When words hurt instead of heal

— What never to say to someone who has survived abuse by Catholic clergy

As the daughter of a clergy abuse victim-survivor and a lay person who works for the Church, Jerri von den Bosch speaks often with fellow Catholics about her family’s experience with the abuse crisis.

by Guest

In June of 2021, I wrote 10 Things Never to Say to Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse that covered some of the hurtful things people sometimes say to clergy abuse survivors. Included were some more supportive things they might say instead. Many people read it and several clergy abuse survivors, including my mom, responded with additional things that they have heard from Catholics and would add to the list. I believe that most people who say these things are well intentioned; they are just not aware of how to walk with someone who has experienced trauma. So I present 6 Things Never to Say About Clergy Abuse Survivors, along with some things that you, as a supporter of abuse survivors, can say in response.

TRIGGER WARNING: Some of these items may be tough to read if you are a trauma survivor. Please take care of yourself.

1. “These people just want the Church’s money. This prevents the Church from helping the poor!”

This statement often crops up when there is news about a settlement between the Church and abuse survivors. As the daughter of a clergy abuse survivor, a friend to multiple survivors, and a survivor of trauma myself, I can tell you that almost no one would lie about their trauma in an attempt to get rich. Ask yourself: “Would I accuse someone of rape, sit through multiple depositions and interviews with lawyers, pay a lawyer upfront to represent me, and drag an individual’s name through the mud— all to get some cash?” Few people have the financial means or energy for this.

Next, I would like to put on my theologian hat and invite us to consider who “the poor” are. The Old Testament uses the word anawim (ah-na-weem) multiple times. It is a Hebrew term that means “the poor and lowly ones.” The Hebrew people applied the term to those who were financially insecure, as well as the widowed, the orphaned, and anyone who had lost their human dignity to earthly trials. These are the people God wants the Hebrews–and the Christians–to care for most. I would argue that survivors of abuse are the epitome of the anawim. They are oppressed, victimized, and orphaned from their Church.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: The people that the Church has hurt do fall under the theological definition of “the poor.” It’s important to help them.

2. “Can’t they just move on? It happened so long ago!”

If you have never experienced trauma, it might be hard to imagine why a survivor can not just “get over it.” Science reveals that living through traumatic events can rewire our brains. This is especially true for children who experience trauma at a time when their brains are not fully developed.

Most survivors I know would LOVE to move on from their trauma and from painful symptoms that include depression, stress, and mood swings. But it can take years of therapy and tremendous support from loved ones to heal from trauma and get to the point where it does not affect their everyday life. For example, my mom, a survivor of child sexual assault by multiple priests, still has episodes of PTSD today, 50 years after her abuse, despite having a great psychiatrist and a supportive family that knows her triggers. I would really love for her to never have another panic attack, but I know from experience that they are part of her healing journey. Many survivors say that they carry the effects of their trauma with them daily, decades after the initial abuse.

I would also like to add that this is not just a historic problem. We know from our work walking with survivors that abuse by Church leaders is happening today, so it is important to continue to work to prevent and stop it.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: The effects of trauma can last a lifetime for victim-survivors. We must continue to address the trauma that took place in the past, as well as the assaults that continue to happen.

3. “Why didn’t they fight back?”

I am sorry to tell you that we have also heard many stories of church leaders suggesting that victims are at fault for not fighting harder against the abuse they experienced. It is important to point out that “fight or flight” is an outdated model of how our brains are wired to protect us in response to harm. Most psychologists now believe that humans respond to threats with “fight, flight or freeze.” Many victims–adults and children alike–are so terrified that they find it safer to disassociate from the assault and wait to flee when they feel safe again.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: The situations they were put into sound absolutely terrifying! It isn’t fair for us to judge how they responded to a threat.

4. “They must have done something to trigger his behavior!”

This is a common form of victim-blaming, along the same lines as asking a woman “Well, what were you wearing?” after she has experienced rape. The reality is that the person who committed the crime is the culprit. Period. This victim-blaming tactic takes advantage of the fact that victim-survivors often agonize over the details of the incident trying to figure out what they did wrong. Truly, victims of sexual assault do not need your help playing the blame-game. They are already experts at it.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: They didn’t do anything to deserve this!

