The Courage to Forgive After #MeToo

Two months before I entered the Catholic Church, I attended a papal Mass at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome with a seminarian friend during Holy Week. I was only one seat away from the barrier by the aisle, ready for a close view of Pope Benedict XVI in the processional. But there was other excitement in store as well.

“That’s her!” my friend agitatedly whispered, gesturing to the woman in red on my other side by the aisle.

“Who?” I asked. Security guards were positioning themselves in front of and behind the crimson-clad woman beside me.

“The crazy lady who attacked the Pope at Christmas, this year and last! She is always wearing red, and she jumps over the barrier when he processes and lunges for him. He publicly forgave her after she did it a couple months ago, and now she’s at it again.”

With new interest, I observed the scene unfolding right beside me. Neither the woman nor the guards made any acknowledgement of each other. There seemed to be an implicit recognition that she was being watched, but no suggestion that she was less than welcome to remain. Having seen figures of lesser prominence guarded more securely, I was confused.

“They’re letting her stay?” I whispered in surprise.

“They have to!” my friend laughed uncomfortably. “This is Mass, and she needs it as much as the rest of us. They can’t bar her from being here even if they have good reason to suspect her intentions. Anyway, Benedict already forgave her. Who’s to say she’s not here to reconcile with the Church she’s been attacking?”

The rest of the scene unfolded uneventfully, notwithstanding my friend’s squirming discomfort. When we stood for the processional the security guards removed her chair to make it harder to leap the barrier, and the Pope passed us unscathed. Whether or not the woman in red beside me was Susanna Maiolo as my friend suspected, she left immediately afterwards. I of course claimed her aisle chair after the guards replaced it.

“Remember this when you become Catholic,” my friend urged me later over dinner. He continued:

You’re going to hear a lot of criticism about the Church’s handling of abuse cases, and for good reason. But remember that among the woeful negligence and corruption, there is also another reason abusers have gotten off lightly. At its heart, the Church longs to forgive, sometimes over-eagerly, and that applies to everyone. Even when it’s the Pope being assaulted. Remember that.

I myself was not a victim of sexual assault, clerical or otherwise, when I heard those words that Easter. But eight years later, only months after the #MeToo movement had gone viral and made the prevalence and inexcusability of adult sexual assault a prominent feature of public discourse, I was. And I remembered the words of my friend.

All that to say, I write because I have a story to tell that I wish were not mine. It is a hard gift, a thing that should never have been which nevertheless can become redemptive at great personal cost.

I write because in the midst of the continuing clerical sexual abuse scandals combined with the #MeToo movement, we all know that cases of adult clerical sexual assault are going to emerge with greater frequency. They have begun already, stories of nuns and laywomen and seminarians and spiritual directees who have been manipulated, assaulted, or raped. Their voices must be heard.

I write because there are other stories that might remain hidden, other voices that might go unheard. There are victims who may never utter their stories because the conversation has not yet opened a space for them. A dear friend whose brother had sexually abused her as a child once speculated to me that survivors are uniquely poised to desire healing and restorative justice, because they are most keenly aware of where continued violence leads. I do not want to be part of a world that has no place for those voices.

I write for those silent victims who cannot speak for fear that their experiences will be misconstrued into a narrative about a retribution they do not desire, in order to let them know that they are not alone. I write for the Church I still love, a Church whom I have come to know as both a wounded victim and an occasional perpetrator. I write for the broader culture that has valiantly led the charge to defend victims, because I believe that the Church who woefully delayed in that mission does actually have a vital gift to extend in return.

I am not writing a template or a model—Lord knows the last thing victims need is to be treated as a number to plug into an equation. Every story is as unique as each human soul. I write to tell mine.

He was a well-loved and respected priest with a thriving ministry in another state, about 15 years my senior. We had met in my first year as a university professor and loosely kept in touch from afar over the next year. We shared a love for the Church, for theology, for good beer, and for open conversation about life’s mysterious journeys. I admired and trusted him.

I trusted him enough to disregard what in retrospect we call “warning signs,” to give the charitable interpretation of his warmth. There was nothing obviously alarming about welcoming me to stay in the guest space of his religious community when I came in town. And his suggestion that we get dinner that Friday evening before other meetings would have me occupied all day Saturday was completely appreciated. He was a friend acting like a friend, and few of us expect our friends to be predators.

