Choosing the healing path
How to handle news about church abuse at home
By Maya Dulay
Many of us have been reading about the sexual abuse scandals plaguing the Catholic Church. We respond to the news in our own individual ways: shock, disgust, denial, anger, feeling numb, etc.
For parents, the response to the news has a more weighted responsibility. Our behaviors are being observed, processed and challenged by our children. It is not that we are not allowed to feel, for our feelings are real and human. It is, however, how we react to those feelings that can plant a seed for how our children will view the world around them, including their view of the Church.
My husband and I know fully well how pervasive abuse is. Abuse happens to individuals from any socioeconomic status, educational level, race, culture and religion. Abuse can infiltrate any environment: urban and rural communities, religious and education institutions, and workplace and recreational facilities. No environment is immune to the potential of abuse.
But for those in an authoritative position, who are expected to uphold high ethical standards and who hold the respect and trust of a community, our expectations of them are even higher.
In the Catholic Church, we want to emulate Jesus and Mary. Priests, nuns, deacons and all those who have consecrated their lives provide examples of how to live the Gospels. Therefore, when news of the scandals came about, I was initially shocked, angered and disgusted at the behaviors of the accused. I also felt overwhelming sadness for the victims.
I thought: “How do we support the victims?” “Who then do we trust?” “How do we as a community heal from this?” and “How do we respond in such a way that unites rather than divides?”
As a parent to three children ages 5, 7 and 10, I realize that the one way I can contribute to the healing process is how I respond to the scandals and other traumatic experiences in front of my children. Currently, because of their age, they are not aware of what is happening, but they can pick up on my non-verbal reactions: facial expressions, demeanor, etc.
As a psychologist, I know that we can find healing. Based on the I-CAN module that I developed in order to deal with tough issues, there are steps we can take to move forward in this process. I-CAN stands for Insight, Commit, Act and New Meaning.
Building insight is the first step toward managing our emotions and behaviors. We can build awareness by noticing our reactions to the transgressions: how it influenced our psychological wellbeing, our relationships with others, and even our relationship with God. Some questions we can ask ourselves are: “How much energy are we using each day to think about the experience vs. living the present moment well?” “Is the energy spent thinking about and reacting to the situation bringing me closer to a solution, or is it leading to more frustration, despair and division?”
After we have built awareness, we can make a decision about whether to continue to analyze the situation, risk falling into depression, or commit toward finding a solution and, eventually, healing.
If we choose to overcome the hurt, we can actively make changes to our behaviors. Some concrete actions we can take include, but are not limited to: saying a prayer every morning for the victims, attending reconciliation to rebuild our unity with God, talking to our local parish priests to reassure them of our faith and unity, and playing with our children and hugging them.
After we have actively made changes, we can reflect back and find meaning. We can ask ourselves: “How did we grow from this experience?” “How are we emotionally compared to when we began building insight?” “How did the changes we made affect our relationships with our children, husband, local priest and God?
I am reminded about a meditation by Focolare founder Chiara Lubich: “God allows moments of darkness, agitation and bitterness so that we might know what we are and, conscious of our misery … we may throw ourselves back onto him, with total trust, only in him.”
If you are interested to read more articles like this: