There is no “caught in time”: A current-day story of how doubt and denial harmed  a young Catholic’s journey to healing and forgiveness

My story begins the way so many of these do. The key difference? My story begins in 2011, not 1980. Not pre-Boston Globe, not pre-Protecting God’s Children. I hope my story might shed light on what happens when guidelines aren’t followed. If people had paid attention, this could have been stopped sooner. My case is not to be applauded as one “caught in time” —  though it was caught before the most horrible consequences occurred, the emotional and psychological effects have nonetheless been profound. The guidelines were not followed, and real harm was done. I want to bring attention to the importance of ensuring the protocols of the Dallas Charter are continuously enforced and refined. I’ve seen it overlooked at parishes more than once, witnessing carelessness in record keeping that suitability of staff and environmental safety did not seem a high priority. The responsibility is on each of us—the laity in the pew, parish staff, pastors, diocesan employees, and bishops alike. Guidelines, no matter how good they are, only work if they are followed.

 

In fall 2011, when I was 14, I started regularly attending my parish’s high school youth group with one of my friends. The youth group was run by a priest in his late 20s, Fr. Robert (a pseudonym), the associate priest of my parish on his first assignment out of seminary. My best friend and I grew very close to Fr. Robert. Unfortunately, he didn’t draw boundaries where boundaries should be made, even when told to do so by my friend’s parents. As a result, my friend’s parents, with the help of my own, reported him to the Archdiocese of Detroit for the sexual grooming of minors. 

 

In June 2012, my home parish released a statement notifying the congregation that Fr. Robert had been placed on a paid leave of absence, although it didn’t say why. He disappeared into thin air. Trying to protect me, my loving parents told my fifteen year-old self to remain silent when friends asked me if I knew anything. I couldn’t tell people about our private hangout directly outside his bedroom where we met into the early hours of the morning on retreat or the Youth Bible Study sessions he heldwithout another adult supervisor. I couldn’t tell them how we’d text while I was in class, how he held nighttime Skype conversations with my best friend even after her parents told him to stop (my mom and her mom spent hours combing through messages), how he gifted her a Starbucks gift card, how he would tell us about his girlfriend he almost left seminary for, how he hosted a youth group party at the rectory, how once he gave us a tour of the rectory and showed us his bedroom, how he made me feel uncomfortable when he playfully tickled and chased her or when he hugged us. He did have more physical and other interaction with my friend than with myself; I don’t know if he truly favored her or wanted to make me jealous, but it was another odd element in the situation. He even tried to get an extra year of assignment to the parish so he could stay near us, and when his request was denied, he made plans for my friend to come visit him at his new parish. Most alarming of all, he told my friend and me that her parents were overprotective and to ignore them when they told him to stay clear of us.  

 

No, I couldn’t tell anyone he was under investigation. These things remained secrets (even to this day, they have never been made public at my parish), leading me at the time to feel somehow guilty and responsible for something that at that age I couldn’t understand. My mom later told me she heard that Fr. Robert was abruptly removed from a parish’s property in the middle of a party for Archdiocesan priests. Overnight, Fr. Robert’s phone, Facebook, Youtube, and Skype accounts were all deactivated. He was gone from my life, my confidant suddenly no more. Rather than understanding he held all fault (something I do still struggle to remind myself), I found myself believing it was all an overreaction and that I had partaken in ruining Fr. Robert’s image. I still find myself protecting him and my parish, so torn on whether to go public with his name and the name of my pastor who continues to remain silent. The last I ever heard of Fr. Robert’s case for years was that it was elevated to the Vatican. Now, in 2020, to the best of my knowledge, his case is still at the Vatican. He’s still receiving a monthly stipend from the Archdiocese equivalent to that which is received by retired priestsI believe somewhere around $1500. 

