Abuse survivor: Forgiveness, positive outlook key to healing

By Elise Harris

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Credit: coloneljohnbritt via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0).

At the age of 16, Deborah Kloos was a distraught young woman who turned to the Church in hopes of finding solace, peace, and a reprieve from a “dysfunctional” and complicated family life.

She attended Mass often and sought comfort in the Eucharist. But she was sexually abused by a parish priest in Ontario.

After years of living with anger, sadness, and guilt, Kloos made her way back to the Church and was able to find healing through the sacraments. Now, she wants the Church to make praying for abuse survivors a priority.

She believes the Church has made progress on the abuse front, and has said that for real healing to happen, learning to forgive is key, as is keeping a positive attitude about the concrete efforts the Church is making.

“If we want to heal and make progress in healing we have to open up our hearts, pray together, communicate with one another, forgive one another, focus on the small changes in progress because they all count,” Kloos told EWTN News.

The Church “has made a lot of progress on the issue of clerical sexual abuse,” she said. “I know people are hurting deeply for this irreparable damage done as a result of clergy abuse and I know how painful it is as an abuse survivor.”

“When an infected wound like clergy abuse is covered up, it will fester and eventually will explode,” she said. “Only until the pus and ugliness is out of the wound, can it begin a healing process. It takes time, but we have to pray together and talk about it.”

Everyone deals with the trauma differently, she said, noting that in many cases people affected by abuse will likely never come back to the Catholic Church or bring their families to Mass.

“It is such a huge wound that only God can help with healing,” Kloos said, explaining that it is important for people to look at the progress that has been made and to “respect one another, because we are all human beings who are not perfect. We need God.”

Kloos, who lives in Canada with her husband, stopped attending Mass after she was sexually abused by a 63-year-old priest at her parish.

After the abuse happened, Kloos said she felt “sad and frustrated,” and was estranged from the Church for 20 years before eventually coming back when she enrolled her son in Catholic school.

“I carried a lot of guilt for years,” she said, but explained that she wanted her son to learn about God, so she put her son in Catholic school and started attending the school Masses. Eventually she began attending Mass everyday, and joined her parish choir.

The whole process “was emotionally hard for me, because I still carried so much anger and sadness, but I kept attending Mass,” she said, explaining that “the times I felt saddest and angry, I would feel this warm, supernatural light around me like a spiritual hug, like the Lord was hugging me and asking me to stay in the Church and not give up.”

However, Kloos said that after coming back to the Church, it was still hard for her to feel fully welcomed, because those wounded by abuse were not yet prayed for during Mass.

She began sending letters to her bishop in the Diocese of London, asking him to offer a Mass for victims of clerical abuse. For seven years she wrote with the same request, and she also made rosaries which she sent to clergy asking them to pray for those who have been wounded by abuse and who are far away from the Church.

She spoke of the importance of receiving the Eucharist, and lamented the fact that there are “thousands of people wounded by clergy and generations of people who may never enter a church again because of the irreparable damage caused by abuse that separated them from the Eucharist.”

There are many people who are addicted to drugs and alcohol, who struggle with mental health problems, families have broken up and there have been suicides, “all caused by abuse,” she said, stressing that this is why prayer is so necessary, yet often times the issue is still too taboo to talk about publicly in the Church.

“People just did not know how to deal with this,” she said.

“It is uncomfortable. I understand this. It hurts to acknowledge and talk about sin and abuse in the Church, but only when we pray together and bring the darkness into the Light, by asking God to help us, can communication, forgiveness, and healing occur.”

When the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors was established in March 2014, Kloos began writing to members voicing her desire for a day of prayer for abuse survivors. She also sent them artwork she had made as a way to heal and show how she found hope.

In 2016 the commission recommended that a day of prayer for abuse survivors be established, and Pope Francis accepted the proposal, asking that it be organized at a local level.

In the London diocese, the day of prayer was held on the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, and “it was beautiful.” Kloos voiced her gratitude to the clerics of her diocese for organizing the now-annual Mass, saying she believes they are doing their best, and are trying to move in the right direction.

“They are good people in my diocese and I care about them,” she said. “We have really dedicated clergy in the diocese. I feel it is important to focus on the positives and when people change for the better, then we should encourage them because a change of attitude and behavior takes time.”

Kloos has maintained close correspondence with members of the pontifical commission, including Fr. Hans Zollner SJ, head of the Center for Child Protection.

Commission members “need encouragement and positive support from people, especially clergy abuse survivors,” she explained. The members “work hard and need lots of prayer and support. I want to give them this support as a clergy abuse survivor and thank them.”

Kloos said she believes that while there is still more that needs to be done to prevent abuse and help survivors heal, the Church has made progress.

Citing guidelines and safety policies that have been put into place as well as suggestions for tougher screenings for Church employees and free counseling for clergy abuse survivors, Kloos said these are “huge changes” that she appreciates.

She also pointed to a recent course organized by Fr. Zollner and the Center for Child Protection on the dangers of abuse in the digital world, and the degrees in child safety being offered by the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome.

Kloos voiced appreciation for Pope Francis' recent apology for having made “serious mistakes” in the Chilean sexual abuse case.

Francis “had the courage to admit what he said was wrong to the Chilean abuse survivors and is meeting them now to apologize personally.”

She voiced her hope that the Church will continue to pray more intentionally for abuse survivors, especially during Mass.

Prayer “changes hearts to enable forgiveness and healing to occur, it opens up communication between people and asks God for help for the irreparable damage of clergy abuse that people feel uncomfortable talking about.”

“I understand that clergy abuse is something very painful for everyone, especially clergy, so they need lots of prayers and support too,” Kloos said.

In terms of learning how to talk about the issue more and make it less of a taboo subject, Kloos said she knows it will take time, because people “feel uncomfortable, threatened, afraid, and it is just human nature.”

“All that matters is that the right thing is done and that people work together for healing to make our Church better.”

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