Thursday, December 28, 2017

Paradigm Shift: What Happens When Catholics Apologize With Epilogue -- mostly (except the epilogue)rerun from early 2010 with Ep

On the second Saturday of January 2008, at Ascesnion Catholic Church a parish staffed by Franciscan priests, Steve Fearing found support for healing and reconciliation from Compassionate Gathering, our mixed group of clergy abuse survivors and other Catholics.  Steve, a slight man with curly, gray hair, was abused during his early teens by a Franciscan priest.  Until he came to Compassionate Gathering, Steve struggled mostly alone to heal himself.
Gatherings are held almost every month and often included the Franciscan pastor of Ascension, Fr. Armando Lopez.  In January 2008, Gathering participants discussed the Sackcloth Penance Patch, a way ordinary Catholics can apologize to survivors of clergy abuse.  We composed a letter to send to other parishes to tell them about the Patch.  Everyone’s input was elicited.  Fr. Armando, who was present, acted as a co-equal with Steve and other survivors and parishioners.

On the second Saturday of February 2008, Steve returned to Ascension to share his story with Compassionate Gathering. 

After Steve finished speaking, Fr. Armando spoke, “Married couples come to me for counseling.  When they first come to my office, they say to each other, ‘I hate you; I want to kill you.’”

Fr. Armando held up his hands, his right hand facing his left, and cupped them in imitation of two people shouting at each other.

Fr. Armando went on, “I tell them to speak from the heart.  Within twenty minutes they say to each other, ‘I love you; I need you.’”
Then Fr. Armando turned towards Steve, “We priests have to humble ourselves and speak from the heart and apologize for the abuse.  I’m sorry.”
Fr. Armando and Steve rose from their chairs and stepped forward to hug each other.
Steve said, “Father, this is the first time I’ve hugged a priest or called anyone ‘Father’ other than my own father in a very long time.”
Other Catholics approached Steve and hugged him too.  Tears trickled down the cheeks of a white haired Catholic grandmother.
“This is so beautiful,” she said.

After Fr. Armando departed, Steve said, “I wish I had told him that I love him.”
Weeks later Fr. Armando confided, “It was wonderful to meet Steve and say ‘I’m sorry’ in the name of my Brother who abused him.  It was wonderful that Steve responded with a warm embrace.  That touched my heart.”
Until now the paradigm has been that clergy abuse survivors could only trust other survivors to believe and support them.  Compassionate Gathering changes that paradigm.  Elizabeth Goeke, a clergy abuse survivor, and I co-founded Compassionate Gathering.  We support survivors and bring them together with other Catholics for mutual healing and understanding using the discipline of Compassionate Listening as developed by The Compassionate Listening Project. Without this discipline, Catholics risk wounding survivors with critical comments. We dedicate each Gathering to listening to the story of one survivor.  Steve’s turn came in February.
Steve grew up in a devout Irish Catholic family.  His mother felt honored when her parish priest visited her son.  She trusted the priest and never checked to see what the two were doing.  She never questioned what happened when her son stayed over Saturday night with the priest before serving as an altar boy on Sunday morning.
Steve’s struggles were the usual ones--drug and alcohol abuse, broken marriages, difficulty trusting other men....
For years the priest wrote Steve letters begging to see him again.  Steve never dreamt there were others.  But when Steve’s daughter was twelve, the age at which the priest started abusing him, Steve met a childhood acquaintance in a bar.  The man revealed to Steve that he had been abused by that same priest. Steve knew the priest was still in ministry.
Steve started thinking, What if there are others?  What if the priest is still abusing?  How can I look into the faces of other parents and do nothing to keep their children safe?
So Steve came forward.  The local Catholic archdiocese paid for Steve to see a therapist.  Over time Steve came to trust his therapist.  After Steve was arrested for Driving While Intoxicated, his therapist advised him to seek drug and alcohol treatment.  Steve asked the archdiocese to pay for treatment too.  The archdiocese offered Steve a financial settlement instead.  Steve felt the need to make a point that the Church should do more to care for survivors, so he sued. The archdiocese fought Steve’s lawsuit for nine years.  Those years were painful.  A trip to the Middle East took Steve through Rome.  Despite the abuse and the lawsuit, fond feelings for the church of his childhood still stirred Steve’s heart.
He didn’t know when he would be in Rome again, so he visited the Vatican.  He wandered around looking at art and architecture and found himself in a room filled with confessionals.  There were confessionals for people who spoke Greek. There were confessionals for people who spoke Italian or French or Spanish or German.  And there were confessionals for people who spoke English.
Steve longed to tell his story to a priest, to be told that he was cared about and everything would be made right.  He longed for reconciliation with the Catholic Church.  So Steve stepped into a confessional to tell his story.
The priest asked Steve, “Are you receiving the sacraments at a Catholic Church right now?”
“No,” answered Steve.
“Then I can’t hear your confession.”
But Fr. Armando listened.  Our Compassionate Gathering of survivors and other Catholics listened.  I reflected back to Steve the facts of his story.
“Virginia, you tell my story better than I do,” Steve said.
Another Catholic parishioner said to Steve “I look at you as the Christ among us because you have suffered.”.
Steve replied, “You all have given me so much love.  I can take that love and give it to other people.”
Elizabeth Goeke started crying.
“We clergy abuse survivors have been told we are only welcome in the Catholic Church if we remain silent.  We are on Holy Ground here.  I am so honored to be a part of this.”
We ordinary Catholics find the anger and pain of survivors difficult to listen to.  We fear losing our churches and schools to clergy abuse lawsuits.  We can’t believe the priests we loved abused children.  We can’t believe the bishops who lead us covered up abuse, protected priests, and failed to care for survivors.  We can’t believe that such abuses continue today.
We think, Why can’t survivors forgive, forget and move on?
When we express these sentiments, we unwittingly silence survivors of clergy abuse and drive them away from us.  The resulting isolation survivors feel--the sense of being uncared for and disbelieved--wounds survivors even more deeply than the abuse itself.  But when we Catholics change the paradigm, when we listen compassionately to survivors, when we support survivors, when we apologize sincerely, survivors begin the journey to forgiveness and reconciliation.  And we Catholics find ourselves transformed and uplifted by the experience.