 

Through my attendance at and leading of Kairos retreats my junior and senior year of high school, God set me on a long road towards healing. I heard the words in the Our Father—“forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” and the prayer whispered by the priest during mass “may the Body and Blood of Christ keep me safe for eternal life”—and the reality of the tangibility of Jesus’s suffering pierced me. As I encountered, the True Presence of Jesus in the Eucharist, God gently revealed to me the cross of betrayal I was carrying and the need for myself to forgive—forgive Fr. Robert and also myself. Yet, on the Kairos retreat when student leaders generally are able to share their testimonies unreservedly, the lay pastoral minister did not allow me to share in my talk that the betrayal I experienced was by a priest (Fr. Robert had celebrated Mass a few times at my school and was beloved by the students as the cool, young priest). I understand why he didn’t allow me to mention that, but at the time it seemed that no one wanted to hear my story.  

 

My first year of college in 2015 was a time of great darkness for me, a time of great pain in regards to the wounds inflicted on me by Fr. Robert and later the Archdiocese in its poor response when I came forward. Trying to drown out the betrayal l felt from the priest and Church, I immersed myself in the college party culture. In my pain, I found it easier to run in the opposite direction rather than face my circumstances and turn to the Lord for help. I couldn’t see how I was just drowning myself further. It had been around four years since Fr. Robert was removed from the parish, and we still had heard nothing of what happened to him. I expected that we would eventually hear results from the investigation, but no updates ever came. The silence from my parish and the Archdiocese was deafening and led me to spiral into my thoughts and imagination, trying to make sense out of what happened. I became obsessed with trying to find some trace of Fr. Robert online—staying up into the early hours of the morning, searching the internet for any trace of him but to no avail. I was living in a daze, unable to snap myself back to reality. I told myself I was exaggerating what happened, making it a bigger deal than it was, telling myself Fr. Robert did nothing wrong and that it was my fault for wanting to be friends with him, telling myself that what I experienced wasn’t severe enough to merit feeling the way I felt, that I was living in a make-believe pity party. I felt extremely alone, as any resources I found online were only for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy; nothing ever mentioned victims of grooming. I felt guilty when what I read for survivors of sexual abuse by clergy resonated with me, as I saw myself “not victim enough” to identify with such resources or stories. I felt weak for not being fine, embarrassed at the prospect that Fr. Robert’s intentions might not have been malicious and that it was all in my headthat indeed Fr. Robert was just immature, which is what my pastor chalked it all up to. Then I’d google signs of child grooming, read every article to affirm myself, and spiral downward in my thoughts once again.

That March, in 2016, I spent the night before my 19th birthday in tears as I watched Spotlight for the first time, the Academy Award winning drama depicting the Boston Globe’s 2001 uncovering of widespread sexual abuse of minors and cover-up by clergy. Something spurred within me a conviction to somehow find closure. For the first time, I emailed Marge Huggard, the Victim Assistance Coordinator for the Archdiocese of Detroit, pouring my heart out in earnest and explaining how I wanted to know the outcome of the case so that I could move on. Naively, I thought the Archdiocese, the Church, would be able to help me. This was my email, at 2am on my birthday:

Dear Ms. Huggard,

In summer 2012 shortly after leaving XXX for his new assignment at XXX, Fr. Robert XXX was removed from his ministry assignment pending investigation. The parents of my close friend filed a report of misconduct against him, but I never heard of the outcome other than that the case was sent to the Vatican for review. The report has remained highly confidential; the only reason I am aware of it is because of my close relationship with the filer and, at the time, with Fr. Robert. Since I was a minor when the case was filed and my parents were not looking to get involved, I doubt my name was ever mentioned during the investigation. 

I am not looking to stir up old dust from the past by writing to you, and I have nothing to add to the 2012 report; I am only searching for answers and closure. Fr. Robert and I were very close during his time at XXX, and it has been difficult to move forward with so many questions unanswered. I understand that this is a confidential topic and there may be aspects that you are not at liberty to discuss, but I ask to receive any information available regarding the progress of the case and his current status.

