A photo taken during a Feb. 23 penitential liturgy at the Vatican's summit on child protection and the abuse crisis that shows a prelate reverencing a crucifix where a nail has pierced Christ's feet illustrates a point made by Cardinal Luis Antonio Tagle of Manila, the Philippines, when the gathering opened – that just as the risen Christ invited St. Thomas to touch his wounds, so too the Church and its members must recognize the wounds suffered by those who have been sexually abused and who are part of the body of Christ today.
The Feb. 21-24 summit included dramatic testimony from abuse survivors on its opening day, and again at the Feb. 23 penitential liturgy, and their witness demonstrated that abuse is a global problem in the Church and must be confronted on a universal basis, not just in some regions of the world.
Junno Arocho Esteves, a reporter for the Catholic News Service's Rome bureau, wrote a moving story describing five abuse survivors from different countries who shared their experiences in pre-recorded testimonies during the summit's opening day, including a man from Chile who told of the pain he felt after being treated as "a liar" and enemy of the Church when he reported his abuse.
That man compared the abuse crisis to a cancer in the Church, saying "it is not enough to remove the tumor and that's it," instead the Church, he said, has to "treat the whole cancer."
Esteves' CNS article recounted the story of a woman from Africa who had been sexually abused by a priest starting when she was 15, and that priest forced her to have three abortions after impregnating her.
The article also quoted a priest from Eastern Europe who said he bore not only the wounds of the abuse he suffered as a teen-ager but also the scars of being rejected after reporting it to his bishop.
And Esteves reported how "a U.S. survivor told the bishops that what wounded him most 'was the total loss of the innocence of my youth and how that has affected me today.'"
At a Feb. 23 penitential liturgy attended by Pope Francis and the other bishops participating in the summit, an abuse survivor told them that he is determined to go forward, even as he is haunted every day by the memories of what he suffered.
In her article about that service, Cindy Wooden, CNS's Rome bureau chief, noted that the abuse survivor said "what you carry within you is like a ghost that others cannot see... There is no dream without the memory of what happened. No day without memories, no day without flashbacks."
In his remarks at the Feb. 24 closing Mass of the abuse summit, Pope Francis said "people's justified anger" over the abuse crisis in the Church is a "reflection of the wrath of God" over this evil.
Speaking of those who have been wounded by abuse, the pope said, "It is our duty to pay close heed to this silent, choked cry."
Pope Francis added, "a change of mentality is needed to combat a defensive and reactive approach to protecting the institution and to pursue, wholeheartedly and decisively, the good of the community by giving priority to the victims of abuse in every sense."
The world's bishops, he said, must be united in resolving that "no abuse should ever be covered up (as was often the case in the past) or not taken sufficiently seriously..."
Abuse survivors, Pope Francis said, have experienced an evil that "leaves them with indelible wounds... The Church thus has the duty to provide them with all the support they need..."
Like St. Thomas in the Upper Room seeing firsthand the wounds of Christ, the world's Catholics during the Vatican's recent summit saw and heard those wounded members of Christ's body in our Church today.
Their witness, and the Church's resolve in addressing this crisis, should be grounded in something told to the Catholic Standard by Father Thomas Berg – a priest of the Archdiocese of New York and the author of the book, Hurting in the Church: A Way Forward for Wounded Catholics.
Catholics, he said, should avoid the mentality of regarding abuse survivors as "the other."
"We forget they are us, they are part of us," Father Berg said. "... Victims are us, not them. Understand these are brothers and sisters who have been deeply hurt."