Sharing the Faith with my Family as a Survivor of Child Sexual Abuse

I am an adult survivor of child sexual abuse by a member of the clergy. My abuser was a priest, who was the adult leader of the altar boys at the time. My memories of being an altar boy during those early teenage years are like a deep, dark, emotionally-conflicted mess. It might seem odd, then, that my wife and I allowed our daughter and son to be altar servers as youth. To be sure, seeing my children on the altar triggered painful memories of my abuse and the deep despair and isolation I felt at their age. However, I was such a proud father, there in the pew, as each of them served on the altar for the first time. My most vivid memory is how, after my son's first time alter serving, I was waiting for him after Mass in the rear of the church. I observed an older parishioner I didn't know, come up to him and thank him for serving. They spoke for several moments, and although I did not hear what was said, I watched the exchange: he shook my son's hand and my son turned to me, smiling.

That image has remained with me for years: father, son and stranger, sharing their faith together through the celebration of the Mass. Working hard to keep all children safe in our parish and in the larger Catholic community gives me hope that we can continue to pass along our rich faith tradition from one generation to the next. I want to pass my faith along to my children, and I am blessed to have witnessed that in action that morning. That parishioner gave both of us a great gift: a reminder that our Catholic faith is shared. I am blessed to be in a parish community that supports and celebrates a safe environment for children so that no child will have to endure what I did.

I want every parent, every staff member, every employee—in fact, everyone in the community, to know that you have a great opportunity to protect all children and even, perhaps, save their lives. You are an integral part of the prevention of sexual abuse.

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