Chicagoland

Abuse victims focus of healing Mass

By Joyce Duriga | Editor
October 24, 2018

Abuse reports can re-victimize victim-survivors

The latest news of dioceses under investigation by civil authorities, dioceses releasing their files related to clergy sexual abuse and the credible allegations of abuse against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick can re-victimize abuse survivors and leave them hurting all over again, a victim-survivor said at the seventh annual Mass for Hope and Healing Oct. 20, 2018.
Victim-survivor Michael Hoffman speaks at the seventh annual Mass for Hope and Healing Oct. 20, 2018, at Holy Family Church. (Denise Duriga/Chicago Catholic)
Father Larry Dowling delivers the homily at the seventh annual Mass for Hope and Healing at Holy Family Church on Oct. 20, 2018. (Denise Duriga/Chicago Catholic)
Father Larry Dowling anoints the hands of a participant during the closing remarks at the seventh annual Mass for Hope and Healing at Holy Family Church on Oct. 20, 2018. (Denise Duriga/Chicago Catholic)
Jim Richter, a victim-survivor, receives Communion during the Mass for Hope and Healing at Holy Family Church on Oct. 20, 2018.(Denise Duriga/Chicago Catholic)
Thomas Tharayil from the Office for Protection of Children and Youth prays at the seventh annual Mass for Hope and Healing at Holy Family Church on Oct. 20, 2018. (Denise Duriga/Chicago Catholic)
Jim Richter, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, delivers the closing remarks at the seventh annual Mass for Hope and Healing at Holy Family Church on Oct. 20, 2018. (Denise Duriga/Chicago Catholic)

The latest news of dioceses under investigation by civil authorities, dioceses releasing their files related to clergy sexual abuse and the credible allegations of abuse against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick can re-victimize abuse survivors and leave them hurting all over again.

“I think they slap victim-survivors exactly the same way,” Jim Richter, a Chicago native and victim-survivor who lives in Minneapolis. “In all abuse, we talk about triggers and being re-victimized by triggers. You are triggered by virtue of the fact that it is in the news once again. It’s really traumatic.”

Richter gave the closing remarks at the seventh annual Mass for Hope and Healing Oct. 20 at Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road. He also leads monthly peace circles for abuse survivors at the church.

How the latest news on clergy sexual abuse affects survivors depends upon where they are in their healing journey.

“Survivorship or healing is not linear,” Richter said. “There are times in your life and my life when things are going well and times when things are not going well. I can assure you when things aren’t going well those triggers are a lot more sensitive.”

Richter, who was raised on Chicago’s South Side, reported his abuse to the Archdiocese of Chicago in the 1990s and said he wasn’t retraumatized by the process and feels lucky.

He now serves on a committee with the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis’s Office for the Protection of Children and Youth that meets regularly to talk about outreach efforts to victim-survivors.

“I feel like I am trying to be a part of the change,” Richter said.

But he is angry over the apparent failure of some church leaders related to allegations against Archbishop McCarrick.

“With regard to McCarrick, I am not surprised and I am disgusted,” he said. “I am disgusted because the culture of denial and deniability is no less prevalent today than it was 10, or 20, or 30 or 40 years ago.”

Victim-survivor Michael Hoffman says he tries to remind people that there is good work being done in the church locally in outreach and abuse prevention. The Mass for Hope and Healing is one of them.

“There’s still life and things that get in the way, but you look at seven years of coming together and I can rest easy with that,” he said. “This isn’t just a quick response to another scandal. This has been a steady response over many years.”

Hoffman was abused as a child by his pastor at St. Mary’s in Lake Forest and reported the abuse to the archdiocese in August 2006.

In January 2007, just five months after he first reported his case to the archdiocese, Cardinal George sent him a letter stating the archdiocesan Review Board substantiated Hoffman’s claim of abuse.

Hoffman publishes a newsletter for victim-survivors called “Healing Voices” (see thehealingvoicesnewsletter.wordpress.com) that will be distributed at the fall meeting of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops and in it he tells the bishops that “despite the many setbacks, there are many, many success stories.”

One of those he points to is a committee he was part of that included Cardinal George and staff from the Office for Protection of Children and Youth that created the Healing Garden for survivors of child sexual abuse next to Holy Family Church. The committee also started the healing Mass and annual pinwheel planting service with children held every April during Child Abuse Prevention Month.

“I think that’s one of the key things,” Hoffman said. “These other leaders are just letting these opportunities pass and minimizing the effect of sexual abuse not only on the victims but on the regular Sunday Catholics. They’re hurt and nobody’s preaching to them.”

The abuse by Archbishop McCarrick that went unreported for so long angers him, as it does Richter.

“But the McCarrick case and the [Archbishop] Vigano letter made me feel like, ‘Is this just a joke?’” he said. “It made me wonder if these higher ups were just going to play politics with the issue of sexual abuse. I think that was terrible.”

He’s also angry it reached the “highest level of the church.”

“The absolute highest level of our church, princes of our church, and it seems clear somebody knew something and nobody had the courage to do anything about it,” he said.

But that’s how abuse works, Hoffman said. He remembers people talking about his own abuser and knowing he was doing something to children but no one said anything or reported it.

“It’s a lack of courage on behalf of the leaders to police themselves,” he said regarding the McCarrick case. “That has to stop.”

If the bishops fail to get it right this time, Hoffman said, he believes many Catholics will leave the church.

“You’re going to lose a generation of people,” he said. “I just see it as a tragedy.”

 

To learn more about the archdiocese outreach efforts to victim-survivors, visit protect.archchicago.org/events.

 

 

Topics:

  • clergy sexual abuse

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