Thank you for any help you may be able to provide,

 

XXX

XXX Parishioner

XXX High School ’15 

 

This was her reply:

Dear XXX. You are correct- any information is confidential. If there is ever any  public disclosure about matters involving the Priests of the Archdiocese- you will have to catch it in the newspaper or see it on our website. We could never contact someone outside of our clients to keep them informed. I am sorry as I am sure your intention and request is honest but our responsibilities are also very clear to those who expect us to proceed with professional demeanor. If you would like to create a file for yourself re: your relationship with anyone in the Clergy/Staff of the AOD- please let me know. Thank you . Marge Huggard VAC/AOD

I now suspect Ms Huggard didn’t realize that I was a person hurt by Fr. Robert. While she gave me the option of opening my own file, that was a daunting prospect and I figured I had nothing to add that hadn’t already been said in my friend’s case. Hurt by what seemed to me to be a lack of interest in my reason for pursuing this question, I had no desire to respond to Ms. Huggard’s email. Perhaps I was more upset at her than I should have been, but it was hard for me to make that contact and I felt dismissed rather than heard.

My hurt turned to anger. Anger at our Church, anger at God for letting his Church become so corrupt. I found myself profoundly hurt not only by Fr. Robert, but also the Archdiocese and larger Church for seeming not to care about me. For several months, I stopped going to Mass unless I was at home with my family, where I’d attempt to continue keeping up appearances that I was fine. Looking back at this 2016 correspondence with Marge Huggard, I’m no longer so taken aback by her response. Reflecting on why her response so deeply hurt, though, it’s because I expected a tone of deep compassion and sorrow rather than what seemed like a sanitized reply. On my own part, I did not adequately convey my own victimization—partly because I myself had not accepted the fact that I was indeed a victim.

In July 2016, Divine Intervention broke into my life in a small town called Corinaldo, Italy, the birthplace of St. Maria Goretti—the patron saint of victims of abuse. At the age of 11, Maria was brutally stabbed numerous times when she prevented her family friend from raping her. She died the next day, her last words being to forgive her attacker and expressing how she desired to see him in heaven forever.  Standing in the room she was born in, the same room her mother died in years later with her daughter’s repentant killer at her bedside, I was flooded by the Lord’s love, mercy, and forgiveness—for myself, for Fr. Robert, and for the Church. Although I had said that I forgave Fr. Robert and the Church numerous times before, Maria showed me how to not just say the words of forgiveness but to feel them—to feel the deepness of love for even those who had betrayed me. And it was through that love that my heart was illuminated. God worked a miracle in my life, and he called to me from this place of love to return to him. For the remainder of my time in Italy, several times a day, I began visiting a church next to where I was staying. In this ancient, centuries-old church hidden behind a castle’s walls on a hill, the Lord drew me to him so that he might sit with me and I with him.

Returning to campus for sophomore year that fall, I became further transformed through powerful prayer experiences in Eucharistic Adoration. I mustered the courage to go to the Sacrament of Reconciliation for the first time in many years—probably since 8th grade. I opened up to the priest in the confessional about the betrayal I experienced. I will never forget the way Fr. Todd Koenigsknecht of the Diocese of Lansing looked at me and apologized on behalf of the Church and clergy for having wronged me. He heard me, he believed me, and I received an apology I didn’t know I needed. 

By sometime during my sophomore year of college in 2016/2017, I finally found Fr. Robert through a Google Search. He’s a therapist now, living a couple hours away. Yes, a therapist. The Archdiocese of Detroit allowed a priest removed from ministry, to whom they continue to pay a stipend while his case is at the Vatican, to go back to school and earn the letters MA, LPC, and LLMFT at the end of his name. He’s a certified hypnotherapist. A hypnotherapist! I once spent several hours investigating how I could report him to the licensing board, but I stopped short because I felt like I’d be ruining his life for a second time. So far as I know, he doesn’t work with minors, but I’m not sure that it matters—he’s still working with vulnerable people. Ignoring the fact he is now a therapist, knowing where he was provided an inkling of a step closer to closure; I no longer needed to waste time on unending Google Searches to see where he was in the world or worry he’d appear walking down the street of my college town.

