By coincidence, on March 23, which the Bishops of England and Wales have declared a day of prayer for the protection of minors, I am travelling to Assisi, where, via the Franciscans, I have been introduced to a potential donor for the work of the Grief to Grace Ministry, a programme for healing those who have been abused in childhood, including and especially victims of clerical sexual abuse.
For the past seven years I have been begging funds for the programme. Against all odds, through God’s providence and the generosity of a handful of individuals who seem to understand the need for such work and its importance to the Church if she is to recover credibility, we have managed to run the programme here in Britain.
The Church rightly points to the progress made on safeguarding, but we are fooling ourselves if we think we will ever design a system so perfect that it can compensate for the frailty of human nature. Even with such a system, the crisis of sexual abuse within the Church remains live while there are victims who continue to suffer from the effects of abuse.
St Lawrence, when asked for the Church’s treasure, presented the emperor with the poor, not with a balance sheet showing how the assets had been ethically managed. In answer to the demand to know what the Church is doing about the abuse crisis, it is not enough to say: “We have safeguarding regimes in place.” The Church should be able to show the world the victims she has healed. Her mandate, in the words of the Second Vatican Council, is to bind up wounds in the name and person of Jesus.
This was the direction that Benedict XVI urged the Church to take when the abuse scandal broke in Ireland. He urged Irish bishops “above all, to bring healing to the victims and those affected by these egregious crimes”. Ten years later, I am not aware that we are much further forward as a Church in terms of having concrete measures for healing the victims of abuse.
As far as I know, Grief to Grace (grieftograceuk.org) is the only healing programme which integrates a knowledge of the psychology of the complex trauma resulting from sexual abuse with an understanding of the spiritual dimension of such a wound. The damage to a person’s identity and relationships can be so serious that, as Jesus says, it were better for the one causing it that he tie a millstone round his neck and drown himself.
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