Mass through the eyes of a person sexually abused by a priest
The extraordinarily intense impressions during Mass of a person abused by a priest. What should and could have been a source of solace and help became the poison of abuse and a source of suffering and pain.
Why is it important to pay special attention to victims of abuse by the clergy, monks, nuns, other representatives of the Church and to victims with religious backgrounds? The answer is that abuse by such people usually affects the most fundamental of all the resources a person has available – their spirituality.
You might already have read this story – the first part is here. Today you will read how the experience of abuse by a priest can change the actual perception of the Mass. What should and could have been a source of solace and help became the poison of abuse and a source of suffering and pain. It meant that every Mass became a repeated self-sacrifice by the victim.
God profoundly understands what such victims are forced to go through. Yet do we, believers, understand this? Are the clergy capable of understanding that it is very possible that somebody who attends services in their churches experiences Mass in this way? Does the Church sometimes place unbearable burdens on the shoulders of such people? Have you been to confession? What about Mass? You need to pray more! God will sort everything out! You have to forgive! Are we not placing ever more burdens onto the cross of abuse of Christ the Victim? Let’s pause for a moment and experience one sacrificial Mass with the Victim. Corpus Christi.
I am writing these lines as a testimony of my experience at practically every Mass over the past approximately two years during which I have been undergoing therapy. Something that had been ‘hermitically’ sealed away by amnesia came to be revealed. Memories acquired real contours and my brain ordered them according to its own system. I do not want to suppress anything inside anymore. Rather, I want to understand. Now I concentrate far more on what (any) priest does during Mass. I just want to understand WHY! He also most probably celebrated Mass every day, yet this did not stop him from doing ‘those things’ to me. Just as he apparently had an internal disconnect, it is all coming together now for me.
Sometimes what I feel is stronger, sometimes weaker. It very much depends on the mood, but also on how much I am concentrating on what is going on around the altar. I am able to experience Mass quite peacefully if my thoughts are elsewhere. The chronology here corresponds to the chronology of the Mass and not the sequence of events from thirty years ago.
You might be asking: “Why do you keep going to church when it causes you so much suffering?” I would probably answer, in a cowardly fashion: “I genuinely do not know how to explain and justify to my children (and wife) that I do not want to go to Mass.”
ENTRANCE – the priest approaches, kneels and kisses the cloth-covered stone altar
I am lying on his bed. Completely naked. The stiffness of my body is partly due to the cold, but mainly due to what is happening. My senses perceive the whole situation as being somehow distant. All the receptors work, yet only at a fraction of their usual capacity, somehow subliminally. I am aware of what is happening – I am still me, but it is as if I was not. My brain retains everything yet all logical, rational analysis is blocked.
He kneels by the bed. My body is petrified and completely naked. He kisses me all over my body – from my neck down to my crotch.
SIGN OF THE CROSS – “For in him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28)
Everything happens in the presence of God. We are his children. He and I. The aggressor and his victim. God is there in the background. He does not interfere. He ONLY loves. Both him and me. And suffers. In him and in me. In each of us. In the aggressor and his victim. Yet I keep asking: why…???
PENITENTIAL RITE – mea culpa
Today, reason, logic and everybody around me tell me that it was not my fault. He was an adult, and in a position of authority – the person who should have known. And yet this still holds true only in the rational part of me. In the rest of me there is a voice that says that it was my fault. I should not have gone to see him at the vicarage at all. I should not have written at the age of thirteen: “You are precious to me”. I should have objected more clearly. Yet could I have? What was it that I did wrong then? Or that I should have done differently? Mea culpa?
He kept up a written correspondence with me for some years afterwards. I used to look forward to his letters. I kept them all hidden away until recently. (This June, I symbolically handed them over to the superior of the order). They were an expression of attention, interest, of true fatherhood. Yet were they really? Were they truly an expression of attention, interest, of true fatherhood? They always seemed to confer an expression of warmth. They usually began Ave Maria!