Over the next year, my faith—my personal relationship with Jesus—was growing. I was attending daily Mass and frequenting Adoration for hours at a time. I rooted myself in Christ, enraptured by his love. The pain of silence remained, but it was something I was learning to live with. Things were good for a while. 

The summer of 2018, though, ripped open wounds for so many, including myself.  When the Michigan Attorney General investigation began that fall, I saw it as a chance to help our Church improve and heal. I submitted a “tip” and talked to a couple different investigators who looked into the case. I think they hit a dead end, since laws surrounding child grooming focus on cybercrime and human trafficking and thus make it easy for groomers to get away. Simultaneously, I once again mustered up courage to reach back out to the Archdiocese. Afterall, if something were to come out in the eventual final report by the Attorney General regarding Fr. Robert, I wanted to protect my parish by alerting them ahead of time. I attempted to write a letter to the Archbishop on October 3rd via the Archdiocesan online portal, but I don’t know if it ever reached him:

October 3, 2018

Your Excellency, 

First, thank you for dedication to helping those wounded in the Church find healing and for your resolve to ensure the safety of the most vulnerable among us. I bring the following mistreated case to your attention out of our mutual love for Christ and his Bride: 

In 2012 as a freshman in high school, I became a victim of child grooming by who was then Fr. Robert XXX of the Archdiocese of Detroit during his third year as Associate Pastor at my home parish, XXX. To provide a clearer description of what occurred, Fr. Robert regularly spent time alone with my friend (XXX—the minor involved with the 2012 allegation) and I through texting and skyping at all hours of the day and night. It didn’t matter if we were in school or if we should have been asleep, and he found many opportunities to be alone with us in a room. Furthermore, while on a youth group retreat, XXX and I stayed up with him into the early hours of the morning directly outside of his bedroom and far away from the rest of the group. I witnessed him playfully chasing, tickling, and wrestling her on another occasion. When XXX’s parents, per my own mother’s counsel, told Fr. Robert to stop his contact with us, he convinced XXX and I to ignore our parents, telling us that they were overprotective and out of line. As a result, her parents contacted the Archdiocese, and Fr. Robert was removed from ministry. 

In summer 2012, my home parish released a statement notifying the congregation that Fr. Robert was placed on a paid leave of absence pending an investigation, although it didn’t say for what. Overnight, he seemingly disappeared. I knew from XXX that her parents had reported him. The Archdiocese said we would be given updates on the status of the case, however such updates were not given. After being told the case was elevated to the Vatican, we never received another update. As an adult, in March 2016, I reached out to Ms. Marge Huggard asking to receive details on the case, but she told me the information could not be released. It was only in the fall of 2016 that Robert XXX appeared again on a Google search for the first time since 2012. It was only through his own advertisement of his new therapy practice that I discovered he is no longer a priest. 

The silence from the Archdiocese of Detroit over the last six years has been hurtful and deeply wounding. Without having answers of how the case was handled and how it came about that Robert XXX is no longer a priest, I have not been able to find closure. With the most recent uncovering in our Church of the global mishandling of sexual abuse of minors, my wounds have been reopened. 

I feel that I have exhausted my options for finding a more complete healing from the trauma the abuse and silence from the Archdiocese caused me, and I therefore ask to meet with you. From our meeting, I have hope for the following outcomes: 

 

  • I gain closure through knowing what happened in this case and how it was resolved. Shining the light of truth into this area of my past is vital for me to be able to move forward. 
  • I help the Archdiocese of Detroit bring healing and validation to other victims of child grooming or emotional abuse who could have been sexually abused if the perpetrator had not been stopped. 

 

Your Excellency, I have a deep devotion and love for Christ and our Church—I am not here to cause trouble. Rather, I ask for an honest discussion that can lead to healing not just for me, but to many members within the Archdiocese of Detroit. 