Virginia Pickles can be contacted at

Epilogue from 2015:  The Catholic Church never embraced these efforts.  Nor did the lawyers for survivors or the advocacy groups for survivors.  I remember being told by Church and groups that they were waiting for the right person to come forward.  I don't know if they are still waiting.  I know how to bring survivors of clergy abuse together with other Catholics for mutual understanding and mutual healing, but neither side really wants that. There are good efforts going on here and there, but no organized effort of any scale exists anywhere that I know of.  I write this after a Syrian child has died on the shore after drowning on an unsafe passage as a refugee from strife in Syria.  People start wars, maybe for good reasons but this war evolved into senseless slaughter.  Abuse goes on in the Catholic Church.  What we are doing now does work to reduce abuse but it does not end it.  The only way to end it is to change hearts and minds.  You cannot do this through guns.  You cannot do that through verbal violence.  I met people in the Catholic Church who do bad things and make bad choices.  I met many good people who want to do good, but don't know what to do and are scared off by strong language and anger and pain.  Compassionate Listening as taught by The Compassionate Listening Project, Non-violent communication, and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy are all valuable tools for healing.  The heal relationships through calming the self and improving listening and speaking skills.  I left the Catholic Church.  I tried and tried and tried.  There were good priests, but in general the church leadership was more interested in sabotaging my efforts than in embracing them.  I still know a number of clergy abuse survivors.  I see good in their movement and wish them well.  

Saturday, December 23, 2017

Letter to Al Franken or how to differentiate between serious wrongdoing and something different

This is an edited version of a letter I sent to Al Franken

Dear Mr. Franken:

I will begin this by telling you that I am a survivor of child sex abuse, date rape and emotional domestic violence.

Next I want to thank you for your service and say that I am sorry you are resigning, but there was one good thing that came of it.  I finally felt comfortable dinging Donald Trump harshly on Facebook.  I had worried about offending my conservative friends, so I only made a few, vague references to Donald Trump abusing women.  Once you resigned, I repeatedly blasted my opinion that Donald Trump should resign because he abused women and girls.  Not that this made any difference.  (Sad emoji)

So the good guy goes, and the really bad guy remains.

Leanne Tweedon’s accusations against you smack of political opportunism.  Her accusations against you could boost her street credibility as a conservative radio host.  I don’t like victim shaming, but I did see the photos of her being rather sexual as an entertainer.  Since she is a public person who engaged in rather sexual poses in public, her privacy is less of an issue.  Mostly it is the fact that she is conservative radio show host that makes her accusations suspect.

