Protecting children: A survivor’s search to heal after abuse

Drew Dillingham of the USCCB office of child protection is pictured in Rome Jan. 31. (CNS photo/Paul Haring)

CNS photo/Paul Haring

By Drew Dillingham
Catholic News Service

(Thirteenth in a series)

ROME — Among all the people I have met in Rome, I was most honored to meet Veronique Garnier on Wednesday. She spoke to me and my classmates about how she was able to rebuild her life after she was sexually abused by a priest when she was 13. For more on her story, you can read her testimony in French in La Vie. She has graciously allowed me to share her experiences on my blog this week.

Veronique’s presentation was the most important of the semester. Thanks to her courage, she was able to share with us what she thinks is valuable in the recovery process for those abused. These are lessons my classmates and I can bring back to our own episcopal conferences, dioceses, parishes and religious communities. For example, one of the most crucial tasks of both clergy and laity is personally accompanying and listening to those who have been hurt.

promiseVeronique was able to come forward to disclose her abuse because of her strength, faith and the grace of God. The personal accompaniment of Bishop Jacques Blaquart of Orleans, France, was also very important in her recovery. The relationship between Veronique and her bishop, which was based on listening, as well as the action of her diocese to hold healing and spiritual services for survivors of abuse (like Anointing of the Sick), was very helpful in her spiritual recovery process.

Archbishop Francisco Javier Martinez of Granada and diocesan priests lie prostrate in front of the cathedral’s high altar in 2014 to ask forgiveness for sexual abuses committed by several priests in Granada, southern Spain. (CNS photo/EPA)

Thanks to the Pontifical Gregorian University’s diploma course, as well as my experiences with victims/survivors, I know some of what it takes for those abused to begin their path to healing. However, it is the survivors themselves who offer the most practical and pledgeinsightful advice. For this reason, I would like to share four pieces of advice from Veronique that are meant to mend the faith of those who have been sexually abused. This advice is taken from an interview found in La Vie and has been translated here from French.

Four pieces of advice for mending one’s faith written by Veronique Garnier:

  1. Share your feelings with God

You can tell God everything, even when you are angry with him, even if something about him in the Bible shocks you deeply, even when we feel abandoned for a long time. Expressing your pain, your anger, your grief is also having a relationship with him. The Psalms — which illustrate every human emotion — help. At first, the words used in the Psalms may seem far removed. But, little by little through prayer, they increasingly become our own. The verses of the Psalms express what I feel better than my own words. In fact, I sometimes apply them to everyday life.

  1. Accept that we cannot forgive (at first)

The Bible tells us to forgive 77 times. So, it’s never over! But sometimes we can’t. Just as God allows mankind to be free to do evil, we are also free to forgive or to not forgive. No one has the right to make us feel guilty when we don’t succeed. The only one who can lead us along a path of forgiveness is the Holy Spirit, who respects our pace.

Catholic school students pray the rosary at Holy Spirit Church in New Castle, Del., in 2010. (CNS photo/Don Blake, The Dialog)

  1. Believe that the irreparable can be repaired

God can repair the irreparable. The road of resurrection is open to the most lifeless parts of our being: even if this path is slow, difficult and painful, we can trust in it and have hope.

  1. Lean on the Holy Spirit

When I was a child, I prayed to God a lot asking for the nightmare to stop. I was calling my Father. However, the abuse continued. On the other hand, the only prayer that was answered was when I asked for the Holy Spirit. God has never failed to do that: he will always give us the Holy Spirit. It is something I discovered very early on and this has never left me. But we must accept the element of surprise: we can never tell what is going to happen with him.

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Drew Dillingham is the Coordinator for Resources and Special Projects with the Secretariat for Child and Youth Protection at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops in Washington, D.C.  He is attending Rome’s Pontifical Gregorian University’s interdisciplinary program for a diploma in safeguarding minors. He is an avid reader of Marcus Aurelius’ Meditations and shares his April 26th birthday. Dillingham also dabbles in the works of Bishop Robert Barron, thanks to the ongoing encouragement of his wife, Kim. 


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