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Abuse survivor has a message for other victims: You are not alone

DAWN EDEN
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Author, convert and survivor speaks on what she hopes from Francis, and why she's sticking with the Church.

If you are a man or woman who was sexually abused as a child, Dawn Eden Goldstein wants “you to know you are not alone, you are not forgotten, and you have more friends in heaven than you realize.”

Goldstein, assistant professor and chair of online undergraduate theology, writes this in her book, My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints.

Goldstein, who was also abused as a child and is a convert to Catholicism, talks in an interview about the current crisis in the Church and questions she’s been asking and resources she’s been sharing (these are excerpts from a longer e-mail exchange).

Kathryn Jean Lopez: How on earth did you manage to come into the Catholic Church during the last round of abuse scandals?

Dawn Eden Goldstein: I grew up in a Reform Jewish household but fell into agnosticism in my late teens and became a rock-music historian in New York City. In 1999, I encountered the love of Jesus Christ and became a nondenominational Christian. 

Although I hoped to find a church where I could have community, I intended to be anything but Catholic. My perception of the Catholic Church was influenced by Christians close to me who told me that many Catholic teachings, particularly those that concerned the Eucharist and devotion to the saints, were “unbiblical.” 

The scandals that hit in 2002 initially confirmed me in my attitude against the Church. At the time, I did not yet perceive myself as a survivor of childhood sex abuse, even though I was. I knew I had been molested as a child, but, like many victims, suffered from misplaced guilt — believing I had somehow brought the violation upon myself. Nonetheless, my own painful memories made me particularly sensitive to the stories that were surfacing about priests abusing children.

I remember the moment I began to change my mind about Catholicism. It was at a meeting of the New York City G.K. Chesterton Society. Somehow the discussion turned to the scandals, and I made some derisive comment about how Catholics disbelieved the reports of abuse that were then flooding the news media.

To my surprise, the Catholics who were present responded that they were angry about the abuse, angry that such despicable and criminal acts were being perpetrated by their own priests, in their own Church. They didn’t at all want the abuse covered up, as I had assumed. Rather, they wanted it brought into the light so that abusing members of the clergy could be brought to justice and the Church could be purified.

It was when I saw ordinary Catholics who were furious about clergy abuse that I started to consider seriously the Catholic Church’s claim to be the true faith. I entered into full communion with the Church in 2006 and have never looked back.

Lopez: Why won’t you leave now?

Goldstein: I can’t leave the Catholic Church because I know too much. 

I know now that Jesus gave the Church the Eucharist. Yes, the Orthodox have it too, but they have it only because they have retained the apostolic succession that properly belongs to the Catholic Church, which is headed by the Successor of Peter.

I know now that my sins are really and truly forgiven when Jesus absolves me through the ministry of a Catholic priest.

Most of all, I know that the Catholic Church is where Jesus gives me the ongoing healing for which I long. And it’s ground zero for the tribulation described in Sacred Scripture, as can be seen in the unrelenting efforts of the devil to corrupt its bishops, priests, religious, and lay faithful.

Lopez: You’ve long been a fan of Pope Francis. What do you hope to hear and see from him?

Goldstein: I hope to see Francis eventually comment on Archbishop Viganò’s accusations, once the journalists have done their job as he asked them to do. It would aid the investigation if he permitted Cardinal Marc Ouellet [prefect of the Congregation for Bishops] and others to comment as well.
 
Ultimately, I hope Francis will guide the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in their efforts to revamp institutional structures to prevent abuse and cover-ups, and to provide recourse for seminarians who have been bullied or abused. The bishops have shown that they are incapable of policing themselves. We need many more checks and balances in the system in order for seminarians and the faithful at large to be safe.

Lopez: Is there something Catholics who are not cardinals and bishops can do for victims of sexual abuse by priests?

Goldstein: Yes. They can listen to victims, stand up for them, and insist that their abusers be removed from ministry and subjected to criminal prosecution. They can also pray for victims and help them get the help they need to find healing. In my book, I write that survivors of abuse should receive both spiritual and psychological help, and I go into detail about the nature of their spiritual needs.

Lopez: You write about saints and healing after sexual abuse. How can that be practical? Getting help from people who are dead, many if not most of whom lived centuries ago?

Goldstein: I can only speak from my own experience. My healing came in part through learning that there were people whom the Church had declared to be in heaven who had suffered wounds like my own — people like Blessed Laura Vicuña, who was preyed upon by her mother’s violent live-in lover. The experiences of saints who were abused show survivors like myself that we are not to blame for our abuse, and our sufferings do not make us less in the eyes of God. On the contrary, as John Paul II pointed out, Jesus Christ identifies himself with young children who are victimized.

Lopez: People are angry and disgusted and have lost patience and this all is appropriate. How can that be used for good? 

Goldstein: Catholics need to show the world that they are furious about every form of child abuse, most especially that which is committed by representatives of the Church. That’s the kind of witness we need to give — a righteous anger that is channeled into purification and reform.

Lopez: Who could be a patron saint for this moment?  

Goldstein: We need the prayers of all the saints, but I think St. Pontian and St. Hippolytus — pope and antipope — are the most appropriate for this time.

In the early 3rd century, the reform-minded priest Hippolytus was right to demand purity in the Church but wrong to attempt to effect it by attacking the pope’s authority. He led Christians into schism against Pope Pontian. Thankfully, he found redemption in his eventual reconciliation with the Church and his holy death alongside Pontian. I hope and pray that all those who are tempted to fall away at this challenging time will follow the example of Hippolytus who ultimately recognized that he would find no salvation outside the barque of Peter.

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