I spend most of my day prowling the Internet for organizations that work with people who were sexually abused, especially as children. I contact as many as I can to see if they would be willing to start a Lamplighter chapter in their area. Our Lamplighter movement currently has 68 chapters in twelve countries; nine of them are in Africa. For reasons I don’t understand I am drawn to that continent. Never before in my life have I had an interest in it, not to travel to it, not to read books on it, not to be acquainted with their languages or their culture. This is unusual for me as I have an enormous capacity for curiosity. So why now Africa? I don’t know but I feel certain that it will be revealed to me as time goes on. In the meantime I travel to where my intuition takes me.
Many years ago, before I got into recovery I was on my way home from a memorial service for my fiancé who had died from lung cancer six months earlier. The memorial had seared my memories, the few that I had come to terms with resurrecting with even more pain. My hands trembled while I drove, tears blinding me as I fought off pictures from the past. I remembered a Catholic church on my way home that I had never gone to but at the moment it seemed the safest place to be. I was a recovering Catholic, one who had left and returned more times than I remembered. I stepped into the cool interior and noticed a line of people waiting outside the confessional. I wasn’t interested. With all the sins on my soul my shame would be too great to even begin telling another human about them. Although I wasn’t aware of it at the moment, acting out sexually is one of the primary escapes that a child sexual abuse victim uses, albeit unconscious of it having any connections with the abuse. I slipped into a pew and began talking to God. After a while I rose and moved to the back of the church intending to go home. An elderly priest stood near the door and stopped me as I approached. Would I like to go to confession? No, Father, I don’t. I tried to move past him but he stood his ground. Perhaps you’d like a one on one confession. I remembered the last time I had gone to confession; it had been a one on one confession. It was the night before my baby sister has been killed in a car accident at the age of 25. At that time I was in Tucson, Arizona where my brother lived and where I was waiting for my sister to join me after leaving Texas where she had been living. I remembered how kind the priest had been, how much comfort he had brought me, how his words had carried me through the dark days ahead. He had told me I could do my confession by talking to God. He said I didn’t need the middle man. Doubting whether his Bishop would appreciate such advice I nonetheless took it and had done my talking to God in private ever since.
Now here was another priest who wanted to help me unburden myself. I changed my mind and within a few minutes was sitting opposite him in a small room baring my soul; it needed a lot of baring. After he gave me my penance I stood up and went once again to one of the pews. I said my penance and then slipped into my normal habit of talking to God. Time passed and I hadn’t realized how long I’d been kneeling till I looked up and realized everyone was gone except for the priest. He was standing at the end of my pew. I made the sign of the cross and moved to where he stood. I thanked him once again, apologized for having taken so long. As I tried to move past him he grabbed my arm.
“You need me to come home and spend the night with you.”
I was so stunned that I was certain I must have not heard him right.
“No, thank you, Father. I’ll be fine.”
I tried to pull my arm away but he held it tightly and wouldn’t let me pass. I felt my stomach lurch as I struggled harder.
He only repeated, “You must take me home with you to spend the night. You shouldn’t be by yourself tonight.”
Now, I was thoroughly alarmed.
“No, Father, no. Let me go.” I pulled my arm away and began hurrying down the aisle. He caught up with me, grabbed my arm again and began arguing with me. The struggle continued as I almost dragged him to the back of the church as he held my arm. Now I was terrified and began sobbing. With all my strength I yanked my arm away, gave him a shove and ran out the door heading as quickly as I could to my car. He didn’t follow me and I pulled out of the parking lot, my car doors locked and cried all the way home. For months I was tormented by, ‘what had I done’ to cause this.
I never reported him.
Now, here I am a long way down the road on my journey. My mind is in Africa a lot. There is so much information on the Internet about what is happening there. But I also get updates from some of my facilitators who have chapters in Africa. The details I read are searing and if you don’t have a strong stomach you can’t read them. At times, the heaviness in my heart is overwhelming. I think of the priest who tried to force himself on me so long ago. I think of the women in Africa raped over and over and especially I think of the children. The children……the pain of thinking of little ones, the innocents in the world, being overcome by a much more dangerous version of that priest and the tears flow. I talk to God. Help me to find more and more facilitators to start chapters in Africa, I ask. Help me in some way to get the REPAIR Your Life and REPAIR For Kids books to them so they can heal.
Sexual assault of any kind rips away your personal power; it strips you of any confidence. A little voice inside your head says, “It was your fault”. It murders a part of you that needed to be a part of your life, your innocence. I know now I should have reported that priest.