Thursday, February 21, 2019

Who should be a patron saint for the Vatican abuse summit? Read the English text of my interview for Avvenire

Today, as the abuse summit begins at the Vatican, Avvenire, the magazine of the Italian bishops' conference, features an interview with me in honor of the Italian publication of my book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints. Here is the interview in its original English; the questions are from Avvenire reporter Andrea Galli:

How did writing such a book cost you personally?

The most difficult aspect of writing My Peace I Give You was speaking about my personal experience of sexual abuse. I wanted to write of my own experience only obliquely, focusing instead on stories of saints who suffered abuse, but my original publisher insisted I share some of my own story as well.

Writing about what was perpetrated upon me was hard not only because of the discomfort in sharing something so painful but also because of the effort required to do so in a manner that took readers' sensitivities into account. Given that my target audience consisted of abuse victims like myself who might suffer from post-traumatic stress, I had to be careful not to write in a way that might trigger painful memories for them.

At the same time, I knew that if I were to model healing for readers, I would need to write frankly and honestly about my own experiences. It's not necessary for healing that a victim go public about what took place, but it is necessary that the victim be able to admit to himself or herself that the abuse happened. Only when we do that can we begin to recognize that what happened was evil and it was not our fault. No victim is ever to blame for his or her abuse.

The Church is concentrating on preventing abuse and punishing the abusers. Is there a risk of forgetting the importance of healing the wounds of those who were abused?

I'd say there's more than a risk. In my experience, it is a plain fact that, inasmuch as the Church on an institutional level considers helping abuse survivors at all, it focuses upon providing material or psychological help, ignoring the whole question of spiritual help.

The assumption at work appears to be that those who suffered sexual abuse by the Church's representatives must necessarily not want to be pressured to have anything to do with it spiritually. But spiritual help can be made available in a way that does not involve pressure. What's more, when the Church neglects to offer such help, it sends a message to victims of abuse that not only does the Church not care about their physical safety, it doesn't care about their spiritual well-being either.

In my experience as a victim of childhood sexual abuse and as one who has met hundreds of fellow victims, the greatest sufferings of abuse victims are their spiritual sufferings. I wrote My Peace I Give You because it seemed obvious to me that if we as a Church believe that all spiritual healing both comes from Christ and leads to Christ, then we have a responsibility to make such healing available to those most in need of it. It's part of our evangelical mission to participate in the work of the Divine Physician — or, as Pope Francis puts it, to minister in our ecclesial "field hospital."

In your book, you write about many saints. To which one would you entrust the Vatican meeting and why?

Among the saints in My Peace I Give You, I would entrust the Vatican abuse summit to Blessed Margaret of Castello, a Dominican tertiary who lived during the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries.

Although Blessed Margaret was not sexually abused, she was rejected by her parents because she was blind and suffered from physical deformities. As a young woman, prior to becoming a Dominican, she attempted to join a local convent but the sisters there soon felt threatened by her holiness and ended up casting her out onto the street.

Blessed Margaret is an apt saint for the abuse summit because she experienced rejection both from family and from representatives of the Church. Yet she did not leave the Church, and she forgave those who harmed her. She was a woman of great holiness and her witness should inspire us to be voices for the voiceless.

How has your book been received by people who were abused?

I had hoped that My Peace I Give You would show abuse victims that their wounds do not prevent them from receiving the love of Christ. Jesus wishes to heal them not in spite of their wounds but rather through their wounds.

The responses that I have received from readers show me that the message is getting through. They are surprised to learn that there are saints who had experiences like their own, and they are joyful to discover that even their most painful memories have meaning in Christ.

Amazon's website used to have a feature that showed which passages of My Peace I Give You were most popular with those who were reading it on Kindle. According to Amazon, the most popular passage in the book is, “All suffering contains within it the opportunity to become more like the One who suffered on the Cross.”

Stay posted at The Dawn Patrol for updates coming soon about the final days of my recent India trip and my new memoir, Sunday Will Never Be the Same.

Friday, January 25, 2019

Trunk thriving: My India teaching mission, part 5

(For background on my India teaching mission, click here, or go here to see all my posts from India.)

