The Penn State sex abuse scandal is a time both to remember the harm done by abuse and to help abuse victims heal, Catholic writer Dawn Eden said.
“The current stories are heavy on outrage, which is good—the public should be outraged,” Eden wrote Nov. 10 on her blog “The Dawn Patrol.”
“But talking about abuse without giving guidance for those who have suffered it can ultimately re-victimize people who have already been hurt so much—turning them into political footballs, if you will. Those living with the wounds of abuse need to learn that there is hope for healing.”
Priests and other pastoral caregivers should be aware that survivors of childhood sexual abuse are likely to have “highly painful memories” return because of media coverage and they should be prepared to help them.
Eden, the author of the forthcoming Ave Maria Press book “My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints,” said that news stories about abuse can help raise awareness about the “grave harm” of abuse, but the coverage can also cause stress for victims.
Pennsylvania State University trustees fired famed football coach Joe Paterno and the university president Graham Spanier on Nov. 9 for their handling of child sex abuse allegations against former assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky.
In 2002 Mike McQueary, a graduate student who later became an assistant football coach, told Paterno that he witnessed Sandusky sexually assault a young boy in a shower at the campus football complex. While Paterno alerted the school’s athletic director, no officials called police. They banned Sandusky from having children from the charity he founded, Second Mile, visit the football building, CNN reports.
In her blog post, Eden stressed victims’ need for healing.
“Christians know that healing is to be found in and through Christ. As a Catholic, I have found the source of healing to be in and through Christ and His Church—in prayer, in the sacraments, and in communion with one another and all the Communion of Saints,” she said.
She suggested that priests and caregivers who respond to abuse victims should help them understand the nature of forgiveness, which Christians must practice. According to Eden, forgiveness differs from reconciliation with abusers, which Christians are not commanded to do.
Those who were abused by their parents or other relatives sometimes fear that their failure to reconcile keeps them from “being right with God.”
In the Catholic Sacrament of Penance, abuse victims who confess resentment towards a family member sometimes receive incomplete advice from their confessors, who do not know the larger context.
“For the penitent who thinks forgiveness requires reconciliation, such an instruction may only aggravate his sense of hopelessness—as though God were ordering him to put himself at risk of further emotional or physical harm,” Eden said.
“The good news is that forgiveness, being an act of grace, does not depend on our own efforts. It is a work accomplished not by us, but in us, through the Holy Spirit that we received in our baptism. Our job is to ask the Spirit to forgive through us, turning our will to make us want God's best for the offender.”