled in.
I have learned in my lifetime that if I feel uncomfortable in any way with ANYONE in contact with my child, to trust that gut reaction. Listen to it and respect it, even if it makes no sense to the other nine parents in the group. It is you who knows your child best and you who is ultimately responsible for his/her well being. Respect your child, too, when they feel uneasy…it is amazing how on target they can be at times.
The decision to raise your child one religion versus the other is really in your own trust in that institution. Don’t be brainwashed. Don’t tolerate secrecy. Remember, real religion is in people’s hearts, not in buildings! (That was taken from a Joshua book…a priest actually wrote that…what are the odds?)
Spiritually struggling with you,