I trusted him enough to dismiss the oddity that my host walked into my bedroom and closed the door behind him as we made arrangements for the evening. “Priests are accustomed to being behind closed doors with people,” I reasoned, and “he doesn’t realize that’s weird for normal people.”

I trusted him enough to overlook the fact that he kept oddly touching my arm and shoulder at the pub over dinner. I thought, “Some cultures are handsy; besides, no one else here seems to think it’s weird.”

I trusted him enough that it did not seem strange for him to suggest going to a nice restaurant for dessert and more drinks after we had already been at the pub for two hours. I trusted him enough to assume implicitly that he was keeping track of his alcohol consumption, as he had already been drinking at a couple of previous events before I arrived. I trusted him enough that when I took a seat on the padded bench and he oddly sat beside me rather than on the chair across the table as I had expected, I let it slide, “The bench is more comfortable, after all; I should have offered it to him and taken the chair myself.” I trusted him enough that when there was progressively no other metric to interpret his actions other than a gravely illicit seduction, when he was sitting beside me feeling the contours of my back over wine and candlelit dessert, I interpreted it exclusively through the irrational lens of excessive trust, “It’s him, after all; he wouldn’t be doing this if it were bad.”

My conscience to this day does not know how much I can attribute to my peculiar innocence as a 35 year-old academic who had strangely never dated, or to alcohol-induced confusion, or to my erstwhile well-founded trust, or to a choice to ignore my better judgment. In any case, when we left the restaurant two hours later and my host suggested sharing a bottle of wine back at the residence, I acquiesced, imagining we would do so in a public space of the community—which would have been a relief.

But it was in my bedroom, a line I had already let him cross before it was frightening, and by then all bets were off. For the next hour in the bedroom, I sat in stiff fear and confusion as more boundaries were breached, hoping that if I ignored his increasingly incriminatory actions he would stop before he crossed too many more lines. I had trusted him and became a textbook example of a naïve victim. I felt like a fool.

Long before the internet phenomenon had gone viral months earlier, “Me Too” began as a movement of “empowerment through empathy,” emerging from Tarana Burke’s healing work with young minority victims of sexual assault in 2006. Its genius was in its simplicity. The simple words “me too” break down implicit taboos that silence victims in unjust shame. “Me too” reveals to victims that they are not alone and that their experiences can be uttered, and thus it empowers them to find their voice that had been silenced in the initial violence done against them.

Burke’s initial gift to me was that by the time I experienced sexual assault, I already knew I could speak about it; I could in fact say “me too” retroactively to women who had already told their stories to me. The discourse prevented me from taking my instinctive route of ignoring what had happened, of assuming I was making a big deal of nothing, of blaming myself and thereby having nothing more to worry about. Instead I spoke to a couple deeply trusted friends who listened with empathy, with grief that my first experience of intimate touch was in the context of betrayed trust, with the anger that I could not muster on my own behalf, and with the affirmation that I was precious.

Especially after “Me Too” gained the hashtag, its second gift to me was in reframing the discourse around sexual assault and clarifying the terms. No, my friends insisted, I had not been “asking for it.” They pointed out the abused power dynamic between a priest and a laywoman, between a host and his out-of-town guest, of age and esteemed reputation on one side and youth and early-career vulnerability on the other. Yes, they maintained, legally it was sexual assault, physical contact of a sexual nature without consent. No, they clarified, my frightened inaction was absolutely not consent, and consenting to one thing did not imply consenting to another; in the absence of active consent, it was assault.

The Catechism of the Catholic Church in fact uses the language of consent in its discussion of mortal sin. “For a sin to be mortal,” it specifies, “three conditions must together be met: Mortal sin is sin whose object is grave matter and which is also committed with full knowledge and deliberate consent.” For me to be a full agent in the betrayal of my friend’s sacred vow of chastity, for me to a mutual participant in his cheating on his marriage to the Church, it would need to be a grave matter (check), I would need to have had full knowledge (debatable: was my dogged determination to interpret him charitably “unintentional ignorance” or “feigned ignorance”?), and I would have needed complete consent, “consent sufficiently deliberate to be a personal choice” (§1857–59). Whatever guilt I was feeling for freezing rather than fighting him off, I did not deliberately choose to consent to his advances.

#MeToo discourse offers me and the Church clarity on a point already implied in the doctrine of sin. Without consent, without the freedom to say “yes” or “no,” there is no volition, and sexual activity goes from a mutual act, whether sacred or profane, to a grave sin of one against another. My friend may have been cheating on his vows to the Church, but I was not an adulteress; I was an adult victim of clerical sexual assault. The Church and I were victims together.