I thank you for your commitment to continuous improvement of the way our Archdiocese handles cases of misconduct by clergy involving minors and your openness to meeting with me to further this resolve. Please know that you are in my prayers. 

 

Respectfully yours in Christ, 

XXX XXX 

 

In response to my letter to the Archbishop, I received this email from Marge Huggard on October 5, 2018:

Dear XXX; I am acknowledging your email asking for information and closure re: Robert XXX and how he left the Priesthood. I have forwarded your email on to those who might be able to help you but in the case that you don’t receive an answer- I am going to try to see how, if I might help you. 

 

I understand that you and XXX had a close relationship with Fr. Robert. He was brought into a conversation with the Archdiocese re: the appropriate boundaries between Adult males and children. That is a behavior that all Priests considering the Priesthood must adhere too. When these new rules were drafted and signed off on in 2002- all dioceses agreed to follow them. I very much remember our conversation some time ago. I don’t know what else there is to say. This is a personnel matter and as such must reman confidential but obviously you feel there is more to it than what I’ve just stated. When men join the training to become Priests they must decide if they can adhere to the rules. Should they decide differently, they can leave regardless of their age or how long they have been a Priest. If Robert XXX is no longer a Priest that is a matter between he and his spiritual advisors. Please let me know if there are any questions I can answer as I would like to help you in anyway I can. Marge Huggard, VAC Detroit.

Ms Huggard’s email was clearly written in haste.  While she again offered to help, I shut down after I read: “I don’t know what else there is to say”. Having seen my letter to the Archbishop, this time she knew that I too had been a victim. Instead of addressing that, she made those curious remarks about priests being free to leave if they decide they no longer can adhere to guidelines on appropriate boundaries with minors. I never brought myself to respond to her email, and I never heard from anyone she forwarded my letter to.  

Around the same time, my home parish hosted an evening town hall to discuss the abuse crisis and lined up a day of prayer, advertising the events as a “time to express concerns and start conversations based on openness and honesty,” strongly encouraging all parishioners to attend for “conversation, healing, and growth through faith”

Filled with hope and anxious courage, I drove home from college to make the town hall. I wanted to be present to hear what was said, to hear my pastor speak honestly about what had occurred at the parish just 6 years earlier under his watch. Contrary to the circulated statement, though, there was no openness and honesty, no healing. I thought surely there’d be at least one parishioner who’d ask about the young priest removed several years ago, from whom we never heard again. But nobody asked. There was no mention of Fr. Robert. It was all a facade. I came close to saying something there, in front of everyone, but as I sat between my parents in the pew, I couldn’t bring myself to put such attention on them. After all, my parents are both highly involved members of our parish. Even now, at the thought of going public, I’m concerned to risk their relationship to the community they hold most close. Both of my parents had brought up Fr. Robert to the pastor prior to the town hall, asking if he’d address the case. The pastor told them he did not want to talk about it at the town hall. 

 

In one moment of bravery during the evening, trying to get the derailed conversation back on track (somehow the pastor was discussing the rising number of unchurched and the importance of weddings to bring back young people), I stood up from my seat and claimed the mic. I shared my concern for the protection of vulnerable populations in our church, how the procedures put in place to protect vulnerable populations only work if they are followed, and how our priest was alone with minors when I attended youth group. I asked what the parish had done to fix this over the last number of years. My pastor’s answer shocked me. He said the issue I raised is one he had been thinking about in recent weeks and that there was a new effort to make sure minors are not left alone with an adult. I couldn’t believe it. I thought, surely, a crackdown would have taken place when Fr. Robert was removed. Yet, it seems that only the Attorney General investigations had made the parish begin to reevaluate their procedures. I returned to college feeling defeated.

