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.
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.