Friends who had visited India told me I would find things here to be quite different from anything I had experienced before. I can't think of a better way to express that than this photograph I took on the grounds of the Archdiocese of Bangalore's pastoral center when I spoke at a symposium there last weekend. It shows a generous concern for nature that is part of the Indian mentality but would be shocking in much of the United States. The coconut palm was there when the center was built, so rather than uproot it, the builders simply built around it.

I have not had the chance to blog this week until now because of the demands of co-teaching fifty-one students in an intensive course in person at the Indian Session of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences while simultaneously teaching twenty-three students in three course sections online for my full-time position at Holy Apostles College and Seminary. This update itself must be brief as I need to get sleep in advance of co-delivering ten lectures this weekend at a two-day symposium on marriage and family in Kochi (Cochin). In all my lectures here in India, I am speaking alongside my friend Father Gregory Gresko, O.S.B., who invited me to join him on this his fourth India teaching mission.

Did I mention how glad I am for your prayers?

Before leaving the Bangalore region last Sunday, Father Gresko, our friend Andrea (who took the photo above), and I visited Asirvanam. It's a remarkable Benedictine monastery that, under its current prior, Father Jerome Naduvathaniyil, O.S.B., has within the past two years built a sprawling and visually stunning complex of university buildings on its grounds and filled them with students. Father Gresko and I (pictured above next to the white-habited Father Jerome) gave an impromptu talk to the first-year students at the Divine Grace Nursing School there.

Flyer for this weekend's symposium in Kochi

Today was the final day of lectures for Father Gresko's and my class at the JP2 Institute. In less than two weeks, we have given thirty-two hours of lectures, which adds up to a two-and-one-half-credit licentiate-level course (licentiate here meaning an S.T.L. degree). On Monday, we have the honor of administering oral examinations to fifty of our students (the remaining one has an extension until Thursday). It will keep us busy for nine hours. After that, we will remain in India until February 4 to attend (and, in Father Gregory's case, speak at) the International Symposium on "Humanae Vitae: Fifty Years After" and to visit the sisters at the Stella Maris Institute for Development Studies in Kanniyakumari.

After Monday, I'll have a few days of rest before the symposium and will be able to post more about how my mission has gone. I can't even begin to express how much I have benefited from the experience of teaching a class of priests, religious sisters, and laywomen from India and Africa.

Thank you for your prayers and please know that I pray for you.

Saturday, January 19, 2019

Safari so good: My India teaching mission, part 4

(For background on my India teaching mission, click here, or go here to see all my posts from India.)

I had an extraordinarily long travel day yesterday—from Changanacherry, where Father Gregory Gresko, O.S.B., and I have been teaching at the John Paul II Pontifical Institute, to Bangalore, to Mysore, and back to Bangalore—but the early-evening safari in Bandhipur National Park made it all worth it.

There were many beautiful moments, but my favorite was when our bus stopped just as this stunning creature was outside my window. I took this photo with my phone without having to enlarge the field of vision; the baboon was as close as it appears.

Today Father Gregory and I had the pleasure of speaking at a conference sponsored by the Archdiocese of Bangalore's Family Life Centre, "Hope for a Wounded World: The Church's Teachings on True Love in the Contemporary Culture Landscape." We delivered our talks after a powerful introductory speech by Archbishop Peter Machado, whom Pope Francis named to the Archdiocese of Bangalore last March. He spoke of the Church's mission to protect the unborn, to encourage spouses to allow God to plan their family, and to defend the truth about marriage and sexuality.

My talk and Father Gregory's complemented each other. He spoke on Karol Wojtyla's teachings in Love and Responsibility on education in love and sexuality, whereas I spoke on Wojtyla's writings after he became pope, "John Paul II on 'Adultery in the Heart' and Its Answer: The Gift of Piety."

We were told that more than two hundred people turned out, although we were unable to see them all, as many were standing outside, watching the conference on video. What a blessing it was to provide instruction for such a vibrant and growing local church! Many thanks to Father Sunny Richard John, Naveen and Jini Lobo, and all the others who organized and promoted the event.