The story might have taken a very different path from there. Once I had acknowledged the gravity of the offense, the response implied both by the cultural discourse and by an appreciation for the integrity of the Church was to report it, whether to civil or to ecclesial authorities. Both for the sake of justice and for the protection of potential future victims, reason suggested a moral obligation to respond. There was only one problem: I the victim was dead-set against it. I had seen models for what that could look like, and I did not want it for myself or for my friend.

When “Me Too” became #MeToo, it gained traction as a force for cultural change that called for a reckoning. Over the past several months, I had already seen empathy and healing overshadowed by the often-necessary need for retribution. In France in fact, the very name of the hashtag was not a literal translation of “moi aussi” but rather #BalanceTonPorc, translated “out your pig.” With a well-deserved sense of vindication, survivors were experiencing the power not only of empathy but also of solidarity, justice, and retribution, and on a broader scale they could join Aly Raisman who said to Larry Nassar before his sentencing only months earlier, “We are now a force, and you are nothing.” That was their story, and I did not want to criticize it, but I likewise did not want it to be mine.

Even in that tension, however, #MeToo offered me one final gift in its insistence of the victim reclaiming the voice that had been silenced: my voice, not the voice of a broader cultural movement. “How much is a little girl worth?” Rachael Denhollander had repeatedly asked the court before Larry Nassar’s sentencing. Could I ask myself the same question, even if my story was quite different?—I was not a child victim, I had no evidence that my assailant was a repeat offender (nor that he was not), and I definitively was not looking the “maximum available sentence” by civil or ecclesial courts. But on the scale of experience I had been innocent, my trust had been betrayed, the integrity of my love had been compromised, and I might carry wounds that alter my experience of relationships, of the Church, and of my own femininity. How much was that little girl worth? What did that little girl need to see in response to her lost innocence?

For those questions, I felt the paucity of the prior models available to me, especially at this particular historical moment that saw retributive justice as the primary alternative to sweeping offenses under the rug. To find an alternative, I thus shut out the voices of two relevant contemporary discourses, both the #MeToo movement and the call for reckoning in the clerical sexual abuse crisis. After all, this was my assault, not theirs. They were not yet asking the questions I needed, questions about healing, redemption, forgiveness, reconciliation. For those questions, I could only turn to the Gospel.

With trepidation, the first place my wounded heart went when she was given freedom to choose her path was to love. Love is the highest theological virtue (1 Cor 13:13), certainly, and fundamental to the nature of God himself (1 John 4:8), but it is terribly frightening to bring into a conversation about sexual abuse for all the reasons that it is central. Yet, in the case of a dear friend and respected priest, a man I loved (and love), and whom the Church had placed in my life in a familial relationship, it was the elephant in the room. I could think through nothing until I had first looked that love in the face in light of the offense.

Indeed, as it turned out, addressing my love for him was fundamental to treating the offense with the gravity it deserved. For sure, like any assaulter, he had sinned against my sexuality by treating my body as an object of pleasure, and he had sinned against my human dignity by negating my agency in sexual intimacy. As a culture, we have learned to identify that. But in this case, the Gospel ups the ante by identifying that, even before those things, he had sinned against love: My love for him as his spiritual sister; his love for me as my spiritual brother; our love of the highest order, Christian charity, the love that Christ had modeled in laying himself down for the beloved rather than seeking to possess her, the love that sets the beloved free; and, the love that both his vow of celibacy and my dedicated singleness were especially gifted to express, chastity positively defined.

And so, to my surprise, I paradoxically came to understand the wonder and beauty of chastity by having it violated, and it opened the floodwaters of redemption. As I acknowledged the good of that compromised love, I came to understand the good of my femininity that had been objectified and of my human dignity that had been negated. The redemption was deeply scandalous, a redemption that absolutely never should have needed happened in the first place, a new best that only could come from the real loss of the former best of my innocence that could never be again.

It was like the redemption that comes at the end of every Jane Austen novel when an unspeakable catastrophe shakes apart the already-strained and fragile social networks until all the pieces shockingly fall together with a strange reverse entropy. It was like the unimaginable eucatastrophe that J. R. R. Tolkien describes in good faerie stories that could just as easily have been discatastrophe, beyond the control of the characters to bring about. It was like the redemption C. S. Lewis describes in Perelandra, “not the good He had prepared” but a new good from the loss of the original good. It was like the redemption of a human life with a unique soul conceived through a relationship that should never have been. More to the point, it was like the redemption of the cross, the worst thing imaginable that became the actual instrument of salvation for the world. It was every bit as scandalous as the cross.