And I remember the one woman who said you hugged her and left her hand on her breast the whole time, and then the photo came out and your hand was next to her breast but not on it.

Beyond that I don’t know about the accusations against you.  Maybe they are true.  I need to know more to judge.

But I do know about culture.  I come from a White Anglo Saxon Protestant (WASP) background.  My great grandfather was a head groundskeeper on a landed estate in England, and his father was a head groundskeeper on another landed estate before him.  My great grandfather studied horticulture at Kew Gardens and was sent to America to collect trees.  I guess he sent the trees back to England, but he stayed, eventually opening a nursery.

You know how my WASP family (mostly dead now) hugged?  They would touch you lightly on the shoulder and kiss the air next to your ear.  It would be easy to have some confusion about touch with them.  I don’t like being hugged, and for years I thought it was because I had such an uber WASP background.  Then I read about child sex abuse survivors not liking being touched, and I realized why I did not like being touched.

Honestly, my experiences with abuse and date rape, make intimacy very uncomfortable as well as the issues with suicide, low self esteem, outbursts of anger....and more that came from these very severe abuses.  I have also experienced sexual harassment such as the janitor who put his hand on the bottom of every girl who worked in my hometown library every time he walked by.  We teenaged girls confided in each other how much we hated that, but we never told anyone.

I also experienced it on a Polish fishing vessel when I worked as  Foreign Fisheries Observer on Soviet, Polish and Japanese fishing vessels in the 1980’s.

Let’s say for the sake of this argument that you really did place your hand on women’s bottoms while taking photos on the campaign trail.  There is no comparison between child sex abuse and date rape on one hand and a brief fondle of a bottom on the other.  One I experienced as having lasting and severe damage.  The other I experienced as annoying.  Moreover I learned how to avoid the latter by turning around when these disgusting men walked behind me.  I don’t know how the innocent four year old me would have avoided the sex abuse or how this five foot two inch tall woman would have avoided the date rape perpetrated by two football players.  To have these kinds of transgressions treated as somehow similar is to do a great disservice to victims of real abuses.

Then there are the cultural differences.  I have a friend who is Jewish as is her husband.  He gets loud at times and once a neighbor called Child Protective Services on him.  

My friend was concerned that she was misunderstanding her husband’s actions.  Since I am also a survivor of emotional domestic violence, I knew the answer.

“Are you afraid of your husband?” I asked.

“No, of course not,” she answered.  “He yells for five minutes, and then it is all over.”

My ex-husband would yell at me for up to eight hours at a time.  By the time our marriage ended, my constant state of being was fear and sadness.  Just because you yell a bit now and then, does not make you an abuser.  If you yell frequently enough and long enough to induce a fear reaction in others, then your yelling is abusive.

The same goes with sex abuse and rape and other forms of unwanted touch.

My friend added that her Jewish culture is more expressive and physical than my WASP culture, but I already knew that.

Minneapolis is multi-ethnic, but rural Minnesota has all those WASPy Norwegians and Swedes or so Garrison Keillor says.  Garrison Keillor was accused of much worse abuses than you.  I am sure happy that his loss from public life came recently instead of 25 years ago though.

Yeah, we really need to have this conversation about sexual abuse and harassment so a wonderful humorist such as Garrison Keillor knows better than to engage in unwanted touching.  

I think an ethics investigation was what needed to happen to you, not more unless the investigation turned up evidence of more serious wrong doing.  If the ethics investigation had turned up worse behavior, then it would be appropriate for you to resign.

In the meantime, lets have workshop on appropriate and inapprpriate touch and support survivors sharing their stories in public.  But let us also differentiate seriously harmful wrongdoing from ill advised behavior.  Sex abusers and rapers are out automatically.  If the crime is a hand on the bottom, let us demand the accused work on changing his or her behavior.  If they don't change then they are out.

Virginia Jones

Therapy or Court?

Therapy or therapeutic settings can also heal flaws in our judicial system.

The judicial system largely does not allow survivors of abuse who suffer from Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to actually suffer it in public during trials concerning abuse.  Church leaders and lawyers for churches in clergy abuse lawsuits as well as lawyers for abusive spouses in contested divorces often portray survivors as unstable people making false accusations.

But abuse makes one unstable.  Even people not suffering from symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder tend to feel angry when they hear themselves being lied about in court.  Add in a little PTSD and you get an angry and upset witness who does a lousy job by court standards of explaining their experiences.

