Healed of Sexual Abuse: A Counselorís
After years as a Christian counselor helping clients through abuse
pain, it was my turn to walk a healing path.
Thirty years ago at the age of 16, our parish priest,
who was highly admired in our small town, molested me at his park
cottage after a night of fellowship with us and another altar boy
my age. This emotional wound and spiritual betrayal was devastating
to me at this developmental time in my life. It distorted my image
of God, the clergy and myself. The process of healing has been intense
and painful at times. Most of my personal healing took place about
six years ago through another Catholic priest.
As a professional counselor who has now gone through a healing
process from sexual and spiritual abuse by the clergy, I have
deeper insights that I hope will be of encouragement to those in
need of overcoming some form of betrayal.
The man who molested me and other boys was in many ways a good priest.
He was a compassionate, kind and supportive person. He genuinely
cared for those he served. He represented Jesus in our community
and was highly thought of by those who knew him.
Unfortunately he had some unhealed hurts of his own in addition
to unresolved sexual issues. To be betrayed by a good person is more
painful and bewildering than betrayal by an evil person. I will refer
to him as Father First since he was my first spiritual “father.”
Waking up that morning to discover him touching me sexually shocked,
confused and stunned me. I felt paralyzed. In the movie Braveheart,
there is a scene where William unmasks what he thinks is an enemy
only to discover it is his supposedly trustworthy friend and ally.
It took his breath away. That‘s how I felt. It was hard to
breathe as fear and shame seemed to choke me. It didn’t make
sense. How could a man of God do this? Father First had always been
like Jesus to me. He counseled and encouraged me throughout my adolescent
years. We talked, laughed, prayed and ate meals together. Now he
was behaving like a vile pervert. It made me physically sick.
Being young, I dealt with this traumatic event as best I knew how.
I told no one about the weekend. The experience was too shameful
and emotionally overwhelming. I reasoned that all people had sin
in their lives and this happened to be his. I forgave as best I
could and continued on with life. Later I would learn that I had
used a defense mechanism called suppression to deal with the crisis.
I pushed the shame, guilt, fears and confusion to the back of my
mind so I wouldn’t have to deal with them.
Twenty-four years later, after years working as a Christian counselor
helping clients through abuse pain, I guess it was my turn to walk
a healing path. I had been content to suppress my experience, but
God had a better way. Jesus began working through friends, pastors
and priests to de-fang this hidden dragon that no longer seemed content
to be shut up in silence.
Healing is a mystery that somehow requires our natural healing abilities,
God’s Spirit and our willingness. I decided to go along with
what Jesus was doing.
Piercing the Wound
I believe God had been preparing me for this journey through years
of working with clients. Being a counselor is at times like being
a midwife. You support, assist and encourage the work that God is
doing in people. It is an unpredictable work between God’s
Spirit and those in need of healing.
It began when my curiosity was aroused through a Sunday morning
sermon on “loving your enemies.” I kept running into this Scripture.
I shared it with other Christians as we pondered what it really meant.
I felt challenged by the idea. I could not think of any real enemies.
Nobody had tried to kill me that I knew of. I got along with almost
everybody. How can you love an enemy if you don’t have one?
But I had one.
The first incision in my heart took place when a friend and co-leader
took an opposing liberal view on homosexuality in our home fellowship
group. The man, whose wife had cancer, expressed the opinion that
homosexuality is not sinful. When he said that, I began to boil and
strain with anger as the putrid, infected wound deep within me began
pushing to the surface. I went from being very compassionate for
him and his wife to being ready to attack him for what he was saying.
His words acted like the lancet that pierced the infection. Suddenly,
the painful secret I’d kept hidden all those years came spewing
Feeling the Rage
As an adult now becoming fully aware of the pain of being sexually
abused, I saw for the first time a real enemy in Father First. Serving
for six years in the Army, I knew what one does to true enemies.
I felt rage for the first time over being molested. It was rage of
the nature that any parent would feel when they discover a trusted
friend has sexually abused one of their children.
I did not feel just shame and fear this time. I was in a full-blown
fury that had enough power to kill and emasculate the man who did
this. With my heart made raw with pain, I knew I no longer had
the will or ability to ignore the poison his sin had deposited
soul long ago.
I assigned myself the same task that I had given to many of my clients.
I wrote a long honest emotional letter to my abuser sharing all the
hurt, rage, shame, and confusion I was experiencing. I wrote with
adult words and strength, not with the timid shyness of a child.
I questioned if there was any hope to reconcile and overcome this
As I attempted to read the letter to my pastor with whom I had requested
some counseling, I found it impossible to talk without erupting in
tears and emotional regurgitation. The grief, anger, shame and lost
feelings all seemed to trip over each other as they found their way
from my heart to my lips. I was exhausted after finishing the letter.
I felt a lot of relief in sharing with a spiritual leader for the
first time, but I also knew there was more to do.
