On Monday, I watched in horror with those all over the world as Notre Dame Cathedral burned and smoke billowed into the Paris sky. One of the oldest and most famous cathedrals in the world, Notre Dame was erected over 800 years ago. Yet it took only a few hours for the great spire to topple like a child’s block tower. As the fire burned unscathed by the water cannons flooding the structure, virtual onlookers began to speculate if the building would be totally consumed or if enough could be saved and rebuilt.
As I stared at the television screen, I felt a visceral reaction coursing through my body. It was a physical manifestation of what I have felt for the last decade. Sounds horribly dramatic, doesn’t it? But, for those who have experienced harassment, rejection, ostracism, judgment, isolation, sexual assault, physical/mental/verbal abuse, manipulation and even rape at the hands of revered clergy, we have been watching our sacred space burn for years, maybe decades.
And, for many of us, we have watched our faith go up in smoke.
“Survivors deserve an opportunity to be restored in their own way and in their own time.”
Those fortunate enough to worship and practice their faith in a safe space with good, honest clergy and congregants without experiencing traumas of any kind have this week seen and experienced a manifestation of what it is like when a person’s sacred space, spiritual center and place of worship is, in essence, set ablaze. Decimated. Obliterated. Many of us (of varying denominations and religious groups) who have experienced the nastiest, most vile parts of the Church have watched in isolation as our sacred spaces go up in smoke, often feeling like we are the arsonists.
It is horribly tragic to watch such a beautiful, historic and sacred cathedral burn. It will take years and astronomical costs to rebuild the structure and to restore relics, stained glass windows and other parts of this magnificent space.
Survivors of church and clergy abuse and manipulation, however, are never fully restored. Our sacred space remains in ashes until we are able to seek the help of counselors and doctors, lawyers and advocates, spiritual guides and healers of all types. Those mentally, physically or sexually abused at the hands of “holy people” deserve to be seen and heard (even if anonymously). Our deep pain deserves to be acknowledged and validated. Our grief deserves your tears as well.
Most importantly, survivors deserve an opportunity to be restored in their own way and in their own time. Those who want to support survivors can listen to our stories, advocate on our behalf and help change this idea that clergy, “upstanding” congregants, or religious institutions are not capable of despicable acts that deeply harm individuals.
On Monday of Holy Week, the world watched a beloved, historic cathedral go up in smoke. For the survivors of church and clergy abuse, it was a familiar scene of a sacred space being destroyed. We too need to be surrounded and supported by people of faith in the long and challenging process of rebuilding and healing.