This is the reason I prefer working with therapists.  Judges only see us for short periods of time, and a good attorney can be really skilled at confusing the truth in two or three hours.  Therapists see us over the long run and are more able to understand long terms trends and circumstances of behaviors.  Abusers can hide their bad behavior in an afternoon or two in court, but over the long run their conflict oriented behavior becomes obvious.

My dream of the future is to replace the courtroom with a system of Restorative Justice in which the focus is on healing wounds -- a system in which everyone plays a part in healing -- a system in which lawyers play only peripheral roles, a system in which judges to automatically rely on therapists and therapy to guide their decisions.  Until then you can resort to therapy yourself to guide your actions and coping strategies without a court order from a judge.

What I Learned In Order to Thrive After Abuse (Not In Order)

I have had to learn a lot after coming to terms with child sex abuse and date rape at age 42.  Actually it tool me another three years before I realized just how much I was harmed by abuse.  I went back to my journal and read what I wrote the day after I was raped.  I had reread many pages in my diary, but not that one, and it was a shocker.  I wrote about how dirty I felt afterwards.  My words were filled with pain and anger at myself, at the two young men who raped me and at all men.

I won't share more of my story right now.

Healing has been a slow process guided by a therapist and then by learning Compassionate Listening as taught by The Compassionate Listening Project and then by reading about Non-Violent Communication and Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

This is going to be an evolving blog, so check back to read more later.

These are some of the things I learned along the way.

1.  The first step in healing is coming to terms with what happened.  You cannot move forward until you do that.

2.  Healing is always a two steps forward and one step backwards process.  It's OK to move backwards now and then.  That is part of the process of growing and changing.

3.  Be kind and caring and gentle to yourself.  Speak to yourself gently and lovingly.  Remember that the power of suggestion is real.  If you keep telling yourself that you are dumb and worthless and stupid, you will make your healing journey, your movement forward much more challenging.

4.  Love yourself, nurture yourself, cheer yourself forward.  Remember the power of suggestion is positive as well as negative.  Tell yourself these thing:  I am brave, I am growing stronger, I am learning, I am growing, I am getting better and better all the time, I am loving, I am compassionate, I am good, I am just, I am beautiful, I am great, I am worthwhile, I am lovable, I am worthy of respect, I am wise.....  What other affirmations can you think of to tell yourself?

5.  Replace being ashamed of yourself and worrying about what other people think with compassion and respect for yourself and your needs and feelings.

6.  Work on nurturing respect for others and their needs and feelings as you cannot have healthy relationships with other people if you don't have respect and compassion for others as well as for yourself.

7.  Healing from Abuse is like the Five Stages of grief and loss with Dying described by Elizabeth Kubler Ross:  Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  Forgiven me for the swear words.  I was watching Orange in the New Black when I wrote this.

a.  I don't remember being abused OR well something like abuse happened to me but I turned out OK.

b.  I am so angry at the people who abused me and the people who covered that abuse up.  I can't heal if they don't apologize and aren't punished.

c.  If only I talk enough and tell people how bad HE/THEY are, people will figure out who is right and who is wrong.  And then I will get justice, and then I can heal.

d.  I never got justice.  No one cares.  The world is an evil place.  I am alone or I won my case and I felt good for a day or two or for a month, but I still have the same problems.  People are still mean to me and do things that make me angry or hurt me.  People still don't love me.  Nothing but bad happens to me.  LIFE IS A PIECE OF SH%T.

e.  I got handed a piece of sh%t in life.  There is nothing I can do to change from the past.  The past is what it is.

Death is final, but abuse isn't.  So we have to add one more step.

f.  What am I going to do to improve my piece of sh%t life?

8.  Anger is a major step of the path to healing, but it needs to be channeled in ways that help you.  If you don't channel it properly, it can ruin your relationships, your job opportunities, and your life.
You can learn about some ways to calm yourself down at these blogs:  Healing the Wounds of Abuse: How I Harmed Myself With My Anger and 8 Ways Housework Heals Me and Healing the Wounds of Abuse: How I Harmed Myself Through My Anger and 9 Ways Gardening Heals Me.