Reckoning and Reconciliation
Talking with my pastor was a big step, but I wanted to talk to a
priest in person. My pastor referred me to a priest in Colorado Springs.
I asked the priest, Father Paul, if he would meet with me for a private
session. I specifically requested that he meet me in his priestly
black robe and white collar. I wanted to meet with a priest who resembled
the Father First of my past. Father Paul later shared he was quite
anxious about our meeting. Would this be a move towards reconciliation
and healing or retaliation at the priesthood? He came in faith as
I did, hoping God would do something. We were not disappointed.
I shared with Father Paul my story and desire to move beyond simple
emotional awareness to a deeper sense of healing and resolution.
In my mind was the Lord’s command to love our enemies and to
bless those who hurt us. As a Christian counselor I was also familiar
with 1 Peter 3:9-10 that encourages us to not repay evil for evil
but with blessing. How weird, it seemed, to bless an abuser, especially
a spiritual leader who had misused his power and position in such
a sick and pathetic way. God’s word can sometimes go against
our most basic instincts about justice, right and wrong.
An Encounter With the Living Christ
Father Paul led the session by asking me to sit quietly, close my
eyes and go wherever Jesus led me. He knew I was visually oriented
since I had requested him to dress up in full priestly garments.
Prayers for Jesus’ help were said. Within seconds I went in
my mind to the Catholic church I grew up in North Dakota. I saw myself
at Father First’s funeral. He was in the casket in the center
aisle of the church and I was trying to give a eulogy that would
bless him like you are supposed to do at funerals. The church was
dark. Jesus was dead on a crucifix behind me. Nothing was really
happening except my struggle to say the right words.
Father Paul suggested I invite the “Living Christ” into
the scene. What happened next was and remains incredibly awesome
Jesus appeared in full white dress with His quiet gentle power.
He touched me on the arm as if to say, stop. No words are needed.
I knew He was taking over. It was time for me to be quiet and follow
He asked me if I loved Him, to which I replied, “Yes.” Jesus
then led me from behind the pulpit toward the coffin. We stopped
a few feet in front of the casket. Without a pause He reached toward
the casket, opened it and touched the dead man, Father First. To
my amazement, Father First sat up in the coffin. His hair was messed
up, like when one wakes up from a long night of restless sleep. He
looked about my age and was dressed in casual clothes. This was not
the fatherly priest of my youth. This was just a normal guy, somewhat
dazed looking, wondering what was about to happen. He looked weak
Talk about a therapeutic moment! I was looking at an enemy, a friend,
a priest and a common guy. Now what? Shove him back in the coffin?
Condemn him? Reach out and forgive him again? Do nothing?
One of my prayers was that Jesus would take away Father First’s
sin and restore the relationship we had prior to the abuse. Jesus
is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world, so here
was an opportunity to see a tangible removal of a sin. I saw myself
react like Joseph did when he saw his brothers for the first time
after they sold him into slavery. All I could do was cry. Then I
put my arms around him and pulled him out of the casket. We both
wept. We hugged. We did not have to say anything. We were both being
cleansed of our respective pain. His guilt and my hurt were somehow
being washed, and hearts were healing through the tears and grace
given to us in that moment.
When we had grieved for a while, Jesus stepped between us, taking
hold of us by our hands. He then began a slow movement to the right
that evolved into some kind of Hebrew dance. As we danced we all
felt joy and peace that was incredibly beautiful. The lights brightened
in the sanctuary and other people from the church began to join
us in the dance. Could these be the others that were hurt? All
things will be made new, His Word says. We were seeing the redemptive
work of Christ taking place in us.
As all this was happening, I was sharing it with Father Paul who
was praying for me during the session. We were both overwhelmed with
what happened. We have talked about it many times since.
I share my story to encourage others. I’ve gained a few insights
going through this. Hopefully others may find hope in what I’ve
learned both as a counselor, but more importantly as one who has
been helped by the Wonderful Counselor.
First, Jesus is completely Sovereign. I did nothing to bring about
what happened to me. I did nothing to bring about my healing. I cooperated
like a baby cooperates during birth. Healing comes when the time
is right. Some things cannot be overcome until adulthood. As in the
birthing process, when its time, the truth will emerge.
Second, those through whom you are wounded might also be the ones
through whom God chooses to heal. Maybe, not the specific person,
but the group. In my case, God chose to minister to me through a
Catholic priest with no direct relation to the priest who abused
Third, reconciliation, not retaliation, is the way God would have
us deal with the bad things that happen to us. Reconciliation is
indeed possible with Jesus who really does take away sins. I believe
in Heaven we will not be able to see our sins or anybody else’s.
Finally, love is the seed and fruit of real healing. To love an
enemy is impossible by simple human willpower, but through Christ,
for Whom all things are possible, it can become a sweet fruit on
the tree of our faith.
Brian Savelkoul is a licensed professional counselor who lives in
Colorado Spring, Colo. He and his wife Cindy have two sons, aged
17 and 22.
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