5. “After it happened the first time, why didn’t they learn their lesson? Why didn’t they get help? Why did they go back?”

In many cases, there is a simple answer to these hurtful questions: “They were scared.” Sexual assault is not easy to reveal to others. Victims can feel intense shame and be silenced by it. Perpetrators also may threaten their victims with statements like, “I’ll tell everyone what a bad person you are!” One of my mom’s abusers told her: “You’re a troublemaker. You’re trash. Nobody would ever believe you.” Perpetrators will often threaten violence, physical and verbal, to keep a victim quiet.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: The dynamics of abuse prevent most people from reaching out for help, and statements like this one make it even harder for them to tell their stories.

6. “They were abused as an adult? But that is not really abuse!”

I am really proud that Awake Milwaukee has brought attention to the problem of abuse of adults by church leaders. Honestly, before I got involved with Awake, I did not understand what a widespread problem the abuse of adults is, despite the fact that I am an adult survivor of domestic violence. It is easy for people to understand that a child feels powerless during an assault. For some, it is harder to show the same empathy to adults. Many people believe that an adult should have known better. This fails to acknowledge the power differential that exists between a priest (often viewed as a representative of God) and a parishioner or other Catholic. When the victim expects that they can trust a person and that trust is broken, they do not always know what to do next. To further complicate matters, parishioners often take the side of the clergy person. They assert that the survivor was the temptress and the priest was the victim.

IN RESPONSE, SAY: Children and adults both have equal dignity and their assaults are both serious crimes that were not their fault.

It all comes down to this: If someone shares with you that they have been abused, please remember that the most important words you can say are, “Thank you for sharing this with me, I believe you, and I am here for you.” It is that simple. Survivors do not need you to change the world, but they are looking for people willing to help them shoulder their pain, even for a little while. And if you feel at a loss for words in the moment, sometimes “I believe you” is more than enough.

Complete Article HERE!

Spanish lawyer names bishops and priests pushing conversion therapy

Many of the 70 figures identified by Saúl Castro have not previously been linked to the anti-LGBTIQ practice

By a href=”https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/author/lucy-martirosyan/”>Lucy Martirosyan

A Spanish human rights lawyer has named 70 practitioners and promoters of so-called ‘conversion therapy’ in Spain, among them Catholic bishops and priests.

In Saúl Castro’s new book ‘Ni enfermos ni pecadores’ (meaning ‘neither sick nor sinners’), he reveals the traumatic experiences of therapy survivors and identifies different kinds of therapy providers. Many of the people he identifies have never been publicly linked to conversion therapy before.

These range from self-proclaimed “identity coaches” who provide paid services online to “cure” what they call “homosexual obsessive compulsive disorder” to “ex-gay” leaders from the US who spread misinformation via the internet. Catholic schools and churches also promote conversion therapy to their members.

Conversion therapy, which claims to change a person’s sexual orientation, gender identity or gender expression, has been condemned by international health and human rights experts and is banned in many countries.

As a cisgender gay man, Castro takes this topic personally. “Conversion therapy is a sort of genocide,” he said. “They are offering mechanisms to make us disappear.”

He is also the founder of the association No Es Terapia (‘not a therapy’), which campaigns against conversion therapy in Spain.

There are bans on conversion therapy in nine of Spain’s 17 regions. Promoting or carrying out conversion therapy has been prohibited in Madrid since 2016, with fines of up to €45,000.

In June, the Spanish government approved a draft of a wide-ranging bill to protect the rights of LGBTIQ people. It is particularly strong on rights for trans people, and seeks to classify conversion therapy as a “very serious administrative offence with penalties between €10,001 and €150,000” throughout Spain. The bill is currently going through parliament.

However, making conversion therapy an administrative offence – meaning it is not punishable with jail time – would not criminalise its practitioners or promoters in the way Castro says is needed.

Bishops promoting conversion therapy

Castro interviewed 15 survivors of conversion therapy during his three years of research for the book. They described some of the so-called ‘treatments’ they had experienced.