9.  It is really hard to cope with someone shouting at you or criticizing you or blaming you.  When someone does that to me I feel angry and frustrated and hurt, and I don't want to do what that person wants me to do.  But know also what is true for you and me is also true for other people.  If you respond to others with anger back when they mistreat you, your anger will harm you.  Instead work on how to respond calmly.  Journal.  Make a plan for what to do.  (For tips, read my blog on journaling:  How to Journal to Heal from Abuse and my blogs on how to heal anger:  Healing the Wounds of Abuse: How I Harmed Myself With My Anger and 8 Ways Housework Heals Me and Healing the Wounds of Abuse: How I Harmed Myself Through My Anger and 9 Ways Gardening Heals Me.

10.  Drama is not a relationship skill.

11.  Drama is not a job skill.

12.  BE ON GUARD TO LISTEN in order to calm arguments and heal relationship problems.  I have to keep on reminding myself of this because I get triggered to anger if people yell at me or accuse me or blame me or lie about me.  When we respond with anger, we can harm our relationships  with friends and family or lose our jobs.

13.  You can heal on your own, but support along the way makes the journey easier.  Don't give up easily.  Be persistent.  Try a support group but don't just go once.  Go at least ten times before deciding it can't help you.  Go to a therapist at least as many times if not weekly -- for years.  Read books.  Follow advice from reputable sources (ie. Therapists, books written by therapists, wounded survivor healers, domestic violence advocates) and more.  Go on retreats and workshops.

14.  Forgive yourself for making mistakes.  Instead of berating yourself for making mistakes turn them into learning experiences.  (Practical advice:  Journal about what happened.  Then make a plan what to do better next time journal based on Compassionate Listening, Dialectical Behavioral Therapy or Non-Violent Communication, your therapist or your support group).  See also my blog about journaling:  How to Journal to Heal from Abuse

15.  People may irritate you by trying to tell you to forgive which feels like letting the abuser of the hook for taking responsibility for the abuse, but a better way to think of it is Radical Acceptance.  Radical Acceptance means we make peace with the past.  Radical Acceptance is a concept core to Dialectical Behavioral Therapy.

16.  Radical Acceptance means I can't change the past.  It happened.  Things are what they are.  What happened happened.  What happened made me the person I am:  The good and the bad.  I can't change what happened, but I can work on making my future better.

17.  Accept responsibility for your thoughts, feelings and actions.  Act knowing you are responsible for your thoughts, feelings and actions.

18.  If you are experiencing a bad moment, remember it is just this moment, this day, this week or even this month, but it is not forever.  What is happening now is temporary.  Sometimes more bad things will happen, but good things will also happen.  The challenge is to wait out the bad times or, better yet, to make proverbial lemonade out of a lemon and actively change your life to make your world better.

19.  Find a spiritual connection to help you make sense of what happened, but make sure it is one that does not blame the victim.

© 2015 Virginia Jones.  You can contact Virginia at

Check our my You Tube Channel at Healing is a Sacred Journey -- StopAbuse/HealWounds

Thursday, June 8, 2017

Books I Found Helpful For Healing After Abuse

I was sexually abused around 1963 by two teenaged boys in my neighborhood when I was four years old.  My mother, who was also sexually abused as a child by someone in her neighborhood, struggled with depression and rotated in and out of mental hospitals until Ronald Reagan cut the budget for most of them.  She was too wrapped up in her pain to notice that I was gone.  And it was the days when people were much more relaxed about allowing their children to roam the neighborhood unsupervised.

I did not understand what the boys did to me, but I knew it was bad because I had at least been told that these were my private parts.  I knew, whatever it was they did to me, they weren't supposed to do it to me.

When I was six I told my mother what the boys did to me.

She said, "That's were babies come from," but she didn't do anything.

Her nonchalant response gave me the message that what happened to me was not significant.

This is a short book list

Begin by coming to terms with abuse.

Ellen Bass and Louise Thornton, Eds, I Never Told Anyone:  Writings by Women Survivors of Child Sexual Abuse, 1991.

Dorais, Michel, Don't Tell: The Sexual Abuse of Boys. 2009.

Angelou, Maya, I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings, 1969.

Bauschard, Louise, Voices Set Free: Battered Women Speak From Prison, 1986.

This book is authored by a pioneer in the domestic violence movement who discovered that some of the women she worked with served time in prison for killing the husband who tried to kill them.  As she looked into women serving time in prison, she discovered how many of them suffered from various forms of abuse through much of their lives.  In other words, our judicial system was punishing deeply wounded women who had not had proper support for healing.

Mohammed, Mildred,  Sacred Silent:  The Mildred Mohammed Story, 2010.

