With Heavy Heart

Abuse in the Catholic Church in France

This morning the publication of a report into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in France is expected to contain horrific details. Anyone who has read the IICSA reports must wonder what further horrors are possible, but the scale and ubiquity of the abuse in France is said to be devastating. The report was commissioned by the Church and took two and a half years to complete. The commission conducting the inquiry was led by a layman, Jean-Marc Sauvé, and is said to have been given access to church, court, police and press records.

Already people are taking up ‘positions’. I suspect most have not read the report yet— I myself haven’t — but I think it fair to say that those who have been abused are never able fully to let go of the hurt they have experienced, no matter how hard they try (and most try very hard indeed). The hurt goes too deep, and is one of the reasons why abuse is so evil. Sadly, in my experience, abusers never really admit or take responsibility for what they have done. There are always ‘extenuating circumstances’ or appeals for forgiveness that ring a little hollow. Yes, Christians try to forgive, but that doesn’t mean accepting or endorsing sin.

The Other Consequences of Abuse

Although we are a small community of cloistered nuns, without a chaplain, we have always taken safeguarding seriously and have spent a lot of time and money trying to ensure that we and our premises pose as little risk to others as possible. Inevitably, however, we have been the butt of some people’s hurt and anger, because that is one of the consequences of abuse. Trust is corroded and everyone — everyone — is tarred with the same brush and condemned, frequently in the vilest of terms. Once upon a time, I tried the ‘logical’ response to attacks on the community here: No, we weren’t born when those events took place, we’ve never been members of that congregation, we’ve never lived in that country, and so on and so forth. But it won’t wash. We’re not talking about facts but emotions, and emotions need respecting as much as facts do. It doesn’t matter that we were not personally involved, we are members of the same Church and that is enough to condemn us.

The Church is still Holy

This morning I am bracing myself for more of the hate letters and accusations. If I’m feeling well, I can usually cope with them; if I’m feeling ill or receiving medical treatment that puts my temper on a hair-trigger, it is more difficult. I don’t want to cause more hurt by my clumsy responses. I have no wish to deny or play down the wickedness of abuse as my many posts on the subject will attest, but honesty and truth work both ways. The appalling behaviour of some members of the Church does not mean that the whole Church is ‘rotten to the core’ as one of my friends said yesterday. The core of the Church is Christ, and nothing, absolutely nothing, can change that or sully His perfect holiness. I cling to that as I cling to Him, because it is true. The institutions of the Church need a thorough overhaul, and as individuals we need to examine our own conduct, but I hazard a guess that there is more light than darkness because of that shining core, Christ the Lord.


10 thoughts on “With Heavy Heart”

  1. My heart goes out to all those who suffer as a result of this misdirected anger, because they are the ones who can truly empathise with all the victims of abuse who were unjustly punished for reporting the misdeeds of their abusers.
    It must require almost superhuman patience to deal with those angry letters and insulting media posts from those who don’t stop to think before they speak, write, or post.

  2. Oh sister. I feel your pain. The Internet tells me that a priest I admired and loved is now not working, but living with his community “reflecting”. No hint of damaging children thankfully, but the man I think I knew is sensitive and humble and I feel for him too. It’s somehow even more painful when it’s someone you have respected, even from a distance.

    And my own denomination is guilty too.

    Lord, have mercy

  3. I learned to my horror last Saturday that a priest friend of over 40 years ago was, at the same time he supported me as I started my career as an RE teacher, abusing large numbers of young boys and girls the children of my friends and neighbours.
    The damage to the community doesn’t bare thought.

  4. Thank you for this post. It’s infinitely more painful, in the main, for you, I think, than for us; but we are still One Body and if one part hurts, then we all do. Praying for and with us all. That includes – though I struggle to contain them – the very worst. Christ’s love-longing ( thank you Dame Julian) is for them as it is for us. Thank you again!

  5. I echo the thanks expressed by others for your thoughtfully-written post. I am horrified and steeling myself, like you, for the angry and hurtful comments that are bound to come our way. The pain is real as Sheila Day says and yes, we are all hurting, even those of us who have not experienced abuse at first hand. I particularly appreciated your deflection of the expression “rotten to the core” by reminding us that Christ is our core … core comes from the French “coeur” – the heart of everything we believe and do – and no, Christ is not and cannot be rotten. I am praying dear Sister that the flow of angry letters, tweets, posts and barbed missives will not overcome you but that people will stop and think before posting! (Hmm I can hear you say, Good Luck with that one).

  6. Thank you for such an amazing post!
    I think that in any institution, there are people within it who do evil things to the powerless. It’s not unusual for other people in the institution, who know what is going on, to turn a blind eye, excuse, deny and ultimately decide on which side their bread is buttered.
    It takes courage to speak of it and being disbelieved, or being made out to be a troublemaker, is devastating. It deepens the hurt and betrayal, yet many find healing and can help others to find healing. The hurt goes so deep, yes, affecting every part of the persons life, but His love goes far deeper.

  7. Indeed Sister, you will receive more brickbats and anger than those of us who are not publicly ‘known’ as Christians or especially RC ones. Often a stray remark to an acquaintance will elicit a response such as ‘you’re surely not a Roman Catholic are you? You, with your views about democracy, hierarchies and women – and as for those abusive priests…’ it’s not easy to answer. But you have indicated the way to go in this blog post.

    But it’s still yet another blow to the all the good and holy priests and people who are condemned by association. And truly until the institutional church addresses and changes the structures and attitudes which have allowed this evil to flourish I do wonder what, in fifty years time, the remnant of the church will look like.

  8. Dear sister, I believe abuse is a trauma and victims of abuse are traumatized for life and they all deal with this traumatic experience in different ways. Those that make the conscious decision to let go and go on, create a new path, with God’s grace. It does not mean they forgive the abuser or forget. Forgiving, I feel is the final healing of deep wounds that no one can see. Most victims of abuse will not speak about it. How can you respond to accusations and hatred without making it worse? I have seen several masses celebrated by the Franciscan friars from EWTN, with the intentions of making reparations for abuses committed by church members, I have participated virtually in Holy hours and rosary prayers for those same intentions. Each priest celebrating the mass has begged forgiveness to all victims of abuse, in a very heartfelt prayer. They have not try to make excuses and they have emphatically call abusive behaviors heinous, terrible and all sort of names. I have felt a cathartic healing going out to victims of abuse and their families and the community. It may also be healing for the religious community receiving angry and hateful accusations as they have.
    Another thing I have observed is that when we are accused of doing something terrible we have not done, we still have that human tendency to deep down think that maybe we are guilty in a way. I have been known to lash out in self defense more times than I can count. It’s important then to stop and do a reality check. And also read St. Faustina’s conversations with Jesus on the subject. She is though, very difficult to imitate.
    On a final note, remember we love you. There are more people in the world that love you than those that think they hate you, even when you complain. I leave you with this Irish blessing:
    “May the road rise to meet you,
    May the wind be always
    at your back,
    May the sun shine warm
    upon your face…..
    May God hold you
    in the hollow of His hand.”

  9. Thank you very much for reading and commenting. All comments have been read but I have had to withhold a few, either because the content is potentially libellous or because the violence of the language used goes against the standards we try to maintain in this blog. I am not replying to individual comments or I’ll end up writing another and much longer post!

  10. Feeling your pain but also seeing your love and hope. Sending this with great respect for you and your community. Human beings can be very cruel. Please take care. I know you know that you are not responsible for those who have abused their positions. Sending love.

Comments are closed.