Friday, March 4, 2011

Prayer of Compassion: Actively Support Survivors of Abuse Instead of Just Saying We're Sorry

I was baptized Catholic by a dynamic priest in June, 2001.  Eleven months later he was removed when a man accused the priest of abusing him when he was a teenaged boy.  The people of my parish reacted to these accusations with profound grief and confusion.  The parish divided between those who loved and supported the priest and those who thought we were blessed to be rid of a dangerous pedophile.  I was among those who supported the priest.  Inspired by the Peace Prayer by St. Francis, I wrote a prayer for the him -- The Prayer of Compassion.  I wanted to offer the priest my belief and my support.  Since I was married at the time, I also wrote the prayer for my husband.  It didn't seem right to write a prayer just for the priest.

It took a few years for me to come to terms with the abuses perpetrated by that priest.

The first step was to recognize denial when I heard it.

I remember shortly after the priest was removed from ministry some older ladies in our parish who adored the him said of his abuses, "It must have been a misunderstood hug."

I said nothing to those ladies, but I knew it wasn't just a hug.  The priest had confessed to much more.  Still, I wanted to believe the abuse was consensual.  The priest was so charming.  I could imagine him charming a boy....

But a new accusation hit the media 19 months later.  The priest had gotten a boy drunk and had violently sodomized him.

I was sick with the flu at the time that accusation came out.  It is hard to know where the flu let off and being sick over that accusation began.

After I recovered from the flu, I handed out newspaper articles in my parish.  In quick order I was thrown out of the parish and got divorced.  The two events are related and make a dramatic story I am not yet ready to tell.

After I was thrown  out of my parish, I met the survivor who accused my priest in May, 2002.  I don't think he would have trusted me if I hadn't been thrown out of a Catholic Church.  (God works in mysterious ways.)  The survivor was fragile, struggling with depression, thoughts of suicide, and inability to maintain relationships or work.

My heart was filled with grief for his losses and compassion for his pain.

I realized I had written my prayer for him too.  He also needed my belief and support.  I am sorry that my relationship skills were not good enough at the time to support him the way he needed support.

As I have worked with other survivors, I've come to realize that not only do many feel alone and abandoned and many truly are alone and abandoned.

I was alone and abandoned when I was thrown out of the Catholic Church.  It feels pretty lousy when you are telling the truth and other people are persecuting you.

But eventually, as my messaging became more positive, more about healing, more people came around to believing in me and supporting me.  One of these supporters was a lady who thought of the Sackcloth Penance Patch to symbloize penance for abuses and prayers for survivors.

Some survivors have felt supported and uplifted by these Patches.  Some have expressed that the Patches are too symbolic.

One survivor suggested that Catholics both wear the Patches and donate to a fund to pay for therapy and other forms of support for survivors of abuse.  I think this is a great idea, but I don't have enough support to implement it.  I welcome support from anyone who wants to help me do this.

We've handed out the Sackcloth Penance Patches these last few years with a prayer asking forgiveness for our sins.

This year, at Ascension Catholic Church we are doing something different.  Ascension is staffed by Franciscan Friars.  Yeah, the Franciscans did the bad stuff of abuse and cover up too.  They also investigated their own abuses pretty thoroughly back in 1993 through The Independent Board of Inquiry.  They were dragged into it by parents of abused boys, they kept names of accused priests confidential, they left an abusive priest in ministry..... but worst of all, they didn't see the good they had done in being more open and honest about their own flaws.  They retreated from the right path rather than embracing it wholeheartedly. But they still did a really good thing that should be emulated by more Catholic Orders and Diocese.

Those flawed Franciscans have wandered a bit from the vision of Brother Francis, but they still have something of him in them.

St. Francis is supposed to have said, "Preach always.  If necessary, use words."

Fr. Ben spoke last Lent about performing positive penances such as taking a walk or praying every day as opposed to giving up something.

That is what we are going to do with the Sackcloth Penance Patch this year.  We are distributing the Prayer of Compassion this year with the Sackcloth Penance Patches to encourage Catholics not merely to prayer for survivors of abuse but to support them and believe them when they come forward.

I am sharing my prayer to help inspire other Catholics to think about how we can express belief and support for all survivors who come forward.

Prayer of Compassion

Lord, you have given me great love;
Guide me in its use.
Give me the wisdom and the strength
To do good,
To support and believe in
Those who need my support and my belief,
To give confidence to those who are faltering.
Lord, give me wisdom and strength
To succumb not to my desires for pleasure
But to act in ways that bring happiness to others.
Lord, help me listen lovingly
To those who need empathy from someone.
Through the tangled snags of conflict,
Help me make peace
And to return anger with patience and compassion.
Through my heart,
Lord, fold your arms around the weary.
Through my eyes,
Declare your love to those who need it.
Make my manner gentle and kind,
My heart humble and pure.

Lord, you have given me great love;
Guide me in its use.

Copryright 2002 to 2011 Virginia Pickles Jones.  Please do not reprint prayer without permission from the author.

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