Remember the DC sniper who was black Muslim John Mohammed and his youthful and naive accomplice, Lee Boyd Malvo.  The media covered the fact that this pair were black Muslims killing white people.  Mildred Mohammed knew better.  She knew that she was the target.  She had suffered severe emotional and financial abuse while married to her former husband.  When she left him, he committed the act most guaranteed to hurt her -- he took their children and fled to a Caribbean Island.  Broken hearted and alone, she retreated to a domestic violence shelter to heal.  Eventually she got her children back and moved from the Pacific Northwest to the environs of Washington DC to be as far from her abusive husband as she could be.  Eventually what she knew would happen happened.  The DC sniper's car turned up outside of her house.  She survived to start a not-for-profit, After The Trauma, to help domestic violence survivors and write this book.

Mam, Somaly, 

The Day A Church Listened to the Father of a Clergy Abuse Survivor

Changing the Paradigm:  Listening Brings Healing for Survivors and other Catholics


Virginia Pickles

            The last Saturday in March 2009, two Santa Barbara Franciscan priests listened as the father of a clergy abuse survivor spoke.  They sat in the conference room of a Catholic Church.  Rectangular, Formica tables arranged in a large, closed square, soft light from the rainy day filtered through the windows of the former the former Catholic school.  An African tapestry covered one table.  On that table a candle burned in a glass vase ringed by a statue St. Francis, a three-inch painted wood replica of the crucifix of San Damiano, and a print copy of the Peace Prayer of St. Francis.  Fr. Armando, who was wearing a grey shirt with a white clerical collar, sat at the table with the candle.   Fr. Larry, who was wearing his brown Franciscan habit, sat next to him.  The father, a middle aged man with a lined face and black hair, sat at the other end of the arrangement of tables, tears streaming down his cheeks.  He spoke haltingly.
            Growing up, he was the only Catholic boy on his block.  Other boys attacked him for his faith.  He fought back with his fists.
            His mother told him, “This is the wrong way to fight for your faith.  If you want to defend your faith, go into the seminary.”
            So he entered the seminary.  He studied for the Catholic priesthood for several years, leaving when he realized that he was called to be father and husband more than he was called to be a priest.
            “But, “ he said, “Catholic priests taught me the values that I have now.  I support my (survivor) child because of my Catholic values.”
            He teared up again; his mouth trembled.
            The whole Compassionate Gathering listened attentively as he spoke: the two Franciscan priests, a man physically abused by his father, a woman sexually abused by her father, and several Catholic parishioners who want to reach out to survivors of abuse with compassion.
            Compassionate Gathering ( was cofounded in 2007 by a group of Catholic parishioners, sex abuse survivors, clergy abuse survivors, and other members of the community to heal the wounds of abuse in our society.  Until now, the paradigm has been that survivors of clergy abuse could only trust other survivors to support and believe them.  Compassionate Gathering changes that paradigm.  We offer survivors of all forms of abuse mentorin, spiritual support, and referral to other support services.  Then, when survivors reach the right stage of healing, we bring them together with other Catholics and members of the community for mutual healing and understanding in Compassionate Gatherings.  We meet  have been meeting monthly at Fr. Armando’s church.  To bring diverse Gatherings of people together, we use the spiritual discipline of Compassionate Listening adapted from skills developed by The Compassionate Listening Project ( and Santa Barbara therapist and peace worker, Gene Knudsen Hoffman.  Fr. Armando Lopez not only gives us a meeting place, he also helped us get our start and passionately supports our ministry.   
            Survivors of abuse are often filled with deep pain and anger.  They exhaust the people around them, sometimes telling the same story over and over again.  Family members and friends stop listening in order to cope with their own stress.  As a result, survivors feel betrayed and isolated.  But when we nurture the skills to listen to stories of pain compassionately, listening becomes uplifting for everyone present.  By listening to the wounded as long as needed, as often as needed, we end up being a part of the healing process.  Eventually the wounded person is able move forward through recovery to healing.  Sometimes they move to reach out to others and help them on the path to healing.
            For the father whose child was abused by another priest, it was deeply moving to have two Franciscan priests and a room full of parishioners and community members listen to him with so much compassion.  But meeting with two priests was not possible for him when he first came to us in April 2008.  He is a devout Catholic who continues to attend Mass every Sunday.  When his daughter confessed being abused by a priest to her parents, he went to Church personnel for support.  They were unable to give the family the support they needed, and the experience wounded them deeply.  It was not until the father’s third Compassionate Gathering that that he met Fr. Armando, and then he met him only as an anonymous participant in a Gathering.  Later, the father and his wife met Fr. Armando again at one of our potlucks.  They talked to him about their pain and found him very compassionate and supportive.  Finally, the father was able to tell his family’s story before two Franciscan priests.
            The father concluded his story by thanking us.
            “Our family was standing on one leg,” he said, “You (Compassionate Gathering) have given us another leg to stand on.”
            Next Fr. Larry spoke, “The clergy abuse lawsuits just hit the surface of this issue, through Compassionate Listening, we are able to go to a much deeper level of healing.
            As this was Fr. Larry’s first time at a Gathering, he added, “Thank you (Compassionate Gathering) for helping us (the Catholic Church) heal our wounds.”
            Then Fr. Armando spoke, “When Franciscan leadership transfers me from this parish, I am going to start a Compassionate Listening group wherever I go.  I really believe in the healing power of Compassionate Listening.”
            We Catholics find the clergy abuse issue difficult to deal with.  We feel wounded by the lawsuits and accusations of abuse against priests we love and cover up against bishops and Provincial ministers we revere.  We want survivors to forgive, forget and move on.
            When we express these sentiments, we unwittingly drive survivors away from us and validate the prevailing paradigm – that survivors cannot trust other Catholics.  But we Catholics can change the paradigm.  We can offer survivors of clergy abuse our support and belief.  We can listen to the stories of everyone wounded by abuse with compassion.  And when we do this, all sides of the Catholic clergy abuse issue find healing, all sides are uplifted.
Epilogue:  I wish this story had a happy ending.  It did not.  The Franciscan Order did not embrace my efforts to bring survivors of clergy abuse together with other Catholics.  Only these few priests supported my efforts.  Eventually, the Franciscans left the parish.  They claimed that it was due to their declining numbers,  Their numbers are declining but they had just started staffing another parish in Western Oregon, and the parishioners of St. Elizabeth of Hungary parish had loved and supported the Franciscans more than any other parish.  I was also not supported by the survivor groups or the lawyers.  So we helped a few people and then our mission ended due to lack of interest and support.  Honestly, the leadership of the Catholic Church is never going to do the right thing unless the people of the Catholic Church insist that they do so.  Standing outside of a church informs parishioners that there is a problem but most parishioners hearts and minds aren't changed by that.  I think the way to change hearts and minds is to bring people inside the church but even that won't change hearts and minds because most people don't know how to listen to words of pain and anger without getting upset themselves.  If you teach people how to listen with compassion, you will teach them how to open their hearts and minds.  They will both provide the right support to the wounded and be much more open to the message that much more needs to be done to end abuse and heal the wounds.

