Forgiving the unforgivable: Exhibit highlights stories of abuse survivors

shutterstock 1135926557 The Catholic University of America. | Kristi Blokhin / Shutterstock

The Catholic University of America hosted a recent special exhibit to share the stories of survivors of clerical sexual abuse and how they have coped with the trauma of their experiences. Nine people are profiled by undergraduate students.

The exhibit was on display from late April until May 1.

The Hope and Healing Story Gallery was supported by The Catholic Project, an initiative of the Catholic University of America focused on renewal and healing within the Church; Spirit Fire, a Christian restorative justice organization; and the Catholic University of America's PEERS students group, which serves to teach students about substance abuse, mental health awareness, sexual assault and violence education and prevention.

"The idea for this exhibit came about in the midst of the conversations about what renewal in the Church looks like," reads the story gallery's introduction. "We realized that we couldn't continue to talk about healing and renewal without hearing from those who experienced sexual abuse. We needed to hear their stories."

The profiles were written by seven undergraduate students at the Catholic University of America. Among the survivors who stories were told was Michael, who lives in Lake Forest, IL.

Michael was abused by a priest from the age of 12 to 16, and he did not speak of what had happened until nearly 30 years later. He then reported his abuser to the Archdiocese of Chicago and began therapy sessions.

Michael was instrumental in creating the Healing Garden at the Archdiocese of Chicago, which is a "neutral, sacred place" for survivors of abuse. The Healing Garden plays hosts to events for abuse survivors and their families each year.

In his profile, Michael spoke of his belief that repeated annual events are more effective for survivors than the "one-and-done" healing services.

"The one-and-done Mass doesn't do it, coming together every year does," he said. And while he is an abuse survivor, he does not consider his experience as the main part of his story. Rather, he said "My story is what I've done since that time" in working to help other survivors like himself.

"The acts of abuse, imposed upon me and other children, are my abuser's story," he said.

Another profiled survivor is Miguel, from Katy, Texas. He has relied on the example of the saints in his journey of healing from abuse. He is the founder of the St. Maria Goretti Network, works to help victim survivors with their own emotional recovery and ability to forgive their abusers.

Along with St. Maria Goretti, Miguel said that he was inspired by St. Josphine Bakhita, and St. Maximilian Kolbe, two saints that experienced grave injustices during their lives. St. Josephine Bakhita was a victim of human trafficking and was sold as a slave, and St. Maximilian Kolbe was murdered in the concentration camp Auschwitz.

"Maria, Josephine, and Maximilian showed me how to forgive the unforgivable," said Miguel.

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