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Abuse survivor shares his experience in new book

By Michelle Martin | Staff Writer
Sunday, November 10, 2013

Michael Hoffman is a husband, father and businessman who is active in his parish and in his children’s activities. He is also a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by a priest.

Hoffman, a driving force behind the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Healing Garden, wrote about his journey from acknowledging the abuse that took place to acceptance in “Acts of Recovery” (Acta, 2013).

The book grew from notes he wrote for himself when he was in counseling, documenting his own recovery. It tells of his shock of recognition that what he had experienced was sexual abuse when he read a 2006 newspaper article about other accusations against the priest who abused him. The article sent him reeling.

The first person he told was his wife, Colleen, although it was with great reluctance.

“We had wonderful life,” he said. “We were so blessed in so many ways. We had a great marriage, two great kids. I didn’t want to bring this into it. I didn’t want to have this problem.”

After that initial conversation, he and his wife didn’t talk about it with anyone else, and discussed it very little between themselves.

But shortly thereafter, he felt the need to share his burden with someone in the church, so he went to Father Greg Sakowicz, then the pastor of his parish, St. Mary of the Woods.

It’s not that he hadn’t remembered the abuse, much of which took place at “pizza parties” in the priest’s rectory bedroom at St. Mary Parish in Lake Forest, he said. Rather, he told himself that the things that happened were “normal,” because that was what the priest told the boys who were there.

Perhaps the hardest conversation was telling his parents, who had considered the priest a good friend.

At the end of it, Hoffman said, he had cried until he couldn’t cry anymore.

While the priest is not named in the book, Hoffman confirmed that it was Robert Mayer, who was removed from public ministry in 1991, convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor in 1992, resigned in 1994 and was formally laicized in 2010.

Once Hoffman took his story to the archdiocese, he was surprised at how quickly things moved. A huge turning point was when he received a letter in January 2007 from the Review Board saying their investigation showed there was reason to suspect abuse occurred. The letter came about five months after he had first met with representatives of the Archdiocesan Review Board.

“I call that my Cardinal George letter,” Hoffman said. “I had it in writing from the archdiocese: They believed me!”

The book details many of Hoffman’s steps to recovery, from attending an archdiocesan-sponsored retreat for victims of clerical sexual abuse to getting counseling and pursuing a financial settlement with the archdiocese. He met one-on-one with Cardinal George and became the driving force behind the creation of the Healing Garden of the Archdiocese of Chicago, next to Holy Family Church, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road. The garden is a place where those who feel broken, whether from childhood sexual abuse or any other reason can go to look for healing and hope.

Hoffman said that as he became more open about the abuse he suffered, he sometimes feared that people would see him as a poster child for sexual abuse and not look beyond that. The truth is that his friends are glad he shared the information, because it has made him more comfortable in living his own life. As for being nothing more than a sexual abuse survivor?

“I have kids,” he said. “There’s no time for that.”

He and his wife are still very active at St. Mary of the Woods, and he made a trip back to St. Mary in Lake Forest just to lay his memories to rest.

Part of the reason Hoffman wrote the book was to help Catholics who did not suffer abuse understand everything that the church is doing to help those who did. For him, he said, the counseling, the retreats, just being listened to, were important steps in his recovery.

“I know that not everybody (who was sexually abused by priests) wants to deal with the archdiocese,” he said. “But all these things are available, and people should know about them. They should know what their church is doing to help.”