Silence continued. I was disappointed by the two parishes I both worked at and attended near campus in their failure to react strongly enough in response to the events of Summer 2018. I tried to allow space for leaders to rise up, for other laity to rise up, but there was no response. So I took it upon myself to fill the silence. At one parish, I organized and led “An Afternoon of Listening and Conversation”, where about 60 parishioners partook in round-table discussion to share their feelings openly and discuss paths forward. It was a successful event, but I was tired of having to take the lead, of nobody else ever stepping up to charge forward. Disappointingly, nothing more came of the discussion. That November, I did have the opportunity to share my testimony as part of my student internship at the parish. For the first time, I opened up publicly to about 50 people in attendance about my story. It was a moment of feeling heard, and I’m grateful to the parish for allowing me the opportunity. Yet, even then, one of the priests at the parish tried (unsuccessfully) to sensor my story. 

The other parish offered a holy hour led by the pastor, followed by a town hall. In all, I was grateful for the humility of the pastor and parochial vicar in allowing themselves to more or less serve as verbal punching bags to their flock for an hour. However, a year later in fall 2019, there was silence from the parish when a past pastor was arrested by the Attorney General—it was no new news that he was a horrendous abuser (he was laicized years ago), but now he finally returned to town to face justice. I expected the parish to publicly support the arrest and the opportunity for justice, or at least to mention the arrest during a homily or prayers of the faithful, but there was only silence. 

Strangely enough, I was the one working in the front office at the parish the day a reporter came in asking to speak to the pastor regarding the arrest. My pastor did the interview, explaining that much healing had taken place at the parish over the years. Aside from the interview, though, there was nothing to be said. And there continued to be nothing said, even after the past pastor’s case was dismissed when deemed past the statute of limitations. In the face of silence following the case’s infuriating dismissal, I wrote and led a holy hour to pray for justice for clergy abuse survivors and for our own cultivation of mercy and forgiveness towards those who abused them. I even had the support of nationally renowned clergy sexual abuse survivor Teresa Pitt Green, who called me when she heard about my holy hour. That meant a great deal to me. In advertising the retreat out to the community, I had a priest message me—one I knew and confided in (there are several I’ve told). He messaged me not to offer encouragement and support for the holy hour, but rather to correct a technicality of my language surrounding the “True Presence” versus “Real Presence”. It was a moment of total failure in pastoral care. I had barely gotten the courage to post about the holy hour on my Facebook, and that was the response I received.

In my efforts of trying to bring healing in the Church during fall 2019, I decided to try again with the Archdiocese. With the encouragement of family and friends, I emailed Mgsr. Mike Burgarin on October 11, 2019. I knew Mgsr. Bugarin had information, since my friend’s parents had contacted him to learn if Fr. Robert’s case was still at the Vatican. Mgsr. Bugarin had also helped another young woman I met, who was sexually abused by a missionary priest serving in the AOD who has since been sent back to India and continues in active ministry there (the missionary priest is not listed on the AOD’s list of “Clergy Credibly Accused of Abuse” because the list is only for priests who sexually abused minors, despite the list’s title. Anyone abused in other forms or abused past the age of 17 is not able to get their abuser on the list. This was the email I sent:

Dear Monsignor Mike,

First, thank you for your ministry in the Church. I’ve been wanting to reach out to you for a long time now, but I have only now felt myself ready to do so. I’ve had a few people encourage me to reach out to you, the XXX family and another young woman from Detroit, XXX, who I got your contact information from after we attended Lansing’s healing retreat together. I am hoping to talk with you directly about the status of Robert XXX’ case. It is unclear to me whether my name has been attached to his case at all, but I was another minor who Fr. Robert grew too close with back in 2011/2012 at XXX. Any updates I’ve received about Fr. Robert have come from my mom who in turn had talked with Mrs. XXX after she had spoken with you—I think it would be helpful for me if I could speak with you directly. I’ve had limited email communication in the past few years with Marge Huggard and also tried to send a letter to Archbishop Vigneron last year, but unfortunately the replies I received from Ms. Huggard were unhelpful. I would be very grateful for a phone call with you to discuss anything you are able to share with me, and I can share more details with you if you’re unsure about who I am or my involvement. Please feel free to call me directly or to email me back to schedule a time. 

