By Jourdan Reynolds
In response to the crisis in our Catholic communities over some bishops’ lack of accountability for clergy sexual abuse, Pope Francis asks the lay faithful to pray and fast for victims and their families. In recent months, Catholic churches, schools and religious orders have held holy hours to pray for healing and guidance. I have read many articles detailing the response of the public, many expressing anger.
Personally, I feel for both victims and the abusers. I am speechless and beyond comprehension about how such abuses could have happened. However, I believe these cases can also serve a purpose — to bring to light the seriousness of all forms of abuse, which include not only sexual but physical and verbal abuse. Any abuse can cause serious damage to the human person, and in no circumstance should it be considered a normal human behavior. I would like to share with you my story of abuse, and how the Catholic faith has helped me to heal and overcome its consequences.
I was sexually abused as a child, but not by a Catholic priest. I was maybe 6 or 7 years old when the abuse first occurred. And though I don’t consider my abuse to be extreme, it was traumatic enough to cause me many problems in later years. My thoughts of abuse resurfaced in the third grade when I was preparing for my first reconciliation. The teacher asked us to think about what we were sorry for. I remember thinking about my times of abuse, and feeling especially guilty about it. I felt as if I had committed a terrible crime. I thought about asking my teacher whether I needed to confess but I was too scared, and decided not to tell her and the priest during my first confession.
More problems surfaced during high school and college. When it came to dating and interacting with my female peers, I always felt like something was wrong. I had no trouble speaking and communicating with the opposite sex, but whenever I became romantically interested in someone, I felt like an entire different person, as if I were fighting against my alter ego for control of my mind and body.
I always seemed to be attracted to problematic people who never reciprocated the affection I had for them. I came to believe that if I didn’t work hard for their approval and give up what I enjoyed, then it wasn’t real love. For years, I struggled like this, spending time pursuing women who didn’t respect me or dating women whose affection I could never reciprocate. My heart ended up being broken and, at the same time, I ended up breaking and hurting the hearts of others.
To counter this behavior, I went to God in prayer and fasting. I went to Mass, prayed in adoration, went to confession, saw a spiritual director and offered my pain and suffering in recompense for my past experiences. I knew deep down there was something wrong, and sadly I knew some of the problems were caused by the abuse I experienced. In my struggle, I grew extremely close to our Lord, giving my entire self to him, because I couldn’t do it alone.
I realized the destructive effect abuse can have upon a person. Today, as I pray for the victims of clergy abuse, I pray additionally for forgiveness and peace for all the women who have hurt me and that I have hurt. I hope and pray that the prevalence of abuse in society decreases and that more witnesses like me have the courage to share their story and continue the healing process.
“God, our heavenly father, never cease in comforting us and all those affected by this sin of abuse, and guide us upon a path of healing and closure. Amen.”
(Jourdan Reynolds, 26, is a member of St. Mary of the Visitation Catholic Church in Ottumwa.)