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Church launches new service for abuse survivors

By Sarah Mac Donald - 26 May, 2014

Towards Peace logoSurvivors of abuse gathered at a Mass of healing and reconciliation in Cork on Sunday were told that abuse “truly violates the God-given dignity of the person abused, in a life-lasting way.”

In his homily for the concelebrated Mass at St Joseph’s Church, Wilton, Cork, Fr Liam O’Driscoll said, “There will be times when we may lose all hope of ever recovering from the effects of abuse; when we are so discouraged that healing is a distant dream.”

But he added, survivors should not despair because healing is achievable; “it’s how long it takes that is the problem.”

He continued, “Healing is not magic; it does not happen at the push of a button or at the say-so of somebody who wishes it to happen.”

Referring to the healing of the paralysed man in the Gospel, Fr O’Driscoll said it was miraculous and immediate but that is unlikely to happen to them.

“Each person heals at a different pace. The first question we need to ask ourselves is: ‘Do you want to be healed?’”

“I won’t be healed if I don’t want to be healed. I need to convince myself that I do want to be healed. Again, I can make excuses for not taking any steps towards healing. I can revel in my victimhood; I can blame all sorts of people and events for my failure to heal. I must want to be healed,” he warned.

The former residents of industrial schools and Magdalen laundries were told that healing and reconciliation demand forgiveness.

“And that is one of the most difficult things that the Lord demanded of his followers. It has to be a basic element of the command of Jesus Christ to love one another. And it is not just the abusers we are striving to forgive; we are also seeking to forgive those who responded inadequately to complaints/allegations.”

“Forgiving does not mean excusing but it allows the injured person to let go of his/her own crippling anger and resentment and desire to punish all associated with the abuse.”

He said that what Christianity has to offer is the conviction that we are loved by God exactly as we are.

“I should not be defined by the fact that I have been abused but by the fact that I am God’s creation and that he loves me unconditionally. And it is this love which opens the way to the possibility of forgiveness, the possibility of healing.”

Following the concelebrated Mass of Healing and Reconciliation, which was organised by the Safeguarding Service of the Diocese Cork & Ross and the Munster Survivors Support Service, a new service for survivors of abuse by church personnel was launched in St Joseph’s Wilton.

Towards Peace is a new spiritual support service aimed at helping survivors whose faith has been damaged by the abuse re-connect with God and the Church.

Launching the service in the Munster region, Bishop John Buckley acknowledged that for many who have suffered abuse, there is the loss of faith and trust in God and in the Church, particularly if the abuser was a Church person.

“People blame themselves and frequently blame God for what has happened to them. They feel that God has left them down.

Towards Peace is about supporting people who wish to search for God again, to return to the peace that faith can bring.

Our first thoughts are with those who have suffered. Innocent and vulnerable children have suffered greatly as a result of a betrayal of trust by Church personnel.

Their families too have been affected deeply.

The Church takes no comfort from the fact that many organisations and professionals in society are affected by child abuse or that surveys tell us that one in every four Irish adults has experienced sexual abuse in childhood.

Even a single case is one too many. Our concern must be to do all in our power to help those who have suffered as a result of abuse.

The Bishop of Cork and Ross said “Great efforts have already been made in Ireland to make the Church a safe place for children.”

He continued, “We look forward with hope to ensuring that what has happened will never happen again. The Church’s concern for the safety of children today is underpinned by the presence in every parish of trained Child Safeguarding Representatives.”

He warned that guaranteeing the safety of children is relentless and ongoing.

“To do this, we need a strong system of inspection and oversight and evidence that the guidelines are being implemented correctly.

He commended the National Board for “its determination in overseeing the implementation of best practise throughout the Church.”

In her address, Una Allen, Chair of Towards Peace, said the spiritual support service is aimed at survivors whose faith has been damaged by abuse and who feel ready to try to engaged with it.

It is one of three services that form a response to abuse by the Church in Ireland. The other two services are ‘Towards Healing’ which is a confidential counselling or referral service; and the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland.

“Feedback from survivors has highlighted the profoundly negative impact that abuse has had on their faith and relationship with God.”

She explained that “Survivors have spoken about their struggle with their faith, and the sense of rejection by a Church who betrayed them, their feelings of loss, and darkness, of deep mistrust and suspicion of that Church and a sense of abandonment by God.”

It was bad enough that they had been abused, but this was collateral damage that has lasted for years, Ms Allen continued.

Seventeen years ago Towards Healing was set up in order that the wounds afflicted by clerical and Religious abuse could at least begin to be healed, and the evidence suggests that such has been the case for many people.

Since the service began, almost 5,000 people have availed of the counselling offered, and feedback from those who have taken part has been overwhelmingly positive.

But according to Una Allen, additional questions, beyond the reach of counselling, remain for many people who have suffered abuse. Questions about the meaning of their experience as they reflect on their lives:

–         How is it possible to make any sense of an experience that has left lasting scars on many of those who endured the horror of abuse?

–         Where can those who have been abused discover – or perhaps rediscover – a faith that might cast some light into the dark corners of their memory?

–         How can they connect – or reconnect – with a God they can trust and relate to?

–         How might prayer once again become a meaningful part of their lives?

–         How might they feel at one with the People of God, journeying not in isolation, but in the company of other searchers, other pilgrims?

–         How might they experience the consolation of the sacraments, particularly at the more significant moments of their lives?

According to Una Allen, these questions lurk in the depths of the heart, often not articulated, or even acknowledged.

“Towards Peace is being offered as a support to those survivors and victims of abuse, who are asking these questions – people who might wish to resume, or continue their search for meaning, their journey into wholeness – their spiritual quest,” she said.

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