The discourse of the #MeToo movement often emphasizes the inalterable effects of sexual assault upon the victim, and in terms of the Gospel that is actually correct. After all, it was Christ’s human flesh that Peter, James, and John saw transfigured on Mt. Tabor (Matt 17:1–13), the same human flesh that would be broken as his blood poured forth from the cross (John 19:34), the same human flesh that still carried nail marks and a wounded side after the resurrection (John 20:26–29), the same human flesh that ascended to Heaven, the same human flesh offered daily at Mass. Christ’s Passion is never erased, and Christ himself forever bears the wounds. It is not erased; it is transfigured by the resurrection when “death is swallowed in victory” (1 Cor 15:54). The worst thing imaginable becomes the instrument of our redemption precisely because of its inalterable horror.

Mysteriously, Christ invites my own suffering into a participation in this redemptive act. Paul suggests this when he provocatively claims that “in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions” (Col. 1:24). Christ had been pierced but never sexually assaulted as I had been. In me, however, now he has, and now that is part of the story of our scandalous redemption. I have been forever changed from it, for better and worse, as has he.

After several weeks of letting that scandalous redemption work in me, reaching back even into old childhood places of brokenness that long predated this new wound, I returned to the question of my response. Now I saw why I was resistant to reporting it, despite the obvious wisdom and the urging of my friends. The assault had been a betrayal of friendship, a rupture in the family, a perversion of chaste love. To whatever extent I had any control, I did not want to let it have the last word.

The naïveté that had been my downfall in that guest bedroom suddenly became a source of courage. The gospel after all invites us to audacious hope. It is a hope that if the crucified victim can cry out “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34) regarding men actively rejecting his forgiveness, nothing is beyond the pale of redemption. Furthermore, Christ’s forgiveness is more than a sentiment or an exclusively eschatological hope; it has concrete repercussions in the here-and-now. It is a forgiveness “red in tooth and claw” as Tennyson said (“In Memoriam”), a forgiveness that always extends the possibility of reconciliation, a forgiveness that washes the feet not only of those who would abandon and deny him but even of the man who would betray him, and in Luke’s version Judas is even present for the institution of the Eucharist (22:14–23). In that intimacy, with the betrayer still present in the room, Jesus tells his disciples, “I have given you an example, that you should do just as I have done to you” (John 13:15). The words were spoken to people who would be murdered and watch their loved ones tortured, and if the invitation to Christ’s economy of forgiveness extended to them, surely it could extend to me.

Forgiveness is certainly a dangerous word in the context of sexual assault, and not one that #MeToo has generally brought into the conversation. I felt the peril. A forgiveness that forgets or brushes over the offense would complete the violence done to the victim, and forcing it as a moral imperative would be a second violence. For forgiveness to be real, it must be audacious and free. The French philosopher Jacques Derrida, an Algerian-born Jew who grew up during World War II, asserted powerfully that “forgiveness forgives only the unforgivable,” drawing attention to the phenomenologically impossible nature of forgiveness. To see the gravity of the offense for what it is and yet to open the path to healing, even to the greater mystery of reconciliation, can only ever be a miracle.

Naïvely and audaciously, I wanted it. Once I found my voice, that was what the betrayed little girl was crying for, and that miracle was the only thing large enough to encompass the gravity of the offense. Even if it proved impossible, I permitted myself the dignity to try. Betrayal could not have the last word.

Two months after the assault, I got in my car and drove across several states to meet my friend-turned-assaulter alone. I had arranged a neutral location for the meeting and had not told him the topic of conversation. I had been surprised, when we briefly discussed logistics over the phone and I heard his voice again, that I in fact still loved him, and moreover that my love no longer seemed dangerous. The journey was in fact a vindication of love. It was a declaration that love could be both “wise as serpents and innocent as doves” (Matt 10:16), because it vindicated the initial innocent love that had been betrayed through the new courageous love that invited my friend into a hard redemption.

When I saw him again, his face had a nervous joviality that thinly veiled his fear. I boldly hugged him as I had done when we were friends, a gesture of audacious hope that our friendship still existed, and led him to the room I had arranged for the conversation. “Do you know why we’re here?” I began. For professors, this is the plagiarism question, the opportunity to allow the offender to come clean on his own before laying out the evidence.

