The National Review Board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops has learned that they still have much to learn when it comes to dealing with victims/survivors of sexual abuse of minors by clergy. That was number 10 in the list of “Ten Things Victim/Survivors Taught Us,” that Diane Knight, former executive director of Catholic Charities for the Archdiocese of Milwaukee, who replaced Judge Michael Merz as chair of the National Review Board of the USCCB in 2009, noted in the list of what the NRB has learned according to a May 14 press release. Here are the other nine:
• That it takes great courage for victims/survivors to come forward with their stories after years/decades of silence and feelings of shame;
• The importance to the victims/survivors that they are simply believed;
• That in spite of their pain and suffering, many victims/survivors are just as concerned that the church prevents the abuse from affecting more children as they are with their own healing;
• That victims/survivors’ stories are different but similar in the violation of trust that occurs – some survivors trust no one, while others have worked through the pain with the help and support of loved ones;
• That today, methods of therapy exist that work particularly well with and for survivors of childhood sexual abuse and that it can help victims/survivors even after years of unsuccessfully trying to “forget about it”;
• That many victims/survivors lived for years believing that they were the only ones abused by a particular priest;
• That abuse has robbed some victims/survivors of their faith – some lost their Catholic faith, others lost faith in God altogether.
• That some victims/survivors have been unable to succeed in different areas of life, like in their marriages, jobs, schooling or parenting because of the great emotional/psychological harm and others have lead healthy and productive lives – “between those two ‘ends of continuum’ there is as much variation as there are numbers of victims.”
• That to be privileged to hear victims/survivors’ stories is a sacred trust to be received with great care and pastoral concern.
Knight, who holds a master’s degree in social work and has 30 years of experience in child protection, has been a part of the NRB since 2007, an advisory group of 13 laypersons with expertise in areas including: law, education, media and psychological sciences. The NRB, which was established in 2002 when the U.S. bishops adopted the “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People” meant to oversee efforts of the Office for Child and Youth Protection, is responsible for a three-year “Causes and Context Study,” which the John Jay College of Criminal Justice will release in 2011, that looks at the factors that led to/how to prevent clergy sexual abuse of minors.