“If you want to go to Heaven with me, you must ask forgiveness.”
When I visited Francis one more time to thank him for his support, he said, “Daniel, there are 4,000 people working in the Vatican. None of them would have written a book so quickly. Where do you get the strength from?”
“From the Holy Spirit, St. Joseph and St. Teresa of the Infant Jesus,” I said.
The pope replied: “That is not enough. There must be something more.”
Then I confessed that for four years I was repeatedly raped by a pedophile priest. He lay his head on my shoulder and wept in bitter tears. “If you write a book, I will write a preface to it,” he promised.
You forgave your tormentor. Many people can’t understand that — how it is even possible?
Forgiveness in general is difficult. I am often asked about this. When someone asked me about it during a conference, a woman in the audience rose and said, “I came from Rwanda, I had five sons, and all were murdered before my very eyes. I have forgiven.” This morning I visited the grave of Fr. [Jerzy] Popiełuszko [Ed note: Fr. Jerzy Popiełuszko was a Polish priest who, because of his association with the Solidarity movement, was murdered by agents of the then-government in 1984 in Poland. He was recognized as a martyr and was beatified in 2010.] A large picture of his mother hangs in the museum dedicated to this martyr-priest. What did she do? She immediately forgave her son’s murderers. Why? Because she wanted to stand on both feet, to be free.
A person who is unable to forgive (like most people) will never stand upright and will never be free. I, as a practicing Christian, was helped by the grace of the Holy Spirit.
You forgave your rapist as a child!
I was 11 years old. I did not expect this at all. I was listening to Fr. Allaz preach; I saw people moved and in tears and thought, “This swine of a man speaks so beautifully about St. Mary now and in a few minutes, he will rape me.” It dawned on me then and there: there must be two people within him – a good priest and a sick man. I forgave him thanks to grace. I have never regretted it.
My forgiveness today is the same as it was back then when I was 11. I understood that if I had not been raped and broken down, perhaps I could break others, too. I would not change my life; not one iota of it! I am free and stand on both feet.
Forgiveness sets you free, but it does not erase your memory. Are you not bitter and angry when you think back to those days?
The rapes lasted four years, and there were about 200 of them. Fr. Allaz took pornographic pictures of me. It is true that forgiveness is one thing and forgetting is another. I met with about a hundred victims of Fr. Allaz; seven of them took their lives. I am vulnerable and fragile, yet I bear witness on behalf of those who are unable to talk.
Most rapists are not members of the Church, and therefore I do not understand why the Church should not remove pedophiles from their ranks once and for all. In Switzerland, where I come from, this is a fresh thing. Special commissions have been around for only a short time. The general public has been well-informed, but hardly anyone reports anything. Why? It is excruciatingly hard to talk about it. People cannot bear the burden. What can I do in my life? I pray for pedophiles, I pray that they admit to their wrongdoing and stop it. This is very hard, though, as with any addictive sexual behavior.
Many people raped by pedophile priests not only lose their faith but actually become enemies of the Church. You have preserved your faith. How come?
This is hard to understand for most people. There are organizations for victims of sexual abuse. A month ago, a worldwide federation was established. I contacted it. There is not a single Christian there, so they do not understand my book at all. They believe that the Church has paid me, because my message fits in with the pope’s vision. After my book came out in many languages, I became recognizable, but I have no problem with it. This is good because I can give witness.
There is a greater problem with victims of sexual abuse when the abuser is a member of the family. Such people will not talk about their problems because they are afraid that the family would reject them again. The Church, in turn, does not reject the victims but takes care of them. There are two ways out: either the victims remain victimized or they turn a page and live on. I chose the latter option.