When church hurts: Healing after the Grand Jury Report on sexual abuse by priests

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When church hurts: Healing after the Grand Jury Report on sexual abuse by priests

Following the news this week was intense. The  PA Attorney General’s Office released a Grand Jury report on sexual abuse in local Catholic dioceses. For many of us in the community, church and spirituality are a central part of our lives. Knowing that pillars in the faith community both committed sexual abuse and covered up allegations infuriates, defeats, and numbs. The sheer volume of reports and allegations is staggering.

The Grand Jury report detailed credible allegations of sexual abuse spanning decades. More than 300 priests were named in the report, with more than 1000 identified child victims. The actual number of children who were abused by priests is likely much higher. The report states that records may have been lost, and many more children may never have reported or were not believed when they told.

Sadly, that’s the reality for too many children who have been sexually abused. National statistics suggest that in any given classroom, 5 out of 25 students will be abused before their 18th birthday. Pause with that for a moment. Sexual abuse is a common and widespread issue impacting children, friends, neighbors, and family members right here in our community.

Many survivors will explore faith and spirituality as part of their healing journey. That’s especially true for survivors who were hurt by members of the clergy or the institutions that protected them. Every church, organization, and system has a responsibility to prevent sexual abuse, believe survivors, and implement practices that promote safety and accountability. You can be sure that in the wake of this report, I’m reaching out to my own faith community to talk about effective prevention and response.

I want to see a wide-scale, proactive approach to preventing child sexual abuse. I hope that churches and youth-serving organizations will request some of our no-cost prevention programs. SARCC provides programs on recognizing the signs of sexual abuse and grooming behaviors for any community member or group. Professionals, church leaders and volunteers can use skills learned in our Mandated Reporting training to make a difference in the lives of the children they serve. Parents, grandparents, and caregivers can complete Parents In The Know, which helps us all to stop other adults from abusing our children. We all have a role to play in preventing sexual abuse.

Many members of our community will follow the news and will feel strong reactions to it. Some have experienced abuse at the hand of clergy members. Others have a history of abuse, and hearing about others’ experiences will bring their pain to the surface. Know that all members of the community can seek help from SARCC to process reactions to what’s happening in the news. We provide a 24/7 support line. Call 717-272-5308 or 570-628-2965 to connect with a counselor. All services, including counseling, advocacy, accompaniment, and prevention education are no-cost to all members of the community. It is never too late to begin the healing journey.

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