Clerical sex abuse victims and their supporters rally outside Castel Sant’Angelo in Rome Feb. 21. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Victims shed harsh light on sex abuse at Vatican summit

  • February 28, 2019

The abuse summit began with the voices of the abused … five testimonies gathered from around the world.

“We could hear voices that were emotional, powerful and, I think, we needed to hear victims. I have always said that in order to understand the gravity of the situation, you need to listen to victims, we need them, because that is sacred ground,” said Archbishop Charles Scicluna of Malta. 

Gathering the voices and experiences of victims was no easy task, but it was necessary for bishops to grasp the magnitude of the crisis as well said Jesuit Fr. Hans Zollner, a professor of psychology and president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. Bishops, he said, needed to listen “to survivors and victims from all continents, in different languages so it becomes clear that this is not a North American or Central European problem. They were searing, brutal, honest testimonies and nothing was spared.”

Here are edited versions of the testimonies:

First Testimony (from a man from Chile)

They asked me to talk about the pain that comes from sexual abuse. Everyone knows that sexual abuse leaves tremendous consequences for everyone. I therefore believe that it is not worthwhile to continue to talk about this because the consequences are evident, in all aspects, and remains for the whole of life. Instead I would like to speak about myself as a Catholic, of what happened to me and of what I would like to say to the bishops. 

For a Catholic, the most difficult thing is to be able to speak about sexual abuse; but once you have taken courage and start telling — in our case, I speak of myself — the first thing I thought was: I’m going to tell everything to Holy Mother Church, where they will listen to me and respect me. The first thing they did was to treat me as a liar, turn their backs and tell me that I, and others, were enemies of the Church. This pattern exists not only in Chile: it exists all over the world, and this must end. 

I know that you are there talking as to how to end this phenomenon, how to prevent it from happening again, and how to remedy all of this evil. First of all, false forgiveness, forced forgiveness does not work. Victims need to be believed, respected, cared for and healed. You need to repair what has been done to the victims
. ... You are the physicians of the soul and yet, with rare exceptions, you have been transformed — in some cases — into murderers of the soul, into murderers of the faith. What a terrible contradiction. 

We see the tip of the iceberg every day. although the Church says it’s all over, cases continue to emerge. Why? Because it proceeds like when you are diagnosed with a tumour: you must treat the whole cancer, not just remove the tumour.

Second Testimony (from a woman in Africa)

Q. What hurt you most in life? 

R.  From the age of 15 I had sexual relations with a priest. This lasted for 13 years. I got pregnant three times and he made me have an abortion three times, quite simply because he did not want to use condoms or contraceptives. At first I trusted him so much that I did not know he could abuse me. I was afraid of him, and every time I refused to have sex with him, he would beat me. And since I was completely dependent on him economically, I suffered all the humiliations he inflicted on me. We had these relationships both in his home, in the village and in the diocesan reception centre. In this relationship I did not have the right to have “boyfriends”; whenever I had one and he came to know about it, he would beat me up. 

Q.  How did you deal with all these wounds and how do you feel now? 

R.  I feel I have a life destroyed. I have suffered so many humiliations in this relationship that I do not know what the future holds for me ... This made me very cautious in my relationships now. 

Q.  What message do you want to pass to the bishops? 

R. It must be said that to love, essentially, is to love freely: When a person loves someone you think of their future, of their good. You cannot abuse a person this way. It must be said that priests and religious have a way of helping and at the same time also destroying: they have to behave like leaders, wise people. 

Third testimony (from priest from Eastern Europe)

I am 53 years old, I am a religious priest. This year is the 25th year of my ordination. I am grateful to God. What hurt me? An encounter with a priest hurt me. As a teenager, after my conversion, I went to the priest so he could teach me how to read Scriptures during Mass; and he touched my private parts. I spent a night in his bed. This hurt me deeply. 

The other thing that hurt me was the bishop to whom, after many years, as an adult, I talked about the incident. I went to him together with my provincial. First, I wrote a letter to the bishop, six months later, I had a meeting with the priest. The bishop did not answer me, and after six months, I wrote to the nuncio. The nuncio reacted showing understanding. Then I met the bishop and he attacked me without trying to understand me, and this hurt me. 

On the one hand the priest and on the other this bishop who .... What did I feel? I feel bad, because neither that priest, nor the bishop answered my letter, and it’s been eight years and he has not even answered. What would I like to say to the bishops? That they listen to these people; that they learn to listen to the people who speak. I wanted someone to listen to me, to know who that man is, that priest and what he does. I forgive that priest from the heart, and the bishop. I thank God for the Church, I am grateful to be in the Church. I have many priest friends who have helped me. 

Fourth testimony (from U.S. abuse survivor)

What has wounded me the most? As I reflect on that question I think back to the total … to the full realization of the total loss of the innocence of my youth and how that has affected me today. 

There’s still pain in my family relationships. There’s still pain with my siblings. I still carry pain. My parents still carry pain at the dysfunction, the betrayal, the manipulation that this bad man, who was our Catholic priest at the time, wrought upon my family and myself. So that’s what has wounded me the most and what I carry with me today. 

I am doing well now because I have found hope and healing by telling my story, by sharing my story with my family, my wife and my children — my extended family — my friends, and because I can do that, I feel more comfortable with myself and how I can be myself. 

I would ask the bishops for leadership. Leadership and vision and courage. That’s what I respond to, that’s what I hope to see. 

One of my finest memories of Francis Cardinal George is when he spoke about the difficulties of fellow priests who have abused, and I considered those words, coming from a man in his position, even though they must be really hard for him to say, they were the right and proper thing to say. I thought that was leadership at the time, and I think it’s leadership now. 

Fifth Testimony (from man from Asia)

I have been sexually molested for long time, over a hundred times, and this sexual molestation has created traumas and flashbacks all across my life. It’s difficult to live life, it’s difficult to be with people, to get connected with people. 

I carried an attitude for my family, for my friends and even for God. Every time I have spoken to the Provincials and to the Major Superiors, they have all practically covered up every issue, covered up the perpetrators and that kills me sometimes. 

I’ll request the Provincials as well as the Major Superiors and the bishops sitting in this audience to make strong acts which really put the perpetrator into place
. ...  I’ll request that the bishops be clear on this matter because this is one of the time bombs happening in the Church of Asia. 

If we want to save the Church, we need to put our act together and make the perpetrators give themselves up. We should not have friendship over here but it is the act, because this act will destroy our whole generations of children. As Jesus always said, we need to be like children, not sexual abusers of children.

Support The Catholic Register

Unlike many other news websites, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our site. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you. 

Please support The Catholic Register

Unlike many media companies, The Catholic Register has never charged readers for access to the news and information on our website. We want to keep our award-winning journalism as widely available as possible. But we need your help.

For more than 125 years, The Register has been a trusted source of faith-based journalism. By making even a small donation you help ensure our future as an important voice in the Catholic Church. If you support the mission of Catholic journalism, please donate today. Thank you.