New group offers support for victims of all types of abuse

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, October 23, 2019

Victims of abuse have a new place to find support in the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The Maria Goretti Network, a self-help program for survivors of abuse of all kinds, held an introductory meeting in October and will begin holding monthly support meetings at Holy Name Cathedral in November.

Christine Lawless, a parishioner at Holy Name, learned of the network after a friend saw a notice about it in a Texas church bulletin while visiting her mother in Texas.

“I myself almost left the church over the clergy sexual abuse crisis,” said Lawless, who said reports about the crisis in the summer of 2018 triggered her post-traumatic stress disorder. “I couldn’t stand hearing about all these atrocities. I was dismayed.”

Instead of leaving, she recommitted herself to her faith.

“I committed myself to do something for survivors, something for the good-guy priests, something for the laypeople,” said Lawless, a cardiologist by training. “I want to heal hearts another way.”

Lawless suffered physical abuse at the hands of her father as a child, and then, at age 26, she was kidnapped and sexually assaulted. Many people who have been abused outside of the church have been triggered by the clerical sex abuse crisis.

The Maria Goretti Network is for anyone who has suffered abuse: child abuse, domestic abuse, financial abuse, sexual abuse, or any other kind of abuse.

Meeting with other people who have experienced abuse – people who will believe them – offers a safe place, she said.

Lawless and Michael Hoffman, a survivor of childhood abuse by a priest in the Archdiocese of Chicago, will facilitate the group in Chicago.

Each meeting will include a welcome, a time for women to gather with Lawless, a time for men to gather with Hoffman and a conclusion.

Hoffman said women and men meet separately because many women have been abused by men – husbands, fathers, boyfriends – and could be uncomfortable sharing their stories with men.

The network was started in 2003 in Katy, Texas, by Father Gavin Vaverek and Miguel Prats, a victim of clergy sexual abuse.

Now the network has about 10 chapters, including several in Texas as well as in Washington, Kentucky and Arkansas. It is listed as a resource for victims by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops’ Office of Child and Youth Protection.

The archdiocese started its assistance ministry for victims of clergy sexual abuse in 1991, and has made many efforts to help victims heal, including peace circles, retreats, the creation of the Healing Garden and the annual Mass for Hope and Healing.

Meetings will take place the third Monday of every month starting Nov. 18 from 6:30 to 8 p.m. in the Holy Name Cathedral, 751 N. State St.