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When it comes to abuse victims, the Body of Christ keeps score

Institutional Traumatization Hans Zollner

Title: When it comes to abuse victims, the Body of Christ keeps score


Publication: Our Sunday Visitor

Date: 14FEB2020

Having written a book on the sex-abuse crisis in the Church, it usually takes a lot to shock me. Even so, I was horrified to read a priest in Rhode Island recently making the vile and flippant claim that at least “pedophilia doesn’t kill anyone.”

We will come back to his demonstrably false claim in a moment, but contrast it with that of a priest who understands the costs of this crisis: Father Hans Zollner, a Jesuit psychotherapist who is president of the Center for Child Protection at the Pontifical Gregorian University in Rome. In a recent talk at Villanova University, he admitted that “much damage has been done to the Church” due to sexual abuse, “but more damage has been done to human beings.” This led Zollner to use a striking phrase: “institutional traumatization.”

What does that mean? It means that all of us who make up the Body of Christ are affected by the trauma of abuse — even if we don’t know it. Abuse leaves a trail of devastation in the immediate victim, who deserves every form of help and healing the Church can offer. At the same time, abuse leaves an often hidden trail of destruction in all those connected to the primary victim — family, co-workers, friends, parishioners — and, indeed, across the entire Church and world. This is not just basic psychology but also basic theology. As St. Paul first taught us: When one part of the body of Christ suffers, we all suffer (cf. 1 Cor 12:14ff).

Pope John Paul II expanded on this in 1984 in Reconciliatio et Paenitentia: “One can speak of a communion of sin, whereby a soul that lowers itself through sin drags down with itself the Church and, in some way, the whole world. In other words, there is no sin, not even the most intimate and secret one, the most strictly individual one, that exclusively concerns the person committing it. With greater or lesser violence, with greater or lesser harm, every sin has repercussions on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family” (No.16).

So the “secret” sins of clergy who abused, and the bishops who kept the secret and covered up the abuse, are even today still having a profound effect “on the entire ecclesial body and the whole human family.” As Carla Grosch-Miller’s recent essay in a new book “Tragedies and Christian Congregations: The Practical Theology of Trauma” puts it with great succinctness, “Many are the victims when a minister commits sexual misconduct.”

That message — that the victims are many — sadly does not seem to have registered with Catholics today, including that Rhode Island priest. So it is important for Catholics to begin to take stock of the burgeoning literature in traumatology going back at least 30 years now, detailing the utter devastation caused by sexual abuse.

For more information visit: https://www.osvnews.com/2020/02/14/when-it-comes-to-abuse-victims-the-body-of-christ-keeps-score/

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