After my talk, I was joined by two local priests, Father Deva and Father Arokiaswamy, who assisted during the Q&A. 

There was one sad moment, as after the symposium I learned from two of the attendees that certain U.S. websites and media personalities that engage in vitriolic assaults against the Holy Father have gained a foothold in India. Here I had just spoken of piety, which includes respect for one's country, only to be reminded that my country's exports from some purportedly Catholic outlets include poisonous rumors and unrelenting suspicion of the Church's chief shepherd. Please join me in praying in reparation for the damage done to the Church and world by such self-proclaimed militants.

Tomorrow I am looking forward to visiting a Benedictine monastery and praying a rosary at a Jesuit cemetery before taking an evening flight back to Changanacherry. Many thanks to all of you who are praying for me during this grace-filled trip, where I am meeting so many wonderful people as I share the Good News of Catholic teaching on love and marriage.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Spice exploration: My India teaching mission, part 3

Father Gregory and I pose for a photo at the end of today's class. Nearly all the women in the class are religious sisters and all or nearly all the men are priests. They hail from India, Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda.

(For background on my India teaching mission, click here, or go here to see all my posts from India.)

Father Gregory Gresko, O.S.B., and I have been teaching our course on the indissolubility of marriage for three days here at the Indian Session of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences and are settling into a pleasant rhythm. He designed the course and is the main lecturer, and I step in at various points to add information or shed additional light on the topics under discussion.

I make a point during yesterday's class.
Today I particularly enjoyed showing students how to understand the disputatio format of the Summa theologiae and explaining to them articles that are relevant to this week's lectures, including ST III, q. 29, a. 2, on whether Mary and Joseph had a real marriage, and ST Supp., q. 44, a. 1, concerning the metaphysics of the marriage bond (e.g. that it is an interior bond rather than something externally imposed). The students are highly motivated and ask great questions.

I can't even begin to describe what the meals here are like. My fear coming here was that I wouldn't be able to eat anything but bananas, as I don't tolerate hot spices well. But in fact the John Paul II Institute's cooking staff do an amazing job of making delicious meals that have full Indian flavors without the heat.

Andrea, a friend of Father Gregory's who came here with us to take our course, took the photograph above, showing yesterday's breakfast. The pancake is called appam, and the sauce includes ginger and onions. Delicious!

At my perch in our lecture hall.

Many thanks to those of you who have been praying for my safe travels. Early tomorrow morning, Father Gregory and I fly to Bangalore to speak at the symposium there that I mentioned in an earlier post. We are also going on a safari! The next time I post, I hope to be able to share with you a photo from my camera of a Bengal tiger.

Tuesday, January 15, 2019

Chalk and awe: My India teaching mission, part 2

(And you may ask yourself, how did I get here? See my previous post for background on my India teaching mission.)

Today, my first full day in Kerala, Father Gregory Gresko, O.S.B., and I began teaching our intensive course “The Indissolubility of Marriage: A Theological and Cultural Analysis” at the Indian Session of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences. Our class of more than fifty students includes priests, sisters, and laywomen. All are from India or Africa, save for Father Gregory's (and now my) friend Andrea Lemon, who took the first picture below (the second was taken by a student, Sister Daisy).

Father Greg, wearing a wireless mic, addresses our class.

Team teaching: I add to Father Greg's discussion of respect with a discussion of intimacy as Father Greg looks up a reference for me.

It is a joy and an honor to communicate the teachings of the Church to this vibrant and diverse student body. I feel particularly blessed to be able to show the students an example of a woman teaching theology, as this particular branch of the Pontifical John Paul II Institute does not currently have women on its regular theology faculty (although it has had a female visiting theology professor at least once in the past). When Father Gregory introduced me as the first woman to receive a sacred-theology doctorate from the University of St. Mary of the Lake, several of the women in the class beamed.

Saturday, January 12, 2019

(Updated Jan. 14:) Asking your prayers as I go on mission in India

I ask your prayers today as I leave to begin my three-week teaching mission to India. There I will be team-teaching an intensive course on the indissolubility of marriage at the Indian Session of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences in Kerala with Father Gregory Gresko, O.S.B., professor of theology at the Pontifical University Sant’Anselmo in Rome.