“I guess not; I’ve been wondering that,” he nervously replied. A fail. He clearly knew.

“I appreciated your hospitality the last time I was in town,” I began charitably, “and most of the visit was great. But that first evening things got weird, and we need to talk about it.”

“I wondered if that’s what this was about,” he interjected. Of course you did. “It was definitely way out of line for me as a priest to rub your back that night, and I apologize.” I waited. No more came.

“You did more than rub my back,” I began slowly.

“I did?” Dread was on his face.

“Yeah, the back-rubbing was at the restaurant. In my bedroom it got worse.”

He looked at me with blank horror. Among the possibilities I had anticipated on the long drive was that he might not remember. Would he accuse me of lying? Was this not every priest’s worst nightmare in light of the clerical sexual abuse scandals: that someone would come forward with a false accusation that took down his whole vocation? I took a breath and continued, describing the details step-by-step.

“I . . . I don’t remember that at all,” he said in stupefied shock.

“Well,” I gently pointed out, “you did have quite a bit more to drink than I did. I wouldn’t have driven all the way out here over a back-rub, and my memory is very clear on this. Do you believe me?”

“Yes.” His answer was immediate, and filled me with relief. The first hurdle was over, and the possibility that this could go well existed.

“Thank you,” I said emphatically. “Then we can continue.”

Continue we did. I opened with the legal angle, explaining what the consequences would be from civil authorities who could not care less about his religious vows. I had done my research for his state: assuming it was a first-time offense, it was on the mild level of one year in prison. This was not a threat, I clarified; I was not going to civil authorities. I continued by stating that he did need me to explain the ecclesial crime against his vows and against the Church; he had been a priest since before I knew Catholicism was still a thing, after all. I emphasized instead the effects on me, on my relationship to the Church I had still only recently entered, on my femininity that already carried wounds, on my friendships, on the graces that our particular friendship had given me in the past. I watched him go through various stages of grief, disgust, shame, and remorse.

“Eight years ago when I told my parents that I was entering the Church,” I continued,

My father was hurt and made an uncharacteristically irrational jab about priests abusing little boys. I remember initially dismissing it—Protestant pastors likewise have scandals, and the sin of one doesn’t negate the value of the whole—but later I reflected that he was actually right. In the Catholic Church, the sin of one does directly affect the whole body. But nevertheless I remember wishing that my father had met some of the good priests, had seen how beautiful the Church can be when it is well-represented. I didn’t know you at the time, but you would have been one of the priests I wished my dad could meet. So now my innocent trust of the Church is another casualty of this event. Now I have experienced personally that it is not only children who suffer (most gravely!), but also well-traveled adults; and it is not only “the bad priests” who do it, but even the ones I had good reason to trust.

I kept explaining:

I can never have that innocent trust again. But I’d still like to have something to say to the 27 year-old with her childlike love of the Church. If even the ostensibly good priests can be the perpetrators of sexual assault, I’d like at least to tell her that there is a way forward, that “good priests” can at least respond in good ways when they fall short of their best selves, that there can be a new best.

I took a deep breath. “I want to invite you,” I firmly but fearfully concluded,

To be your new best self. I want this to be a story of redemption for you as much as it has been for me. I want invite you to self-report all this to your superior, and to give me his contact information so that I can check in with him in a couple months after y’all have had some time with it. I ask you to do this partially for the sake of my conscience, because we all know that something that happened once could happen again, but more for your sake. I want you to find your own spiritual and psychological healing, to understand and correct the problems, and not to have secrets. Will you take the invitation?

“Yes,” he said immediately, seemingly relieved in his remorse to have something concrete to do. “Yes, I’ll do that right away.” He paused. “Can I say something?” he hesitated. I nodded. “I’m scared.” Of course he was scared. And suddenly, because we were clearly friends again and my love for him could not be accused of being scandalous, I empathetically felt that fear with him. The path of redemption can be terrifying, after all.

An argument could be made that this is not the right time to tell a story like mine. After all, even in my case after I had painstakingly done all the work of reconciliation, the Church was not ready to receive it.

My friend was true to his word, and with the guidance of his superior and a counselor began receiving spiritual and psychological help over the next two months. I spent that season at peace. But when I followed through with my end of the bargain and called the superior to fill him in on the details of a situation he had already known about for months, everything changed.

