I am a survivor of PTSD due to clergy sexual abuse in the Roman Catholic Church. The authority of priests was sacrosanct, and my parents taught me to never complain and to listen to their wisdom. Celibacy was the highest of callings. The hierarchy basically told the laity to just sit back and relax; we (the hierarchy) will tell you how to think.
My own father died when I was ten. Priests referred to themselves as “Father.” With the association always fresh in my mind, confession was a dreaded weekly discipline. The priests admonished all of us to purge our sins. I experienced high states of anxiety standing in the confessional line located inside the parish church.
When it was my turn, I had to part a cloth screen, enter the confessional, kneel down blessing myself, and wait for the priest to speak through a wire screen for me to recite my sins. I was terrified that I might have made a mistake that would send me straight to hell. When he gave absolution, I would quiver with thankfulness, move the cloth aside and feel the fresh air that was fragranced with a faint odor of incense. I was safe from the fires of hell for at least one more week.
Going to a Catholic college elevated the high anxieties about the Church due to the friendly
atmosphere on campus. I had a passion for theology and working in the Church. However, abuse and domination ensued as I earned degrees and worked in parishes. During years of therapy I began to remember abuses I had denied and rationalized. I eventually acquired a large number of abuse examples to select from in my career, and the following are a few examples:
- I was responsible for my salary covering our mortgage payment when I was fired by the pastor for interrupting a pedophile priest who was speaking forty-five minutes into my part of a presentation;
- Another priest, who knew that I was married, fired me from a position and wanted to have an affair with me. Of course, I was horrified and left on my own accord right away;
- I remember priests surrounding me in a school lounge area telling repulsive fantasies of sexual encounters with me. I’d freeze and was told by other female students not to complain or the priests would aggress on my work in the classroom. They did anyway and I was admonished for not being able to handle the aggressions;
- Once I spoke to a female professor about the priest’s harassment, she alerted the staff and she gave me a small tape recorder that I was to carry with my books while at school. When necessary, I would click on the tape recorder and hold it up so that the priest’s voice would be recorded. I was feared and hated, however, I completed the degree.
- I thought that my intelligence was being honored when a priest offered to give me an individual private bible class. It turned out to be an intellectual seduction; it lead to his executing a full body press against me on the last day of the lessons. I pushed him away, left and forgave him. In denial, I was sure that he did not mean to hurt me. Besides, if I would go to the priest’s superior, I was told again and again that the abuser was a man with an excellent reputation. In time, I did report the incident, and he was given years of psychotherapy. However, he was allowed to continue to work. (God provided me with the reconciliation in this case that his superiors would not tolerate.)
My PTSD developed gradually over time with a multiplicity of these flashbacks and more that interfered with my ability to attend church or have a decent self concept. Over twenty years, I gained one hundred pounds. I had secured therapy for the abuses and remain in therapy today.
When I left the Church, I let go of my academic achievements and decades of professional work. I had followed the prayer life of St. Teresa of Avila and became a Catholic mystic. I remain as a mystic and go wherever I discern that God leads me.
Others look down on me for leaving the Church, but God is my only “Father” and leader for today and the rest of my life. I remain Catholic in the ways that I can, carrying damage I will not be able to release in this life. I forgive because the priests who dominated and abused women like me were told that they were superior to other people. These illusions buried human realities from view.
A wonderful female therapist knew that I was trying to work as well as raise my family. She pointedly told me to get away from the priests. I’m not one to give up trying to make a difference even in cruel situations. My idealism ended when she said, “You will have your Catholic community… when you are in heaven.” I sat back in my own life and finally accepted reality.
I am not responsible for others’ destructive actions toward me, but I am responsible for developing a better self-concept and extending compassion to other survivors of PTSD.
Thanks for reading. Please leave a comment if you can relate to this.
More PTSD Help Here.