Father Gresko, who is originally from Virginia, teaches an intensive course at the Institute each January on a theological topic related to the Institute's mission of promoting studies in marriage and family. It was at his invitation, confirmed by Institute Vice President Father Jacob Koippally, that I received the opportunity to make this mission.

As I have written earlier, this mission is for me the fulfillment of a longtime dream to use my knowledge as a doctor of sacred theology to help Catholics in the developing world, where the rapidly growing Church has a great need of teachers.

Here is the letter from Father Koippally in which he confirmed my invitation and provided details of my teaching mission.

Father Gresko and I will have about forty students in our class, including lay people, religious, deacons, and priests from throughout India and English-speaking Africa. Our course will be part of the Institute's canonical-licentiate program. (A canonical licentiate, which is issued under the authority of the Holy See, is the minimum degree required for teaching on the seminary level and is a necessary prerequisite for a canonical doctorate.) The language of the Institute is English.

Father Gresko (in white at center of back row) stands with his students at the Indian Session of the John Paul II Pontifical Theological Institute for Marriage and Family Sciences in January 2017.

In addition to teaching at the Institute, Father Gresko and I will be speaking at symposiums in Bangalore and Cochin (Kochi) about Catholic teaching on marriage and sexuality. Here is a flyer for the Bangalore conference.

After Father Gregory and I finish teaching but before we return to the States, we will spend two days with the Daughters of Mary in Kanniyakumari, who run the Stella Maris Institute of Development Studies. I am looking forward very much to witnessing their outreach to traumatized women and to visiting the Leprosy Rehabilitation Center that they administer.

Thank you for your prayers as I set out for what promises to be an exciting mission experience. Everyone who supports my apostolate in any way is in my prayers every day. God bless you!

P.S. Thanks to the generosity of several donors, I have been able to raise enough funds to cover my airfare and incidental expenses for this mission. There remain a few uncovered expenses, most notably the medical bills for the vaccines I have received for this trip. I have submitted them to my insurance and am waiting to see if they will be covered; thus far, one bill for $288 was rejected. If you would like to help me with that expense, here is a link where you may donate:

Update, January 14: I arrived safely after more than twenty-four hours of travel and all is well. Many thanks for your prayers; they helped me as I made a tight connection in Abu Dhabi after my flight from Dulles International Airport was delayed due to snow. Must get sleep now, but had to share this lovely flyer for the workshop Father Gresko and I are giving in Kochi.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Watch me tonight on EWTN's "The Journey Home"

Tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern, EWTN airs a new interview with me on "The Journey Home" with Marcus Grodi through its cable, satellite, and online broadcasts. I am grateful to Marcus and to the production staff for inviting me to speak about how I, as a survivor of childhood sexual abuse, came to believe in the truth of the Catholic faith despite the abuse crisis afflicting the Church.

If you have found this page through learning about me on "The Journey Home," you may be interested in my books My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints, Remembering God's Mercy (which offers Ignatian spirituality for healing of memories), and the revised Catholic edition of The Thrill of the Chaste. You may also enjoy listening to the many podcast interviews and talks available online in which I discuss spiritual healing.

Friday, October 12, 2018

Video: I participate in a panel on "Confronting a Moral Catastrophe"

From left, at the Georgetown panel Sept. 25: Robert Bennett, Karen Tumulty, moderator John Carr,  myself, and Kevin Byrnes.

I am grateful to the Georgetown University Initiative on Catholic Social Thought and Public Life for inviting me to take part in its recent public dialogue "Confronting a Moral Catastrophe: Lay Leadership, Catholic Social Teaching, and the Sexual Abuse Crisis." It was an honor to contribute to the discussion at Gaston Hall alongside Robert Bennett, Karen Tumulty, Kevin Byrnes, and moderator John Carr. A number of news outlets covered the sold-out event, including Catholic News Service, the National Catholic Reporter, and Crux.

Here is a video of the dialogue. My main contributions are at 31:20 (beginning with John Carr's questions to me) and 1:18:05.