A Letter Home

Posted: 6th October 2013 by admin in Blog
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This post is inspired by Domestic Violence Awareness month and based on a scene described in Urban Tidepool. In keeping with the Urban Tidepool theme and with previous posts, let us take a look at those places in systems where kids sometimes get lost. As parents and service providers, we all stand on the theory that if a kid is being hurt, they should run and tell some adult that they trust who can help them. Should we be more specific? “Go and talk to THAT person!”  Should we only encourage them to talk to their parents? How does that work in families where the parents are involved in the violence? How do we go about determining who is that safe person that they can run to? And what can we do if it goes wrong?

Dear Father M.,

Do you remember that Saturday in February, 1978? I do. It was brutally cold that day. Did you find it odd that I showed up at church without a jacket? Did you find it odd that I met you at the doors as you were opening them for confession? Had I been you, I might have found both of those things odd.

I’m willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on the jacket. Maybe you thought I lived close enough to the church that I just ran across the street without thinking about it. People did that. Maybe you thought it was merely a matter of a few seconds that I was outside in that frigid weather and then I’d be welcomed into the warmth of the vestibule.

I’m even willing to give you the benefit of the doubt about me meeting you at the door…almost as if I was desperate to get inside. Maybe you thought I had some dark, scary secret to tell you in the confessional. People did that too.

You know what I’m not willing to give you the benefit of the doubt on? Come on, think about. I’ll bet you can guess. No? Maybe you don’t remember.

I wish I could forget.

“Bless me, Father, for I have sinned…”

No matter what else happened that day, I’m not able to give you the benefit of the doubt over me telling you what was happening in my house and you ignoring it. (Yeah, that kind of explains why I showed up in the middle of February not wearing a jacket, doesn’t it? Sometimes we have to do that.) I’m not willing to overlook the fact that when I told you I was being hurt, the best you could offer me was the directive to pray harder so the person who was hurting me would stop.

Is that really what they taught you in seminary? When a kid comes to you—and let’s be honest, Father, I was 12 years old…I was just a kid…and discloses being hurt, that you should suggest that the power of prayer can make battering stop? That a kid has input into an abusive situation? What kind of help was that to suggest that I had control over a volatile situation through the vehemence of my pleas to your god? Was it the influence of the neighborhood? Was it the era? Or was it just easier?

I’ve spent more than 25 years in the social work field and I’ve had my share of days when kids came to me and said something similar to what I said to you. And you know how those conversations go. There is never an easy way through those and the most important thing we have to stress is that being hurt is not the kid’s fault. I hope with everything in me that I have not failed them with whatever action I took, that nothing I said or did implied to them that they were responsible for their situation, that they, in fact, could control it if only…  If only what? The single acceptable answer in those situations is always, “This is not your fault.”

I came to you, Father, cold and shivering and beaten and all I wanted to hear you say was, “This is not your fault.” But you turned your back and looked away.

Catholicism is far behind me but I still hope that new priests are coached in how to handle such situations, to be supportive and maybe a little kinder to the developing, small human being sitting in front of them. We have a responsibility to those developing, small humans to treat them kindly and with some dignity. You know, like people. Someday maybe I’ll be able to give you the benefit of the doubt on this point too, that perhaps you gave me such a sad and hurtful answer because that was all you’d been taught. I really want to believe you didn’t turn away because it was easier that way. But out of my doubt, what I’m left with now is simply, “Bless you, Father, for you too have sinned…” And I hope that when you utter those words, you are met with  more compassion than you offered in 1978.


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