Well, I couldn't get the Church to do the right thing, so I got frustrated and left.  That and my kids became teens with much more to do outside of the church (driving time with mom to get a license, volunteer jobs, sports activities.  I don't know that I won't ever go back to a Catholic Church.  I do know I won't go back to St. Elizabeth of Hungary.  More likely I am to go back to Quaker Meeting  where I came from before I converted to the Catholic Church.  My ancestors who came to this country in 1687 were Quakers.  Quakers who worship the traditional way in silent meetings have no paid ministers.  I am drawn to that idea.  Holiness is not conferred by one's title or training.  It is conferred by one's actions.  Fr. Armando and Fr. Larry were holy men.  The leadership of the Franciscan Order not so much.

Please note: That St, Elizabeth of Hungary Parish is a made up name for a real place and, if there is a St. Elizabeth Province of Franciscans, I don't know where they are.  I made up the name because I was very inspired by St. Francis and by the Franciscan Saint Elizabeth of Hungary.  She was a queen who felt it was her duty to live simply and minister to the poor.  When her husband, the king died, his family threw her out of the palace because they did not like her habit of ministering to the poor.  She died young.

Virginia Jones is a parishioner at a Catholic Church staffed by Santa Barbara Franciscan priests and a cofounder of Compassionate Gathering.  She can be reached at

Sunday, October 9, 2016

What To Do When You Feel Hopeless: Repeat Positive Mantras

A mantra, which is a spiritual practice in Hinduism and Buddhism, is a statement or slogan repeated frequently. 

