This section contains advice and recommendations on pastoral and spiritual care for people who have been abused. These recomendations have been shared with TutelaMinorum’s Working Group 1 by people who have been victims of child sexual abuse.
The recommendations were developed over the course of three years of listening, discernment and action led by the men and women who generously and courageously dedicated their time and expertise to the Survivors Advisory Panel pilot projects.
TutelaMinorum thanks them, while recognising that the recommendations we share here are not all-encompassing or exhaustive. They are offered as an initial resource for reflection and further elaboration.
Pastoral Care for people who have been AbuseD #
The initial approach to healing a victim/survivor of abuse is dependent upon the following important factors:
- Age at the time of presentation (child under the age of 18, or adult), and
- Circumstances present at the time of presentation. This includes stage of recovery, and the degree of psychological distress and physical impairment they may be experiencing.
Pastoral Care for Abused Children #
Children who are survivors of sexual abuse display a range of symptoms that include secrecy, helplessness, delayed and conflicted disclosure and recantation. Children and adolescents often present for treatment in one of several circumstances, including criminal investigations, custody battles, problematic behaviors at home or school, and referrals from child welfare agencies.
Recommendations for engagement with the child victim of clergy sexual abuse include:
- Acknowledging the child’s courage in sharing their story and assuring them that the perpetrator will not be able to hurt them, or anyone in their family. Many perpetrators threaten survivors to remain silent. It is important to reassure the survivor that they did the right things by coming forward and that the perpetrator will not be allowed to retaliate against them in any way. (And be sure that measures are taken to keep this promise.)
- Do not question the child about specific details. Survivors often experience re-traumatization when they recount the events of their abuse. Document the event with whatever facts are presented, and refer the child to a local agency who can provide access to appropriate therapeutic resources.
- Many survivors reported that they did not trust any therapist retained by the Church. The best approach is to connect the child’s family with a survivor’s advocate. An appropriate advocate would be a person such as a lay volunteer from another parish. The role of the advocate is to ensure appropriate follow-up and psychological care is delivered to the child and their family members.
Pastoral Care for Abused Adults #
Adults with history of child sexual abuse experience a wide-range of pathology based on their unique circumstances and environment. They can also show signs of remarkable resilience and courage, as well as deep faith which may have taken root outside the Church which was an unsafe setting for a long time.
Child sexual abuse is a significant adverse life event. Such events may increase one’s sensitivity to unhealthy behaviors (i.e., drug use). Adults who have been sexually abused as children often present for psychological treatment with a secondary mental health issue, such as addiction or personality disorders. Addiction leads to significant challenges that reinforce the survivor’s feelings of shame, and disgrace, and further erodes their self-esteem. Personality disorders require substantial therapeutic support, and medication. Yet, for all survivors experiencing these issues, faith is a crucial anchor for well-being.
Some survivors may seek spiritual guidance because they are experiencing a hardship or some distress in their personal life including marital problems, interpersonal conflicts, employment issues, criminal activity, financial mismanagement, and even homelessness. It is not uncommon for parents, when their own child reaches the age of their past abuse, to become emotionally overwhelmed for reasons they cannot name.
Frequently, survivors of child abuse do not make the connection between their abuse and their present situation or pathology. The realization that childhood abuse may be contributing to an individual’s current situation is most likely to occur through an appropriate therapeutic intervention.
Recommendations for engagement with the adult with a history of clergy sexual abuse include:
- Assure the survivor that their report is being taken seriously. Survivors often experience significant psychological trauma when their reports are not believed or when their reports are trivialized, or dismissed without inquiry by the authorities.
- Assure the survivor that what they experienced was wrong, and it was not their fault. Sexual offenders rarely express remorse for their actions. Some offenders blamed the survivor for their behavior. Survivors are further traumatized when they experience this lack of remorse, or blame. This trauma may be mitigated when their pain is acknowledged, and they experience an authentic apology and remorse and sincere compassion from a Church official, or cleric.
- Try not to preach to the survivor. Instead, seek to understand and sympathize with what they are going through and, crucially, either take, or help them to take, action to resolve the problems they are encountering.
- Give survivors choices. This helps them take control for their lives back. Many survivors reported that they did not trust any therapist retained by the Church. The best approach is to refer the survivor to a supportive advocacy organization who can provide them with a list of resources, including therapists in their area.
- Do not ask/expect survivors to forgive the Church or their abuser. Some survivors experience increased psychological distress when they are asked or coached to forgive before they are ready. When a survivor desires to work through a process of forgiveness, they should be guided by an experienced competent trauma-informed therapist, or spiritual director with expertise in clergy sexual abuse and reconciliation.
Many Dioceses, Archdioceses and religious groups have dedicated offices and services which offer pastoral and spiritual assistance for those who have suffered from abuse, their families and surrounding communities.
Examples of publically available structures and resources for the spiritual and pastoral care of people who have been abused: #
THE AMERICAS #
Archdiocese of Boston (USA): The Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach (OPSO), established in 2002 in the aftermath of the revelations of clerical sexual abuse, continues to seek new pathways for recovery and new life for survivors, families and all those impacted in our community.
Archdiocese of Chicago (USA): In their efforts to help individuals achieve psychological, emotional and spiritual healing, the Office of Assistance Ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago provides pastoral care, support and resources for victims and survivors of clerical sexual abuse, in addition to services for their loved ones. For example, they recently offered The Ninth Annual Hope and Healing Prayer Service 2020, a prayer service created by survivors of abuse for survivors of abuse, their family members and our larger Church family in the spirit of healing and reconciliation.
Archdiocese of Seattle: Victims of child sexual abuse or any individual who suspects abuse by clergy or anyone working on behalf of the Church may make a report through the Pastoral Outreach Coordinator. They also offer a page specifically dedicated to providing Abuse Information.
Diocese of Camden (USA): The Diocese of Camden has collected various resources from around the Catholic world to help those in need of support.
Diocese of Manchester (USA): The Office for Healing and Pastoral Care provides services and support, promotes healing, and supports the emotional and spiritual well-being of survivors of sexual abuse and any other misconduct committed within the Church. The Office also seeks to be a source of comfort and support for anyone who is a survivor of sexual abuse and to the families of those who have been abused.
Spirit Fire (USA): Spirit Fire is a Christian Restorative Justice Initiative. This initiative both promotes improvements and provides further training in the field of pastoral care so that such care can foster healing among individuals, families, parishes, and all communities wounded by the abuse of children or vulnerable adults.
Maria Goretti Network (USA): Standing witness to God’s love as experienced through the life of Maria Goretti, The Maria Goretti Network (MGN) offers support to victims, those affected by abuse, their families, and to all individuals who support their recovery.
Grief to Grace (UK): Grief to Grace is a specialized 5-day program of spiritual and psychological healing for anyone who has suffered from sexual, physical, emotional or spiritual abuse in childhood, adolescence or adulthood, including those who are victims of rape, incest or abuse by any member of the clergy.
National Council of Churches in Australia (Australia): The National Council of Churches in Australia is an ecumenical council of member Australian Christian Churches.