What Your Patients are Hearing

Survivors of sexual abuse cope with stigma


The Roman Catholic Church continues to be rocked by the burgeoning reality of priests as sexual predators. Some Catholics, including the Pope, have stepped up and acknowledged the blame for the decades of abuse, but others have been less inclined to do so. The latter attitude was and still is crushing to some the victims.

“Being raised Catholic, I remember – you don’t speak out against your own church,” Jim VanSickle says in an interview with National Catholic Reporter. “Nobody’s going to listen to you.”

Many of the survivors, Mr. VanSickle included, belonged to very conservative parishes. Parishioners often showed no compassion. After being sexually assaulted at age 16, he suffered in silence for almost 4 decades before speaking out during the recent release of Grand Jury report on the church abuses by the Pennsylvania attorney general.

“I’ve known others [who] came forward. They were ridiculed and ostracized – even by their own family members,” Mr. VanSickle says.

“We lived in a neighborhood where most of the people in the subdivision were Catholic. Everything in our lives revolved around the church,” said another victim, Utah resident Judy Larson. To be in that kind of environment and try to say something horrible happened to you, by a person everybody thinks is a god on earth, you’re all alone.”

As reported by Zita Ballinger Fletcher of the Catholic News Service, “survivors also faced a stigma caused by sexual assault. The victims were molested at an age when they did not know about sex. Confused, they realized what happened when they grew up. Feeling disgust, anger, and shame, they feared hostile reactions from their traditional communities.”

The childhood horror has left many of the victims angry and disillusioned with the Catholic Church.

“People say, ‘You’re a bad person,’ ” Mr. VanSickle says. “It’s amazing that they attack their own people. They attack their own faithful.”

Click here to read about the challenges faced by these survivors.

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