The best intentions behind the Child Victims Act (CVA) are to offer survivors of child sexual abuse a chance to tell their story and a measure of justice long overdue. Hoping to find healing — and with great courage — many are called to come forward, but few will be chosen.  

Gary Greenberg, a survivor and committed advocate, explained in a recent local report that the CVA “is mainly going to benefit institutional victims and lawyers, and the non-institutional victims are going to be left out.” Of the 500 lawsuits filed under the CVA since Aug. 14, nearly 97 percent have identified large institutions — namely the Catholic Church or the Boy Scouts of America — instead of individuals. That denies many, if not most survivors, the opportunity the CVA intended to offer, unless they can count on the generosity of attorneys serving pro bono or on some funding for victims with claims lacking institutional connections.  

Each year 60,000 cases of child sex abuse are reported nationwide. More than 90 percent of the time, victims know their abuser. Parents are the offenders more than three-quarters of the time, and this according to data compiled by the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network group. Few survivors will sue their parents.  

Even among those who will avail themselves of the CVA, survivors understand that courts and litigation only offer incomplete justice, meted out in financial terms. The experience of being heard and taken seriously comes at the price of public exposure. While a crucial step in healing for many, the “day in court” falls short of all that must follow. To heal the whole person, some renewal or reintegration of relationships with family, community, important individuals and with the Church is crucial. 

The wounded spirit needs the touch of our gentleman God who never forces salvation upon us, but invites us freely to accept it through a loving relationship with the wounded Healer. Jesus Christ, present to us, in us and among us is that wounded Healer. In accepting this invitation, we find our identity as individuals, and, together, our mission as a Church. 

Freedom to choose this gift is particularly important for survivors of any abuse. Abusers deny their victims free choice over what happens to them, leaving them isolated in shame, often convinced they are the only victim. God offers the choice for healing and new life in the person of Jesus, the perfect Victim, who has already borne all sin and suffering. He waits for each of us to turn to him. The new life he offers is available to every abuse survivor, not just those harmed by clergy. 

There is no treasure like this free gift. Jesus summons us as his Church to offer this true treasure to every person who has suffered abuse and who now seeks healing and justice. Restitution may be an important part of justice in the courts, but survivors often say that no settlement “package,” no lump sum, can heal the pain. The healing they seek must embrace the whole person, body and spirit, heart, mind and memory.  

No “institution” in society is better equipped for this than the Church. In fact, it is our mission, and the Church must lead the way. To put it bluntly, litigation is about the business of law. Jesus himself is about the universal mission of justice. He is the Victim who has suffered abuse, too, who offers the treasure of new life.

Healing and justice are the treasure our faith offers. Few survivors may ever turn to the courts, but all are offered this treasure. Survivors abused by clergy may well sue a Diocese, a school or a parish, but this will not automatically repair the sin that wounded them and separated them, not only from trust in their abuser, but from the Lord of all mercy and his healing love in the sacramental life of the Church.  

We see the demonic genius at work here. Every report may feel like a personal hit — to our relationships with those we have come to trust, to the parish communities we love, to those priests who are serving faithfully, to the entire Church. Every person in the pews feels this. This is what the Evil One wants us all to believe, so that Catholics are alienated from the faith, priests are separated from their people, and the people from the Eucharist and, ultimately, from Jesus himself — the only physician who can heal us. 

Personally, I want to call on all of our parish families to grow together to become centers of healing. Reacting to the heartbreak and anger over the scandals of abuse and lawsuits, it’s natural to recoil and withdraw. But that is not our commission as disciples. Our parish life cannot be lived in a kind of defensive isolation as if each parish is an island, or worse, a fortress walled up against a wicked world. Growing to meet the challenge of an abused and traumatized world, we need to be oases of peace, security and restoration. 

No survivor – no matter when or by whom he or she was abused – should ever fear telling their story, even if that only begins with very halting baby steps, bits of memories of unconnected instances. Many ways of reporting are in place (see rcda.org, our diocesan website), but even before any formal claim is made, survivors should feel welcomed and safe in any and all activities in our parishes, and know they can find good options for holistic mental health care, as a people who appreciate the path from the garden of Gethsemane to the empty tomb on Easter Sunday. 

Many parishes have societies, Scripture study-groups and prayer circles that teach ways to pray like lectio divina and forms of meditation. These can and should be “safe spaces” where any survivor finds solace and confidential support in breaking their terrible silence and, in many cases, sharing their story over time. No one should ever feel guilty or shamed just for telling the truth. 

As diocesan bishop but, more importantly, as your pastor, I want to be the spiritual father you can trust and confide in, not because of what I say, but because of who I am and what I do. I commit myself personally to be more present in all of our parishes and regions of our Diocese, to be a pastor not for those who may be identified as “practicing” Catholics only, but for the entire community. Our Diocese is blessed with devoted priests who seek to do the same, and I have encouraged all our priests to continue on this path, caring for their people. Pray for us, please, as we serve you. 

The treasure we offer survivors who seek healing and justice is our treasure in life as well. I draw my confidence and conviction not from our material resources, which, as time may soon tell, are limited and must be administered very prudently, but from the Gospel of Jesus Christ, the friend of sinners and the broken-hearted. I believe that his Eucharistic Presence is the source and summit of a transcendental, mystical and totally real connection with the Eternal, living God who alone can restore us from the ravages our sins and the sins of others wreak on us and our communities. I also believe, as all Christians do, that Jesus is really present in the hearts, conversations and collaborative work of those who believe in and gather in his name. This is the Faith that calls us forth, like Lazarus, from the tomb of every imaginable kind of death to new life, no matter how violently we have been thrown down. It is a faith that moves mountains! 

It is this Faith in the divine Person, Jesus Christ, whose mystical body has also been scarred and wounded by the terrible sins of sexual abuse among our members, that is the treasure in earthen vessels that we offer to the world without limit. Jesus alone has the power and the mission to raise us up, healed, restored and renewed, as whole as the day of our rebirth in Baptism. Yes, we will feel the fire as the old reign of sin is burned away. Do not be afraid! It is a purifying fire that, like gold burnished in a furnace, will only reveal what we truly are: beloved children of a Loving Father. 

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