In Christ,

XXX XXX

 My email was met with no response, to which I followed up on October 23, 2019:

 Hi Monsignor Mike,

Just following up with you—please respond when you can.

Many Thanks,

XXX 

Again, no response. If his strategy was that I’d move on, it actually worked (at least for a few months, as now here I am). This year was my final year of school; I graduated with two degrees and a minor. I was also working two jobs at different parishes at the time. Communicating with Mgsr. Bugarin fell through the cracks (as perhaps it did for him, too). Realizing this now, in one sense I’m thankful I didn’t follow through; it proves to me the certain level of growth and healing that has indeed occurred (18 year old me would have unhealthily obsessed over it). On the other hand, I’m disappointed to have not gotten the answers that I do still need to receive. Last I heard (from my mom, who got her information from the other mom, who got it from Mgsr. Burgarin), Fr. Robert’s case had been delayed at the Vatican for a full year because Fr. Robert’s canon lawyer was in jail …. for abuse. Talking directly with Mgsr. Burgarin would hopefully provide me some clarity of what’s actually happened with the case and where things stand now. 

At a certain point, the quest for answers becomes too draining and yielding to the silence easier. I’ve called on Church leaders to end their silence, so it’s now time I listen to my own plea and let my story be heard. Nonetheless, I remain hesitant since I still feel a need to protect the parishes and priests I’ve mentioned (even Fr. Robert), despite their wrongdoings. But I do believe my story and others like it need to be heard if our Church is to ever truly heal. I write so that others who’ve experienced abuse similar to mine know they’re not alone, like I for so long felt. I write so that silence might turn into whispers of conversation, and those whispers one day into an honest dialogue. I write to take my place as a wounded healer.

One thing I hope people will learn is that even when grooming does not lead to the worst forms of sexual abuse, the grooming itself is a kind of abuse that has lasting effects. You may think I have overblown things and overreacted. I can understand that view (a past me would agree with you), but Msgr. Bugarin told my friend’s parents that Fr. Robert’s actions were a violation of the sixth commandment. “Violation” is an apt word; I felt violated once I understood what could have happened. We don’t know what Fr. Robert would ultimately have done, but Susanna’s story of being groomed and sexually assaulted in 2017 by her college chaplain paints a clear trajectory.

The years after the abuse were at times tremendously confusing and painful for me. You read about my confusion, my not knowing how to interpret what happened, my fear that I would be hurting a priest I considered a trustworthy friend. For a young person, a young woman to discover that an older, respected man who should be most concerned for her soul is in fact using his spiritual authority to groom her for eventual sexual abuse is devasting. As is the realization that one’s parish priest and diocese don’t seem that interested in what happened and must want to move on. I’m grateful to God for finding me in Italy and in hours of Adoration, bringing about tremendous healing and setting me on a path to bring healing in the Church and beyond.

It is my desire that no more young people be harmed, and, if they are, that priests and dioceses do a better job in providing the healing they deserve. I am grateful, of course, that the AOD took the report seriously and removed Fr. Robert from ministry. Hopefully the years of transferring priests within the United States are over, but there is much more that needs to be done to attend to victims, to ensure the crimes of abuse are not covered up, and especially to reevaluate the current system that allowed Fr. Robert to get as far as he did. How many other “Fr. Roberts” are out there? I do think (or at least hope) that the Dallas Charter has been mostly successful in preventing such extreme instances of sexual abuse of minors by clergy that pervaded the Church prior to 2002. However, much of the safe environment training that emerged out of the Charter (Virtus/Protecting God’s Children) focuses on spotting abuse when it is occurring in the early grooming stages; we need to focus on making sure those early stages never happen. Procedures to ensure safety measures are followed should be clear in every parish. Codes of conduct and safe environment training must stay up to date, especially with the ever changing landscape of technology and media; a program made in the early 2000s is not the most effective means of abuse prevention. 