WE HAVE HEARD (The Word of God)
He holds my head tightly and kisses my ears passionately. The only thing my ears perceive is the intrusiveness and sliminess of his mouth. The animalistic aggression attacking me.
PROFESSION OF FAITH – our conscious decision, confirmation after hearing the Word
In one of the letters, fourteen days after my rape, the priest wrote to me: “and regarding our intimate relationship, don’t be afraid to tell me how you see it going forward. You still have a good friend in me, even if a rather older one”. How did I see it at the time? What did I believe? Who did I trust? What truth had I been initiated into by this monstrous act? Did I believe in God the Father? When is a priest alter Christi?
THE BEARING OF GIFTS – PREPARING THE VICTIM
He told me in a very calm voice: “Get undressed and lie on the bed.” There was a strange gleam in his eye, a sparkle. “And your underwear!”
Suscípiat Dóminus sacrifícium de mánibus tuis ad laudem et glóriam nóminis sui, ad utilitátem quoque nostram totiúsque Ecclésiæ suæ sanctæ.
I obediently lay down on the bed… Yet the experience of the past few moments is encoded in my head. I am half-kneeling, half-sitting and my head is at the level of his crotch. I gag on the thing he puts into my mouth. All the while he holds me strongly by the head… suscípiat de mánibus tuis… My first “sexual” experience. With a person I trusted completely. A person who showered me with attention. I surrendered, not because I wanted to, but because he wanted me to. I wanted to be ONLY in his presence. In the presence of somebody who smiled at me. Who did not shout at me. Who did not humiliate me. Somebody who appreciated me. Encouraged me. Who valued me. Somebody to whom I was not afraid to reveal my thoughts. Somebody I could touch and feel his proximity. Somebody to whom I was important at the age of thirteen. Somebody like a SON for a FATHER. Somebody I could trust.
Hoc est enim CORPUS meum. This is my BODY.
This is MY body, which you used as you saw fit. You stuffed something into my mouth that I had never even seen before. I had to touch it with my hands. When I was naked on the bed, he kissed me all over my body from my neck down to my crotch. I was paralysed and did not know what was happening. He also put my soft penis into his mouth and sucked it. This is MY body! He determined its basic value for the next thirty years. MY BODY is good for raping. My only worth is to be raped by men.
THE MYSTERY OF FAITH – MYSTERION
“Will this be our secret?” he asked with his natural authority after he was finished. We were now lying next to each other covered by a duvet. I was still naked. He was in his underwear. The promised “secret” led me to twenty years of amnesia. I forced everything out of my active memory. Two years ago, when I described everything to a therapist, I actually felt I was committing a terrible betrayal!
The mystery of faith? There are moments when I cannot believe it myself. Did it actually happen? My memory does not obey me – it betrays me. This is the whole mystery of faith… What god did my aggressor believe in?
Around ten to twelve years ago, I became fond of receiving Communion in a kneeling position. Yet at the moment I recalled my monstrous childhood experience, I realised for the first time that I was kneeling in front of a priest yet he was not putting the body of Christ into my mouth but rather his penis. For over four years now, every Communion has been a terrible ordeal. The body’s memory – what my mouth remembers – is reactivated by this every time. When I was having my most severe flashbacks it all made me want to vomit. Now I just open my mouth apathetically, try to be absent and get past that overwhelming feeling of intimacy with a person who says that he/she love you while gagging you with his body. I am unable to recall almost anything about what happened thirty years ago. It is as if I could not see anything. Yet even after thirty years I still feel the tightening of the throat, the hands on my head, the pubic hair, the smell, the gagging… Last Sunday, and the one before that… for me, every Communion is also a genuine experience of rape.
THE BODY OF CHRIST! Amen?
I return to the pew. Perhaps a prayer and thanks for this great gift for our souls? My whole body alternates between anger and the absolute impossibility of doing anything about it.
… just suffer it all…