In a meeting with Pope Francis, a victim of sexual abuse said with profound sadness and desperation: “Jesus had his mother nearby when he faced suffering and death. But my mother, the Church, left me all alone in my time of pain.” These few words express the horror of abuse, especially the sexual abuse of minors in the Church. They show how much the Church’s attitude and that of her leaders needs to change.
An especially poignant, religious-spiritual factor comes into play when the perpetrator is a man of the Church. When someone is abused by a biological father, there is always someone to turn to for help, namely, God. But when a priest commits abuse, that is someone who by his very office represents God and is referred to theologically as an alter Christus, then the victim’s image of God is obscured and he or she can quickly fall into a dismally dark abyss of loneliness. Of course, this is not limited to cases where the abuser is a man of the Church but when it does involve a priest it takes on a dimension that is qualitatively different and serious, especially in those for whom faith, liturgy and a relationship with God are important realities. For many this results in a compromised or completely broken life of faith and lack of trust in God.
Those who have been subjected to unspeakable suffering by representatives of the Church and who report the crime and wish to be heard are too frequently simply turned away or reprimanded for being troublemakers who would do better to keep their mouths shut.