I suddenly went from a sister to a legal liability. My call meant that there was an allegation the ecclesial authorities must demonstrate they were taking seriously, even if I insisted I wanted no retribution. Consequences began, and while they gave me occasional updates, they would not allow me into the decision-making conversations between my friend, the priests directly over him, and a “lay advocate” who theoretically represented me even though he never spoke to me. Whether or not they heard my plea for redemption, I may not ever get to see it; eventually I was asked to have no future contact with him. The painstaking efforts I had made to “gain a brother” as Christ describes in Matthew 18 had done the opposite, and the decision was categorically forced upon me by people who never met me. Another violence.

The Church was not ready. At this point we are hurting from the previous wave of scandals and bracing ourselves for the next, and those in leadership have good reason to make sure they demonstrate having learned from prior mistakes. But my experience makes me doubt whether we are learning the right lesson.

Maybe the question of whether our policies and protocols treat offenses severely enough is ancillary to a deeper question of our Christian identity and the nature of the Church. Practically speaking the Church is an institution, and a hierarchical one at that. But ontologically we are a family, “the household of God” (Eph 2:19), and even more fundamentally a body where every part suffers with one hurting member and each part is essential (1 Cor 12:12–26). Our sacramental union with that “one body” in our baptism is every bit as sacred as and even more fundamental than the “one flesh” bonds of marriage—Ephesians even links the bodily union of the Church to our very salvation when it describes Christ’s purpose to “create in himself one new man in place of the two, so making peace, and . . . reconcile us both to God in one body” (Eph. 2:15–16). I am essential. My friend is essential. We are members of one body.

Protocols that swept offenses under the rug were a grave injustice on an institutional level, and on an ecclesial level they were furthermore an act of self-mutilation and a denial of our very identity. Correcting the problem involves more than creating better protocols, as my friend’s supervisors are attempting to do by treating his case with severity and cutting me off; it involves rediscovering our identity as a family. If a layperson has been abused by a priest, it is every bit as grave as abuse from a brother, and addressing it is every bit as messy, complicated, personal, and individual.

Therein lies my hope. Institutions cannot and should not forgive a crime against an individual. But families at their best do something even better: they suffer together on every level when abuse is committed within. Occasionally the familial bond is strong enough that they can listen painfully and humbly to each other and find healing for victims, perpetrators, and enablers alike—I have personally witnessed that miracle in the past. Even in cases where the rupture cannot be healed, the familial bond is experienced in the way they all suffer from the wound, implicitly wishing for the elusive healing.

Therein lies the Church’s gift to our culture. The #MeToo movement for all its invaluable contributions to public discourse is not in the position to explore healing as the Church is, and perhaps rightly so. But as a culture, we are hurting for our underdeveloped understanding of remorse, apology, forgiveness, healing, and rehabilitation. We have learned how to “out your pig,” but not what to do with them when they are out, especially if it turns out the pigs are in each of us, and thus fear and anger ravage us without a place to go. And the silent survivors who for whatever reason do not desire retribution do not have the agency to seek a redemption that no one believes is possible.

In the Church, however, it is not only possible; it is a fundamental part of our DNA. We can bring victims to the table in meaningful ways, not only hearing their stories but inviting them into the conversations in which decisions are made. We can walk beside them on the long road of healing, understanding that their wounds are our wounds, and that any rupture in their relationship with the Church hurts us all. Without suggesting a moral imperative for victims, our familial identity declares the hope that real, concrete, temporal healing exists.

Ultimately I suppose I am writing in hope that even the additional violence I suffered in the ecclesial authorities’ response to my story can be redemptive. From an experience in which the particularities of my humanity were steamrolled over in well-meaning, circumspect caution, I came to a deeper appreciation of Pope Francis’s warning against clericalism, and I believe that we can do better. In the realm of protocols, I would hope to think creatively about ways that victim’s voices, not only the voices of “lay advocates,” can be included in the conversation, not assuming all of us want the same outcome or need the same measures for our healing. Any protocols of the Church as an institution must be explored from the foundation of the Church as a family and as a body. The healing we need is more than severer consequences, but a radical reconnection to who we are.

Featured Image: photo provided by the author, all rights reserved. 


Emily Ransom

Emily Ransom is a professor of Renaissance English literature whose research focuses on early modern devotional poetry, Ignatian meditation, and English Catholic recusancy. Outside work she is also a published poet, a hobby artist, and a rural Southern evangelical convert to Catholicism.

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