These included being instructed to flick a rubber band worn around their wrist whenever they felt attracted to someone of the same sex. In some sessions, they were told to strip and hug other naked same-sex participants, to “de-sexualise” their bodies.

He also discovered cases where, if the therapy ‘isn’t working’, psychiatrists prescribe patients medication for bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, because these drugs are known to suppress the libido.

Conversion therapy is a sort of genocide

Through his interviews with therapy survivors, Castro was able to reveal the names of several Spanish bishops who have promoted conversion therapy.

Last year, the Vatican conducted an investigation into Granada-based Verdad y Libertad (Truth and Freedom), an organisation that often recruits Catholic bishops and priests to promote and refer people to conversion therapy. The Vatican urged bishops not to participate in any activities run by the group, which has tried several times to be officially recognised as a faith ministry by the Catholic Church.

However, the church itself has never released the names of faith leaders involved with Verdad y Libertad.

Castro said that some bishops and priests would select their victims in parishes, dioceses and theological schools and “monitor their paths to ‘conversion’”. One such case involved a gay Spanish priest who was ordered to start conversion therapy by his parish.

“The worst part of the ‘therapy’ for him was being forced to record his masturbatory and homoerotic fantasies daily,” Castro said. Three times a day, for a year, the priest participated in group Telegram chats dedicated to conversion therapy, with more than 100 other participants. He had a ‘fake’ funeral and burial to symbolise “becoming a new person”.

“They had forced him to break his relationships with friends [and family] because they were ‘triggering’ his homosexuality,” said Castro. Eventually, he left the Telegram group, but “it took him so much to [do so].”

Castro is using the evidence he found to report both individuals and groups to regional authorities in Spain, and also to human rights offices at the United Nations that specialise in sexual orientation and gender identity.

All the way from the US

Paid-for online counselling sessions – in person or via books and audio – are another common channel for conversion therapy in Spain. While researching his book, Castro signed up for a couple of sessions to understand the practitioners’ motives.

PATH screenshot.png
Positive Approaches To Healthy Sexuality website (screenshot 25 July 2022) | PATH

One example is provided by US website Positive Approaches To Healthy Sexuality (PATH). Its $150 “counselor training program”, designed for therapists and ministry leaders who would in turn “assist” LGBTIQ people to change their “same-sex attraction” and enter heterosexual relationships. The training includes more than 18 hours of recordings and a 180-page manual.

It was devised by Richard Cohen, a prominent figure in the ‘ex-gay’ movement in the US, who identifies as a “former homosexual” and is now married to a woman and has three children. In 2002, he was permanently expelled from the American Counseling Association for multiple ethical violations.

“In Spain, the main discourse by perpetrators of conversion therapy stems directly from Richard Cohen,” according to Castro. He also says that “teenagers who lack education about the LGBTIQ community” are the “most susceptible” to Cohen’s ideas if they come across his books online.

In 2012, Cohen promoted his latest book, ‘Coming Out Straight: Understanding and Healing Homosexuality’, in Madrid during the sixth conference of the ultra-conservative network World Congress of Families (WCF).

A 2020 investigation by openDemocracy revealed that the WCF is linked to $280m of ‘dark money’ spent overseas by US Christian right groups since 2007. More money was spent in Europe than in any other region.

The late Joseph Nicolosi is another American practitioner of ‘reparative therapy’ – an alternative term for conversion therapy – with significant influence abroad. A Google search in Spain for “cómo dejar de ser gay” (‘how to stop being gay’) yields results for five books by Nicolosi.

‘Conversion therapy has to be criminalised’

For Castro, simply banning conversion therapy in Spain doesn’t go far enough.

“Conversion therapy has to be criminalised,” he said. “Our criminal code has to be amended, not only [to stop] impunity, but so that those who are responsible for promoting the practice and violence are locked up in jail… Fines are not a deterrent, but jail is.”

Spain is the home of CitizenGo, an ultra-Catholic, far-right advocacy group, which has created bailout funds for anti-LGBTIQ groups in the past.

