It’s a year since the Vatican’s summit on the sexual abuse crisis and almost 10 years since Benedict XVI, following the revelations of clerical abuse in Ireland, advised: “Above all the Church must direct her efforts towards concrete measures for healing the survivors of these egregious crimes.”
I am in Rome for meetings, trying to break through the resistance and get Grief to Grace – just such a “concrete measure” for healing victims – the moral and financial support it needs to meet the ever-growing demand we are experiencing from Catholics and others affected by abuse.
What does Grief to Grace offer survivors? To start with, it’s Catholic in its anthropology, believing that such wounds need the healing power of the Divine Physician. Priests play a key role in a team also comprising psychotherapists and trained volunteers who together oversee this intensive, specialised programme over six days.
It might seem counterintuitive to treat something so shaming in a group, but this is a vital factor in the healing. All abuse isolates. To have their sufferings acknowledged, their grief witnessed and their dignity affirmed by a welcoming, safe community is essential for victims’ healing and restoration.
Some psycho-education at the beginning of our retreat helps normalise many of the symptoms associated with abuse, so that from the start participants find relief in discovering they are not alone. An environment is created wherein participants explore their histories in the light of present symptoms. Work on memories comes easily because we are not asking “What’s wrong with you?” but “What happened to you?”
Sharing the impact of the abuse leads easily into work on the legitimate and justified anger left in its wake. An entire day is devoted to expressing this anger, acknowledging the outrage and helping participants find their voice, to “fight back” and reclaim their mind and spirit.
Unlike ordinary memories, those of abuse are kept alive in the body. The ongoing distress of abuse isn’t to do with obsessive thinking or a stubborn refusal to let go of the past, but from living in a scared organism in which normal brain and body function have been disrupted by the overload of the body’s survival instincts.
Having grieved the damage done by abuse, participants then move into an active process of transforming it by travelling with Christ through the agony, betrayal, torture, mockery and humiliation of his own Passion. At each stage, participants share their own unspeakable degradations and humiliations. Specially designed mediations and activities provide a powerful vehicle for exploring abusive experiences and open new opportunities for connection with others, and the possibility of reclaiming a new identity no longer controlled by suffering as Jesus bursts out of the confines of the tomb in the Resurrection.
There is no simple, easy solution to the crisis of clergy abuse. But Grief to Grace, with its expert understanding of how abuse affects mind, body and spirit and its dedicated team representing both the hierarchical and charismatic Church, proclaims that the body of Christ cares for victims of abuse. Its members accept the divine mandate to bind up wounds, but only in the strength of Him whose wounds are now glorified and dazzling, Jesus Christ, Eternal Son and Mary’s child.
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