When I disclosed my abuse to the hospital authorities where it took place I received a very different response. They were concerned for my well-being, offering me counseling and care while they immediately reported to the police and co-operated with their investigation.
After a long struggle my abuser was brought to justice and jailed for his crimes against me. My case is an example of how so called “historical” reports must be treated just as seriously as current ones. My abuser was jailed again last year for repeated sexual assaults on another young girl. These assaults took place a quarter of a century after he abused me and while he was still a trusted priest in her parish. He threatened this victim that her Catholic family would be thrown out of the Church if she told anyone what he was doing to her.
These men can abuse for their whole lifetime leaving behind them a trail of destroyed lives.
The mishandling of my case by the Church leadership led to a total collapse of my trust and respect in them and in my Church which until then had survived intact despite the actions of my abuser. What they had done was contrary to everything I held dear. I had believed justice and the centrality of moral law were embodied in my Catholic Church.
The final death of any respect that might have survived in me towards my religious leaders came after my abuser’s conviction. I learned that the diocese had discovered, just months after my abuse, that this priest was abusing children in the hospital but did nothing about it except move him to a new parish. This was on his file when I made my report but despite knowing this they had still protected him.
After the trial the Archbishop issued a press statement to reassure the laity saying the “diocese had co-operated with the civil authorities” in my case. When pressed on this obvious lie the diocesan representative admitted that they felt the statement was justified, as it did not say they had co-operated “fully”. How could I believe in anything my Church leaders said in the future knowing they were capable of this type of mental gymnastics? or known in the Church as “mental reservation”.
I lived a life for over thirty years where just getting from one day to another was a struggle. I felt these were wasted years, a wasted life. I had many treatments for my mental health problems, some of which were helpful but none solved my problems. The beginning of recovery for me was the day in court when my abuser took responsibility for his actions and admitted his guilt.
This admission had a profound effect on me. It led in time to my being able to forgive what he had done and no longer feel him as a presence in my life. I attended therapy for nearly two years and through this came to understand how this abuser had twisted my view of myself. This had come at a crucial time in my development. My feelings of guilt and a very poor self-image led me to turn away from those nearest to me and isolate myself. My deep-seated anxiety led to depression. Gaining insight into all these areas helped me to believe things could change. I could be in control of my life rather than have my past control me. I was able to leave the wasted years behind. I have not been hospitalized with any mental health issue since that time.
My one regret is that I can rarely bring myself to practice my Catholic religion. My faith in God has not been touched. I can forgive my abuser for his actions, he has admitted his guilt. But how do I regain my respect for the leadership of my Church? Apologising for the actions of the abusive priests is not enough. There must be acknowledgement and accountability for the harm and destruction that has been done to the life of victims and their families by the often deliberate cover up and mishandling of cases by their superiors. Before I or other victims can find real peace and healing.