Since the publication of his book in June, six more survivors of conversion therapy have contacted Castro. He encourages people to report cases to his organisation, No Es Terapia.

“I’m not hoping that [criminal proceedings] will happen,” Castro said. “I will make them happen.”

Complete Article HERE!

Vatican slams German reformers, warns of potential for schism

The Holy See rebuked the progressive “Synodal Path,” which seeks more agency for lay members, saying it has no authority on doctrine. They warned that issues taken up by the group could split the Catholic Church.

Shepherds in Rome have been criticized for the mishandling of scandals but refuse to share power with the flock

The Vatican on Thursday issued a terse statement on the progressive German Catholic movement known as the “Synodal Path.” The statement warned German reformers they had no authority to instruct bishops on moral or doctrinal matters.

Moreover, the Holy See made clear that it views the Synodal Path’s calls for addressing homosexuality, celibacy, and women in the Church as divisive and warned those calls could cause a fracture.

Members of the Synodal Path, a group made up of equal numbers of German bishops and lay Catholics, meet regularly. In February, they called on the Catholic Church to allow priests to marry, women to become deacons, and same-sex couples to receive the Church’s blessing.

The Vatican, or Holy See, said the Synodal Path, “does not have the faculty to oblige bishops and the faithful to assume new forms of governance and new approaches to doctrine and morals.”

To do so, read the statement, “would represent a wound to ecclesial communion and a threat to the unity of the Church.”

German reformers responded to Vatican statement with ‘astonishment’

Speaking on behalf of the Synodal Path, Chairman of the German Bishops’ Conference Georg Bätzig and President of the Central Committee of German Catholics (ZdK) Irme Stetter-Karp, said they were “astonished” at the “poor form” the Vatican had shown by releasing such a statement to the public without putting a name to it.

Both Bätzig and Stetter-Karp vowed there would be no “German deviation” but said it is their “responsibility to clearly point out where change is needed.” The two say the problems they are addressing are not unique to Germany, but common to dioceses all over the world.

Bätzig and Stetter-Karp voiced “bemused regret” over the fact that no direct communication with the Vatican had yet taken place.

On Saturday, the German Catholic women’s movement Maria 2.0 (Mary 2.0) said church leaders should not fear confrontation with the Vatican.

Theologian Maria Mesrian, who represents the group, told Deutschlandfunk Radio that the bishops will have to “decide whether they want a living church in Germany or whether they would rather lead a dead institution.”

Mesrian said the Vatican is all about “power and the unity of the omnipresent church.”

Hundreds of thousands leave Catholic Church over lack of reform

The German group, formed in the wake of woefully mishandled clergy sexual abuse scandals, also calls for ordinary Catholics to have more of a say in how the Church operates. The Vatican again warned that if national Churches chose to pursue their own paths they would, “weaken, rot and die.”

In 2021, 360,000 Catholics formally left the German Church— which has 22 million members in the country and rakes in €6.45 billion ($6.58 billion) in church taxes every year — in protest at corruption and abuse

Although progressive European and US Catholics would likely be willing to support progressive issues, such as blessing same-sex relationships and ordaining women, Rome would risk backlash with fast-growing South American and African congregations.

In 2019, Pope Francis warned German bishops against the temptation to change for the sake of appeasing certain groups or ideas. Observers speculate that the reforms could leave the Catholic Church open to a splintering, similar to the one which befell the Anglican and Protestant Churches after they introduced similar changes.

According to the Vatican statement, any changes to teaching on morals or doctrine must be taken up by the Church’s own synodal path. The Holy See said preliminary consultations are already being held globally in preparation for a meeting of bishops next year in Rome.

The next gathering of the German Synodal Path is scheduled to convene on September 8-10.

 

School flying BLM, LGBTQ flags can’t call itself Catholic, bishop says

FILE UNDER: Insulated, monolithic, callous, tone deaf church power structure

An LGBTQ pride flag and a Black Lives Matter flag fly alongside the American flag above Nativity School of Worcester in Worcester, Mass.

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The stark, dual-colored letters of the Black Lives Matter flag and the bright rainbow stripes of the Pride flag had flown above the Massachusetts Catholic school for more than a year before the local bishop registered his opposition.

