In a recent editorial on the Commonweal site ( http://commonwealmagazine.org/seeking-sign) a reference is made to the tens of thousands of lives that have been directly affected by the clergy sexual abuse crisis. I immediately thought of the numbers in my own family, and then the numbers of past-students my revelations might have negatively impacted. Then there was the number of people affected by my son’s suicide, which I cannot but feel was encouraged by this whole awful mess.
Tens of thousands? I have no doubt the number is in the hundreds of thousands. In my own immediate family there were six victims and three different Catholic priests. Six out of seven of us. I also know of one uncle and one cousin. I can only guess at the number I don’t know. My abuse as a child changed me irrevocably and it altered my ability to parent my sons when they were young. My oldest son suffered from depression. How much did I pass on to him physically, genetically, from the effect of the abuse and the resulting anxieties and fears on my body chemistry? How much did he absorb environmentally from living with a depressed mother? I cannot guess at either.
Malcolm was the child who wanted to know my story, and our family therapist felt I should tell him I had been abused because he thought he was to blame for my depression. I didn’t write anything publicly until my boys were in their late teens and twenties. I thought that was protective enough, but maybe I should never have published; Malcolm took his life at the age of 24. I know I am not to blame for a decision he made, but I also know that my victimization by Catholic priests as a child was a major cause of my depression and the cause of much of my son’s concern for me. He had had to “rescue” me on a couple of occasions. Add to that the fact that his anger towards the church robbed him of the faith that ironically had been my saving grace growing up. I couldn’t help him find any peace in faith.
My son was beloved by hundreds of people; his death caused pain and still causes pain to many, many people. His Facebook page still receives messages each month from people who know he is dead but cannot stop “talking” to him, even after three years.
Then there are the people I have impacted. Before I left teaching I had taught Catholic theology to over two thousand students. I have heard many, many times that I had a positive impact on my students and now I feel sad that my abuse revelations may have since caused them to question the church. All this, and I am just one victim; I don’t think it is possible to assess the damage to the whole church.