I recently moderated a conversation on clergy abuse with 64 people at a local Catholic university. Part of our vision was to begin to restore trust and safety for people within the Christian/Catholic community impacted by the particular pain that comes from the misuse of power which involves sexual abuse.
We included on our panel of five people a priest-perpetrator (who is now living a life of integrity), a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, a priest who worked in two parishes after significant clergy abuse had taken place and two professionals who have dealt with sexual abuse in a therapeutic setting. They each shared a part of their own story, and were incredibly vulnerable. It was especially powerful to hear from a person who was a perpetrator, which is a story which is rarely told and for some people almost impossible to hear. And it was healing to see the person in the role of perpetrator seated next to the person who shared their story as a survivor-victim. Each story was told with humility and with the power which is born from a life transformed. There were a lot of expressions of grief, and some of anger and lots of hope. The afternoon was, by all accounts, truly transformative. And though it had a feeling of heaviness that you might expect with such a topic, there also were many signs of joy.
It was a joy for me to be a part of this, especially since I used to be a Catholic priest and being part of it, as a leader, was healing for me. Though I never experienced or perpetrated the kind of abuse of power this conversation was about, it still was healing for me to be part of it.
My role was to frame the conversation, introduce the panelists and help create the space for others to speak and be heard. The work of moderating an event like this is primarily making the space for the fullness of human response to happen in as safe a manner as possible. This was achieved by all of us working together in concert with awareness and the willingness to be vulnerable. It was an honor to be part of such inspiring work and reminds me of the words of Buddhist Pema Chodron in her book When Things Fall Apart.
“Things falling apart is a kind of testing and also a kind of healing.The healing comes from letting there be room for all of this to happen: room for grief, for relief, for misery, for joy.”
We made room for a lot to happen. It was the beginning of a new kind of conversation, and it was a continuation of the good work of others. I am not certain about the next steps of this important work and who else will be interested in being part of similar conversations, but compared to the shame, denial and silence which is too often what is expressed when it comes to sexual abuse, it was a bright moment of hope. It was like lighting a candle in a dark room. It brought warmth, comfort and a capacity to see more clearly. Now we slowly and carefully take the next steps.
I am planning to be part of more conversations like this one. If you want to know about them please contact me via email or phone.