The Black Lives Matter flag, Bishop Robert McManus said in April, has been “co-opted by some factions which also instill broad-brush distrust of police.” And the LGBTQ flag could be used to contrast church teaching that marriage is between a man and a woman, he added.

When Nativity School of Worcester didn’t budge, McManus issued a severe ruling. The tuition-free middle school, which serves boys facing economic hardship, can no longer identify itself as Catholic because the flags are “inconsistent with Catholic teaching,” he declared Thursday.

“The flying of these flags in front of a Catholic school sends a mixed, confusing and scandalous message to the public about the Church’s stance on these important moral and social issues,” McManus wrote. “Despite my insistence that the school administration remove these flags because of the confusion and the properly theological scandal that they do and can promote, they refuse to do so.”

That defiance, McManus said, left him no other choice but to strip the Jesuit-run school of its Catholic affiliation. The school also can no longer celebrate Mass or the sacraments or use diocesan institutions to raise funds. It was not included Thursday in the diocese’s list of Catholic schools in its region.

The decision, which comes during Pride Month, appears to be a rare instance of a Catholic organization’s affiliation with the phrase “Black Lives Matter” becoming a flash point with its diocese. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has taken a nuanced approach to the phrase, endorsing the concept of racial justice but not necessarily the organizations that attach themselves to that message. The Black Lives Matter movement describes itself as aimed at eradicating White supremacy and interrupting violence against Black communities.

Nativity School said its use of the Black Lives Matter and Pride flags was a response to a call from its students, most of whom are people of color, to make their community more inclusive. The flags symbolize that all are welcome at Nativity, the school’s president said Thursday.

“Both flags are now widely understood to celebrate the human dignity of our relatives, friends and neighbors who have faced, and continue to face hate and discrimination,” Thomas McKenney wrote. “Though any symbol or flag can be co-opted by political groups or organizations, flying our flags is not an endorsement of any organization or ideology, they fly in support of marginalized people.”

The bishop disagrees. The Pride flag represents support for same-sex marriage and “a LGBTQ+ lifestyle,” he said. And while the church teaches that all lives are sacred, McManus said the Black Lives Matter movement has used that phrase to contradict Catholic teaching on the importance of the nuclear family. (Black Lives Matter previously said on its website that it aims to “disrupt the Western-prescribed nuclear family structure requirement by supporting each other as extended families.” The page was later taken offline.)

Bishop McManus

Nativity said it will appeal the bishop’s decision — but it has no plans to remove the flags, which it said show its commitment to solidarity with its students and families. McKenney said the administrators’ decision was informed by the Gospel, Catholic social teaching and the school’s Jesuit heritage.

The outcome follows months of dialogue between the school and the Diocese of Worcester. Around the same time that McManus took issue with the flags in March, a person tore down both flags, the school said. Two months later, the bishop warned the school that it would lose its Catholic label if it did not remove the displays.

Nativity School isn’t the only educational institution to be stripped of its “Catholic” label. In 2019, the Archdiocese of Indianapolis told Brebeuf Jesuit Preparatory School that it could no longer identify itself as Catholic after it refused to fire a teacher who was in a same-sex marriage. The Midwest Province of Jesuits said it would appeal the decision through a church process.

To Guillermo Creamer Jr., an openly gay alumnus of Nativity School, the flags symbolize that Nativity is inclusive of Black lives — a message he said is crucial at a school with primarily Black and Latino students.

“For these young men who are witnessing what’s happening around the country and seeing the Black Lives Matter flag fly, it’s a very big deal,” he said.

Creamer, 27, said he expects the bishop’s decision to prompt other Catholic schools that align themselves with Black Lives Matter or pro-LGBTQ messages in some way to question whether that’s acceptable. But he said that may not be entirely bad if it encourages Catholics to talk honestly about whether and how these causes fit into their faith.

In his letter to the community, McKenney reminded parents that Nativity School is funded by individuals and groups — not by the diocese — and that it would continue to operate as usual.

Outside the school building, he noted, the flags still fly.

Complete Article HERE!