Vatican recognizes clergy abuse victims’ magazine with local ties

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, April 7, 2021

When The Healing Voices was started in 2016, the survivors of clerical sexual abuse who came together to write and edit it expected it to be a way for them to express their own thoughts and share their experiences with one another.

Since then, the online magazine has become a resource not only for survivors of abuse, but also for church leaders, clergy, family members and clinicians who help abuse survivors. Spirit Fire, the Christian restorative justice initiative that publishes it, has been recognized as a resource by Tutela Minorum, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors.

“That’s a wonderful thing,” said Michael Hoffman, chairman of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Hope and Healing Committee, a committee of abuse survivors, priests and staff who work together to help heal the wounds caused by abuse. “It means our voices are being heard at the highest level. The voices of survivors should be at the table, and the survivors who are willing to share their voices should be appreciated. To me, it’s survivors helping other survivors.”

Hoffman is one of four abuse survivors who helped start the magazine, which is edited by Teresa Pitt Green, a survivor who co-founded Spirit Fire. The group was originally connected by Thomas Tharayil, director of assistance ministry for the Archdiocese of Chicago.

The Healing Voices now has an archive of more than 300 articles written by abuse survivors, victim-assistance coordinators like Tharayil, family members of survivors and clergy. There are book and movie reviews, articles and columns about things going on in various dioceses and reflections on items in the news.

Some of the publication’s most popular features have been roundtables with survivors weighing in on the same topic, including one published after the 2015 film “Spotlight” won the Best Picture Academy Award in 2016. “Spotlight” depicted the Boston Globe’s uncovering of the sexual abuse of children by priests in the Catholic Church.

“We defy the caricature of the survivor that people have come to assume,” Pitt Green said.

In her mind, that caricature is something like this: “It’s like in [the film] ‘Mystic River,’ a ticking time bomb crazy person who has been miserable all their life,” she said. “People expect to meet people who are weak. And yes, you always have these wounds, but people underestimate the strength and resilience of these survivors.”

The magazine’s focus, she said, is on ways to help survivors heal and to protect children.

“It was something driven by the need that the survivors who got together felt, which was that there was a place for faith in recovery from abuse, even if the abuse was from clergy,” Pitt Green said. “I used to see it as being for survivors when it started. Now I see it as being for everybody as well as survivors, based on the strong feedback we get from bishops and priests who read it.”

“It’s therapeutic for me to write,” said Hoffman, who first wrote about his story in the 2013 book “Acts of Recovery.” “It’s validating to have it be read by a variety of other sources, including now at the Vatican.”

Pitt Green said dozens of people have written for The Healing Voices, and often several people collaborate or offer feedback on each piece. But contributions slowed considerably after August 2018, when news of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick’s abuse of boys and young men in seminary spread and the Pennsylvania grand jury report on clerical sexual abuse in that state was released.

Hoffman said that was a difficult time for him and many other abuse survivors.

“I’ve gone through times of high-volume writing and times of less writing,” he said. “After the original McCarrick story came out two years ago, it took me six or eight months to even think straight again.”

Hoffman said he often has more to write about just because the Archdiocese of Chicago has offered more opportunities to survivors of abuse to be involved in events such as the annual Healing Mass for survivors of clerical sexual abuse, which is planned for survivors by survivors, and the annual Pinwheels for Prevention prayer service to observe April as Child Abuse Prevention Month.

Those regular observances were instrumental in bringing people together, Tharayil said. When he began working in the archdiocese in 2011, he noticed that several initiatives were started and then abandoned. He decided to try keeping up with things like the Healing Mass, which sometimes was very sparsely attended, so that people knew they could count on it happening.

“Part of it was, ‘Why are doing this? Nobody’s showing up,’” Tharayil said. “So many projects are started, and then just disappear. But each year one or two victims would reach out to me after the Mass. After a few years, they started getting really involved. A community started to form. There is a group of victim-survivors who have been angry, mad at the church, but they had a yearning to kind of heal through their faith, because their faith is integral to them. They don’t want to be in hiding. They want to be in collaboration with the church, but they didn’t want to be told what to do.”

Some were from Chicago, but others came from other dioceses, he said, and they were able to connect online.

When Tharayil was considering what to do with a newsletter he put out, he approached Pitt Green. She, Hoffman and other survivors transformed it into The Healing Voices, and Tharayil supported their endeavor instead of maintaining a separate newsletter.

Connecting with other survivors helps people process what happened to them, Hoffman said.

“My wife is obviously supportive, but you never want to talk about childhood abuse,” he said. “It doesn’t come up at the dinner table. It’s not like the open wound of a broken bone that people can see and want to fix. It’s the inner wound that no one can see and you have to talk about it.”

Tharayil said the typical victim-survivor waits 20 to 25 years to come forward.

“A lot of it is that they feel alone. That no one can understand,” he said. “When you have a group of people saying, ‘I get exactly what you’re talking about,’ it makes it safer for them to be out there. They know they’re going to have a safe group of people to support them.”

To read The Healing Voices, visit



  • clergy sexual abuse

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