When Awake Milwaukee was established in 2019, we quickly realized how much we had to learn about the experiences of victim-survivors of abuse in the Catholic Church. We began to recognize that many survivors have struggled alone for years without real support or acknowledgement from Catholics in the pews.
We wanted to change that. One step was committing to regularly sharing survivor stories. Since the Awake Blog launched in January 2020, we’ve published multiple stories from people who have experienced abuse by church leaders, as well as stories from family members of victim-survivors. (See links to these posts below.) We’re grateful that these people have trusted us to help tell their stories.
Awake recently hosted a Courageous Conversation event with two victim-survivors who have thought deeply about the sacred power of both sharing and listening to survivor stories. Paula Kaempffer, Outreach Coordinator for Restorative Justice and Abuse Prevention for the Archdiocese of St. Paul–Minneapolis, and Jerry McGlone, S.J., a Jesuit priest and senior research fellow at the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs at Georgetown, described how “finding the words” to speak about the abuse they experienced has been important in their ongoing healing and recovery. McGlone spoke powerfully about the risen Christ’s example on the Road to Emmaus of listening with attentive compassion to people who were suffering. McGlone believes that the Catholic Church is called right now to “steer into the pain” of survivors’ suffering to bring about healing in the Body of Christ.
“It’s not easy to listen to someone’s story and all the trauma that they have experienced,” Kaempffer acknowledged during the recent Courageous Conversation. “But we can listen with the ears and heart of Jesus, and Jesus will help us to do that.”
She and McGlone see listening to survivors as a holy act. Inspired by their wisdom, Awake is preparing to launch a new Survivor Story feature on our blog. Beginning in April, we’ll introduce you to one survivor from the Awake community each month and give them an opportunity to tell their story. Our goals for this series include:
• giving us all the chance to listen to and learn from survivors.
• providing a safe and empowering space for people who feel ready to tell their story.
• acknowledging the diversity of survivors’ experiences as well as their wisdom and strength.
Watch for the first installment of this series on Tuesday, April 26.
—Erin O’Donnell, Editor, Awake Blog
Awake’s Original Survivor Stories
The following Survivor Stories first appeared on the Awake Blog between March 2020 and October 2021.
• Deacon Larry Normann tells of his abuse in the seminary, and how he found solace in Scripture.
• Psychotherapist Patricia Gallagher Marchant shares her story of assault by a parish priest when she was seven, and what she would like Catholics in the pews to know about abuse in the Church.
• Jerri von den Bosch of the Awake Leadership Team writes a moving letter to her mother, a survivor of clergy abuse.
• In another post, Jerri discusses her family’s experience of reading the 2018 Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report, about clergy abuse in that state.
• Abused by her parish priest as a teen, former parish director Jan Ruidl imagines what the Church might say to victim-survivors.
• Wendy Liedtke describes how she learned of her husband’s abuse 33 years into their marriage and her struggle to find support as a secondary survivor.
• We check in with Wendy more than a year later and she tells us about her own healing process.
• Groomed and assaulted as an adult by a deacon, “Anne” shares what unfolded when she tried to report this to Church officials.
• Ty Linn shows how his nephew’s abuse as a teenager by a Norbertine priest affected three generations of his family.
• After her abuse by popular Catholic composer David Haas, music minister Margaret Hillman describes the traumatic pain of singing his music at Mass, years later.