An affirmation, according to the Google dictionary on the internet, is the action or process of affirming something or being affirmed.  To affirm is defined as "to state or assert positively; maintain as true.

Mantras and affirmations can be used for healing and coping with all levels of stress including extreme stress.  There are two ways to use mantras or affirmations: on a daily basis to raise self esteem and lower overall stress or to cope with stressful situations on a case by case basis.

I learned to use mantras to heal myself on a difficult day in the fall of 2008.  I had the ex-husband from hell.  He was constantly requesting parenting time schedule changes, making plans with our children during my parenting time without asking me first, and requesting to take his vacation over my birthday while refusing to make schedule changes for me to take a vacation with the kids.  He also sent me mounds and mounds (I printed them out for evidence) of e-mails criticizing me and blaming me for our problems getting along.  That day in 2008, I was also scared for my financial future as my work prospects were not going well.  AND I was sick with a sore throat and earache runny nose and lethargy.  Oh, I forget to mention that I was also a child sex abuse and date rape survivor, so depression and anxiety were my constant companions.  I was so stressed that I start to cry.  How could I handle everything?  Life was so hard.  I thought to myself as I often did for years that if I had known what was ahead of me, I might not have chosen to be born.  As I cried, my children, then nine and twelve, also began to cry.  I knew as a mother that my tears were dragging my children down into despair.  I also knew that I had to be strong for them, to be their hope for a happy life.  I wanted better for them than I had had in my life.  My parents had passed away years before and the never ending conflict with my ex-husband left me little time to develop friendships.  I was trying to handle bad times on my own.  Fortunately I did have a mentor--someone just like me who had struggled through child sex abuse and an abusive relationship with her ex-husband.  However she had figured out how to heal herself from these wounds so she often had good answers for my problems.  So I called up my mentor to ask for help.    

She told me, “Repeat a positive mantra.”

What my root fear was that life was just too much.  I could not handle it.

My fundamental need was to believe I could get through this day, this life.  Although that day was a particularly bad day, I had been through many particularly bad days in my life.  What I needed more than anything was to remind myself that I was strong and could get through this one particular bad day too.

So that became my mantra and for good measure I substituted the word "we" for the word "I" because I needed to help the children I had hurt with my tears.

My mantra (or affirmation) became, “We are strong; we are getting through this.”

So I got off the phone and took my children’s hands while we stood in a small circle.

Together we repeated the words, “We are strong, and we are getting through this.”

We did this not once or twice or even for ten minutes.  We did this for a full forty-five minutes because that was how long it took me to feel OK, to be able to proceed with my life, such as it was, without crying.

I have used the technique many times since then.  For greatest effect, combine the mantra with breathing and gratitude for the forces of the universe aligning with you to help you be strong.

Become aware of your breathing.

Breathe in, "For making me strong."

Breathe out, “Thank you.”

Breathe in, “For making me strong.”

I have known other abuse survivors who used mantras and affirmations to help themselves heal.  Armando, for example, used a different kind of mantra or affirmation for his healing.  Armando was physically and emotionally abused as a child by his father and suffered low self esteem as a result.  At age 18, he immigrated from Mexico to the United States and worked in a factory in the Los Angeles basin.  In his spare time he chased girls and the dream of owning a cherry red Mustang.  One of the girls he was pursuing invited him to a spiritual retreat at her Catholic Church.  Armando attended the retreat.  In the long run he lost the girl, but he found faith during the retreat.  

After the retreat he would stand before his bathroom mirror every day and repeat the words, "I am made in the image of God."

It was an important first step in his healing that eventually led him to become a Catholic priest.

Once again, don’t think that repeating a mantra or affirmation a few times is enough.  During a period of extreme stress, repeat it many times for thirty or even sixty minutes if need be.  If you need it to lower overall all stress and improve self esteem the way Armando did, repeat it several minutes every day for weeks, months or years if needed.

You may also want to remind yourself of these things by making decorative cards with these simple sayings on them to post them around your bedroom or your home.

These are some affirmations or mantras I have come up with:  
I am lovable.
I am good.
I am smart.
I am capable.
I am strong.
I am worthy.
I am beautiful.
I have glorious hair.
I am a great writer.
I am a good cook.
I am creative.
I am giving.
I am fun.

Now come up with your own positive mantras to help you feel good about yourself.

It is important to remember that we repeat mantras not because we believe them but because we need to believe them.

(c) 2016 Virginia Pickles