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Devastation For The Devoted: The Trauma Of Sexual Abuse In The Church

The secret keeping involved with situations like the scandal of sexual abuse in the Catholic church which was exposed on Tuesday, August 14th in a report by the Pennsylvania grand jury are not exclusive to the cycle of abuse happening between the abuser, the priests and bishops and clergymen involved, and the victims of abuse. Celibacy is required of bishops and priests and members of the Diocese, but is far less adhered to than one might expect. Despite taking an oath and being “men of God”, these individuals feel immense shame and frustration for having to suppress and deny what is a very real and normal part of their existence as human males. In “Former Catholic Priest Says Pennsylvania Bishop Ignored His Reports Of Abuse” NPR cites that “…at any given time, no more than 50 percent of Roman Catholic clergy are actually celibate.” However, the need for sexual intimacy or contact does not justify in any means once soever the vile and depraved acts which have been outlined in various reports. Such individuals are no longer suffering from suppression. They are abusers, perpetrators, and pedophiles.

Sexual abuse is never justified.

Victims of sexual abuse are never deserving of their trauma. Oftentimes, the sexual abuser is also a victim of trauma, sexual abuse, or other mental health issues. Considering the multi-decade, potentially multi-century span of time this has gone on, intergenerational trauma plays a part. Living with the shame of what could be categorized as “failure”, “impurity”, or, what is most severe in the Catholic Church, “sin” is traumatizing in and of itself. Clergymen who were not celibate and who acted immorally through rape, molestation, and sexual abuse were under just as much shame as clergymen who witnessed their peers breaking the vows of celibacy- especially through means of raping and abusing minors or legal adults.

“So when a priest discovers evidence of abuse by a fellow priest,” the NPR article explains, “he often won’t report it for fear his own indiscretion, albeit not criminal, will be revealed.” James Faluszczak, a victim who testified before the grand jury and who is a former Pennsylvania priest elaborates, saying, “…under the auspices of a promise of celibacy, it becomes a secret that the bishops also have to maintain and a secret that gives cover to the criminal behavior of some of these priests.”

The sickness and toxicity of secret keeping becomes multi-layered and spreads the disease of shame throughout the entire cycle of abuse taking place. As a result, all members who are party to the crimes taking place are suffering mentally, physically, and in the case of the Catholic Church, spiritually as well. It wasn’t just the sexual abuse and the secrecy. Many of the victim’s experienced shaming and blaming, which, from a religious context, is severe. After abusing children, the priests would then force the children to attend confession with the very same priest, their abuser. Justice and forgiveness is sought by the victims, by the witnesses, and even by the perpetrators who felt chastised and punished in their faith-driven vocations. Consequently, thousands fell under the belief that they were responsible for what happened to them, they were sinners, and they could not speak of their trauma outside of confession or the church. What the report problematically revealed was that even when victims raised their voice in the church, the cries fell on deaf ears.

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