Horrifying accounts of clergy sex abuse have been in the headlines for years now, but who are the victims, and how do they cope?
The most recent epicenter for abuse cases is Illinois. According to a report, there have been 251 cases, some dating as far back as the 1950s. Former Attorney General Lisa Madigan launched the original investigation and sought to uncover the decades-old scandal and give peace of mind to the hundreds of victims devastated by the abuse.
Since 2018, case after case has made its way into the headlines, and even more that slipped under the radar. In the midst of these bombshell cases, the church leaders are left to deal with the aftermath. Bishop Thomas Paprocki of the Diocese of Springfields said on the matter,
"Here we are 50 years later, where people involved are dead or gone, and we're trying to determine, you know, the facts of the case."
Not only has the abuse destroyed the lives of countless church members, but it's eroded trust in the institution itself. People are afraid of the church or hyper-critical of those who still attend services. There are many misconceptions that do nothing besides distract from the issue at hand.
Lack of Sympathy
In addition to misunderstandings and biases muddying the waters, many people also lack sympathy for the victims. Vicki Schmidt, a victim of sexual abuse for over ten years, says,
"A lot of people just think, well, it's just sex, you know, it's just sex. Well, no it's not. Abuse is manipulative […] It is someone else […] not allowing you to live your own life."
Other survivors tell similar stories that shed light on the horror and devastation this gross abuse of power left behind. Victims didn't dare discuss their trauma with their families or people in the community because of fear and shame, but many are speaking out and using their history to inform the world outside of the church.
The Truth Will Set You Free
Unpacking trauma is painful and confusing, but some victims in Illinois are telling their stories and supporting each other as law enforcement continues to uncover countless instances of abuse.
Lauber-Fleming and her husband Pat met with Schmidt and bonded over their shared trauma. Using writing as a medium for recovery, they have authored multiple books that include their stories and the stories of many other victims.
They recall what it was like living in an environment where abuse is so widespread but so forbidden to discuss. Fleming recalls witnessing her mother's abuse only to be dragged down by the priest and abused herself.
Lauber-Fleming and her mother never spoke about the incident in the 80 years since.
What Happens Now?
Not much can be done to the bishops, priests, and 'holy men' that have since passed, but investigators, and surprisingly, the Bishop of Springfield, are doing what they can to solve these cases.
The Bishop has put together a council of nine individuals from the community, predominantly nonreligious, to hear allegations and review them. This is a significant step in the right direction as so many church leaders across the country are more inclined to sweep matters under the rug.
For Schmidt and others, recovery is a slow process that may never end, but healing is within reach. Hundreds of survivors are now well on their way to recovery thanks to support from fellow victims and loved ones.