Photo Credit David Tomaseti - Unsplash
By Pam Walsh
Clergy Sexual Abuse is not often thought of in terms of human suffering. It is not like a broken arm or leg. It is not something most people can see; yet the wounds each person carries are very real. The unseen lifelong impact and multigenerational effects of clergy sexual abuse are often rooted in pain, shame and torment not only for the victim, but also their families, even if the victim has never shared their abuse. Victims often live with nightmares, fear, and anguish, resulting in daily life being impacted. Many victim/survivors succeed and excel in different ways, all the while being burdened with the heavy weights to which abuse chains them.
Over the decades victims have rarely been supported or heard by the church. They have become the new lepers, often hiding their wounds and remaining silent so they are not alienated or kicked out of the church. Those that have come forward are often cast aside and shunned, resulting in another layer of re-victimization. For some it has resulted in finding a path away from the church in order to feel safer. Is it any wonder that victims are angry, or have left the church and/or lost their faith? How does the church begin to look at the needs of people abused by clergy?
In the past, bishops have said they were there for victims. However, many that came forward did not experience anything close to unbinding love, but rather, hollow words. The full number of victims will never be known. This is a painful legacy in the church. However, change has slowly begun in the Archdiocese of Regina. Over the past several years, victims have taken on the task of trying to educate others about their life-long traumatic suffering. In doing so, they have not only borne the emotional and physical burden, but also the financial burden. It is no longer acceptable for the most knowledgeable educators on this subject to shoulder the financial burden of helping the larger church understand. Victims have been calling for help and resources for some time.
In January 2021 the archdiocese created a Victim Services and Advocacy (VSA) position. Before this role came to fruition, victims/survivors known to the diocese were engaged in the discussion and consultation process about the possible direction of the VSA position. The decision made was for the post to be held by a victim to work with the diocese, with the primary purpose of working directly with victims by supporting, and when needed, advocating for them.
Past projects, such as prayer services and workshops, have been carried out mainly through volunteer work of victims themselves. Practical things that could and would help victims were very limited due to lack of funding or organized structures to facilitate them. Internal discussions within the church have resulted in the realization that in order for more programming to happen, a continual and stable funding stream is needed. The topic of clergy sexual abuse has moved from the periphery into mainstream discussions, signalling the beginning of a change in attitude in non-victims and the church so that the deep wounds left by clergy sexual abuse can begin to be addressed.
With the start of this year’s Annual Appeal, the decision was made to have a portion of the appeal go to fund projects supporting and helping victims. Money raised will provide multifaceted avenues to help victims. All projects are undertaken with direct input from victims. A portion of the funding will go to provide free counselling for victims of clergy sexual abuse so they do not have to carry the financial burden for something they did not cause. Calls for educational initiatives called forth by victims can now be actively supported. Prayer services, presentations and workshops will continue. Stable funding will allow for the expansion of existing programs and the development of new initiatives to offer direct support for victims. Collaborative interactions with other diocesan groups and parishes can bring awareness of clergy sexual abuse and the deep wounds people live with, addressing topics such as the legacy of abuse and what can be done now, and how to walk with and accompany victims. This funding is not tied to any settlement process.
Victims are deeply wounded people, wounds they did not cause. Now is the time to walk with them. Funding for educational initiatives that bring understanding may help wounds hurt a little bit less.
Finally, a word directly to victims/survivors. You have been calling for change and today your words have been heard. To each victim/survivor in the Archdiocese of Regina, a step forward has been taken to acknowledge and support programs to help recognize the legacy of abuse. It is through your voice these positive changes have begun. And for those of you who have walked with us, continue to do so, as the journey is far from over and each step and breath allows life to continue.
Page URL: http://archregina.sk.ca/news/2021/10/07/changing-perspectives-acknowledging-legacy-abuse-hearing-pain-and-beginning-unbind