Interestingly, I’m now running communications at a parish. I hope that in this role, I’ll be able to continue propelling the Church forward in openness and dialogue. People ask me why I stay, how I can work for a Church that betrayed me so terribly. Love. Love is my only answer. Love for Jesus, love for his Bride the Church. 

Transformed by Christ, I follow his Way. I know suffering. Jesus knows suffering. I know unbearable, crippling spiritual pain, and I know darkness. He faced the darkest moment of human history. For so long, I tried to make my wounds disappear, covering them up in hopes they’d be left in the past. It wasn’t until I allowed the Divine Physician into my soul to bathe my wounds, purifying them with the water from his Holy Side, that I was set free. Yet, even the Risen Christ’s wounds remain. They are real and tangible. The very wounds that caused our Christ such incredible agony are transformed into an everlasting trophy of His victory over death. The Lord doesn’t take away our wounds. Rather, he transforms them for his glory. Jesus wants to heal us, to heal his wounded Bride, but we must allow those wounds to be seen. My wounds remain as testaments to the light—God’s light. It came first for me as a small little flickering ember and quickly grew into a beautiful wildfire of mercy. Of love. Of forgiveness. Of victory. 

Deo Gratias. 

. . . 

Take what you want from my story, but these are the lessons I hope you’ve learned:

  1. Silence is never the correct answer in the Catholic Church, even at local parish levels, in response to the abuse crisis. 
  2. Step up as a source of support; don’t make the survivor take on efforts alone.
  3. Reconsider praising the Archdiocese of Detroit’s handling of abuse cases and safe environment measures. What they say they do and what they really do are far apart. Victims deserve much greater attention and service; with such a limited public list, it’s difficult to know how safe our parishes truly are.
  4. Be cautious about believing the AOD’s desire to expose the nature and extent of abuse among it’s priests. The AOD’s list is titled “Clergy Credibly Accused of Abuse”. It gives no information about where they served and when and how many accusations there have been against them. The list contains only priests credibly accused of sexual abuse of minors. It makes cases of all the many other forms of abuse invisible (18+, psychological, physical, emotional, spiritual, etc.). Sexual abuse of minors by clergy isn’t the only form of abuse in our Church that wounds deeply, but it is largely the only type of abuse given attention. 
  5. Jesus and His Church prevail.

3 thoughts on “There is no “caught in time”: A current-day story of how doubt and denial harmed  a young Catholic’s journey to healing and forgiveness”

  1. This is a long story and well worth reading. Thanks to the author and publishers of it.

    The first of the five lessons listed at the end states “silence is never the correct answer…”.

    Yes, but much of this story perpetuates silence and secrecy and hews to the false idea that the priest’s name should be secret and the Church’s process–which is on it’s face unjust–should be observed.

    The only reason there has been any reform is due to the First Amendment and the press. Bishops, especially Vigneron, have fought mightily to maintain the prevent real reform relating to sex abuse.

    The priest’s name should be public and could be published without worry of legal repercussions if done properly.

    Reply
  2. Dear Survivor,

    Your story touched me deeply. Sadly, I can believe it all too easily. There are good and caring priests in the Church and they will support victim/survivors. However, it is also clear from my many years working for the Church, that the paradigm is not one of compassionate pastoral care, but to make the noise go away as quickly as possible. The responses from the VAC were simply awful, no compassion and no understanding that you were not just snooping around for information. That your bishop could not be bothered to reply speaks volumes.

    I sincerely hope you are able to find a way to break the silence and see some satisfactory responses to the pain of survivors. However, I have seen too much in continued minimization, denial and outright lies from those who are meant to lead us. Their primary concern is their own comfort ,status and power and it shows itself over and over again. Even the dioceses who have responded well and offer pastoral responses, still react with more loyalty to clerics and the institution than the very people who indeed are the Church.

    I wish you well in your journey of healing. Blessings to you.

    Reply
  3. God bless you. I too, am very familiar with the “no response response”. It amazes me, how anyone, most especially a priest charged with assisting victims can simply ignore a letter like the one you wrote…it speaks volumes.

    Reply

Leave a Comment