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USA, abuse survivors take the floor in bishops’ meeting: “Our wounds are comparable to murder”

During the press conference Cardinal Daniel DiNardo reiterated his disappointment for the Vatican’s decision to delay voting on the measures to be adopted in cases of sexual abuse. But when asked whether action should be carried out all the same he went straight to the point: “This is just a small obstacle on our way. We will continue doing our work, but we are the Church not a religious NGO, and we are responsible and respectful of the universal Church in communion with the Pope in an attitude of attentive listening. We are not a bureaucratic structure”

(from Baltimore) Teresa Pitt Green kneels down in front of the monstrance before taking the floor. She was chosen to open the prayer before the commencement of the US Bishops’ autumn assembly. She was chosen to be the first one to speak in the session devoted to victims of abuses committed by the clergy. She was chosen to look the bishops in the eye and say: “I am a daughter of God and I survived abuse committed by many priests. It’s hard to stand before you without thinking of all the survivors I know.” Teresa is a writer. She founded a periodical and a blog dedicated to the question of abuses. She is an entrepreneur, she served in many ecclesial commissions, and she is currently engaged as member of a task force against the trafficking of human beings in North Virgina. She was seven when the first predator priest sexually assaulted her; other members of the clergy assaulted throughout the years, until she turned 19. “My story is only one story, and my healing is only one healing. I know the suffering of other survivors and of their families; I know the beauty, the courage, the resilience of those who preserved a relationship with God and I know that the Cross they carry weighs heavily on their shoulders.” Teresa’s words are solemn, she doesn’t speak hastily, slowly weighing every syllable of pain that she gives voice to.
“Many survivors are seen as pariahs, as aliens inside their Church and inside their communities. I am healed and I have not always been in agreement with the Church that has judged me for years, and continues to judge me today.” The silence magnifies the accusations. “Among us there are people that bear wounds in their souls, drug-addicts, people who attempted suicide, people in love with the life and the love they live out in a state of permanent fear, in loneliness, in isolation.” The woman admitted problems with law enforcement authorities, she is afraid of being alone in a room with an adult man; she refused to have a tutor in college and even today, whenever she hears a bell chiming, those terrible memories come back to mind (“while it should remind me of God”) the same happens when she sees images of saints. Teresa had to face countless problems with her family confronted with feelings of failure and thus embrace and accompany a path of healing that lasted many years.

Louis Torres was born in Puerto Rico. His parents arrived in Brooklyn with the yearning to offer him a better life. His father was a driver in the local transport company and his mother was employed in the parish. They made enormous sacrifices to enrol him in a private Catholic school. “Their example taught me the faith”, he said, extending a stirring gaze to his children. Apparently, Louis leads a perfect life. After First Communion he realised his dream of being an altar boy. At 14 he was a volunteer helping disabled people, he won college scholarships (the first in his family). He was elected president of the student council; he completed Law School and was hired by the firm of the mayor of New York and then by a leading company. Until 5 years ago: that’s when the monster re-emerged, or rather, when the bullet of abuse pierced his armour. Louis enjoyed reading and the priest, his predator, seconded this passion. On several occasions he found himself alone with him. “One afternoon I discovered myself re-reading the same paragraph over and over while a deep sadness gnawed into my mind and my soul. I discovered I was affected by depression and by PTSD, a disorder that has led many survivors to commit suicide, to prison or to become drug-addicts.” Since he was a child Louis learned to see goodness in every person, and he could not accept that his priest friend, that priest with whom he spoke about Tolkien and Superman, was the one who took his life away from him.

“Abuse of a child is the closest that you can get to murder and still possibly have a breathing body,”– he said addressing the bishops.

Abuse of a child means inflicting a wound in his soul, stripping him of his innocence: the holiest thing that connects a child to God. It means betraying that child. The Church has wounded the child because she preferred defending herself rather than defending the victim. The devil rejoices over this and could not hope is a better endeavour.” Lous is married and is the father of three girls. He is aware that the decision to speak at the Bishops’ Conference will leave him without his armour, but he is also aware that he cannot remain silent

The strength and the firm convictions of the witnesses persisted even during the press conference, when Cardinal Daniel DiNardo reiterated his disappointment for the Vatican’s decision to delay voting on the measures to be adopted in cases of sexual abuse. But when asked whether action should be carried out all the same he went straight to the point: “This is just a small obstacle on our way. We will continue with our work, but we are the Church not a religious NGO, and we are responsible and respectful of the universal Church in communion with the Pope in attitude of attentive listening. We are not a bureaucratic structure.”

The bishops pointed out that their prevention policies against abuse will continue, and that it is the responsibility of the dioceses not to change the line of action.

In response to alleged controversies with Pope Francis for having turned down the visit of the Apostolic Administrator and now after the vote on the Conference documents, the President of US bishops explained that the Pope supports all actions undertaken so far and invited the four dioceses involved in the McCarrick case to work together in the identification of joint solutions for the victims. “The theme of abuse extends worldwide – DiNardo concluded – our work could provide direction to the whole Church in view of our next meeting in February.” Moreover, none of the work carried out since the adoption of the Dallas Charter has been denied. Now it’s just a question of waiting for directions on the measures to be taken regarding the bishops’ behaviour and their accountability.

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