BALTIMORE – Two victims of clerical sexual abuse addressed members of the U.S. bishops’ conference Monday and shared how the bishops’ action, or inaction, on the abuse crisis has shaped their lives.
Teresa Pitt Green, who identified herself as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by multiple priests, spoke first. She detailed how the abuse she suffered led her to leave the church, but said she has since returned as she believes steps have been taken better to ensure child safety.
“My story is only one story, and my healing is only one healing,” she said November 12, the opening day of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Fall General Assembly. She considers herself to be one of the “lucky ones,” as her family stood by her after she revealed her abuse. Despite this, she said her family was “bruised” by her abuse and suffered deeply as a result.
Abuse victims are portrayed as the “damaged goods of our age,” and often suffer from drug addictions, problems with relationships, and other mental health issues, she said.
Green did, however, offer praise for the work done by the bishops in order to ensure that Catholic environments are safe for children. She noted that while child sexual abuse continues today, it is “very unlikely” that the abuse is occurring in Catholic institutions.
“I’m not saying there’s not enormous improvements, but I’m saying you’ve permitted me to come back to the church,” she said.
“From the bottom of my heart, I can’t thank you enough.”
Green said that her heart was “full of forgiveness,” and that her heart was full as she had found her savior in the Lord. Even after doing 12-step programs, reading self-help books, and attending therapy sessions, she found the she still needed a savior.
She was, however, extremely critical of some of the bishops present, saying that “the Lord has cried more tears on his cross because of some decisions that some of you have made.”
“I don’t know how you bear it. My heart breaks. And I will continue to pray for you,” she added.
Luis A. Torres Jr., a victim of clerical sexual abuse as a teen, spoke after Green. Torres, a native of Brooklyn, is a former altar boy, and said that he “truly experienced God’s love” in his early life. He attended Catholic schools, and said that he “was always surrounded by the most wonderful, giving, holy people.”
These people were “deserving of my trust,” he said. “Except for my abuser.”
The priest who abused him acted in a manner that was “inconsistent with everything I have learned about God.”
While many abuse survivors turn to drugs or other forms of self-medication, Torres instead pursued higher education and law school. He said these accomplishments served as a sort of “armor” against his feelings of pain from being abused.
“Abuse of a child is the closest that you can get to murder and still possibly have a breathing body,” he said. Abuse, especially from a trusted figure, “mortally wound[s] the spirit and soul of that child,” he said, especially if the abuser is a priest.
Torres had a more critical take on the status quo of the church than Green, saying that he believed that “the heart of the church is broken, and [the bishops] need to fix this, now.” He was critical of how the church sometimes views victims of abuse as “money grubbers” or people out to cause trouble.
“We need to do better,” he said, adding that abuse survivors should not be viewed as “adversaries,” “liabilities,” or even “scary.”
The words and actions of the bishops have caused victims harm, he said, and have helped to drive them from the church.
What the church needs now, Torres said, is for the bishops to work to inspire Catholics with their action, “which is needed right now,” and not in the coming months.
He reminded the bishops that their initial calling was not to be a CEO or an administrator or a prince, but rather to be a priest. He implored them to “be the priests that you were called to be.”
He added, “Please, act now, be better.”
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