Courageous Voices: Victims of Abuse Speak Out

Book Review of Abuse of Trust

Cropped book cover
Cropped book cover (photo: Your Holy Family Publishing)


Healing From Clerical Sex Abuse

By Allen A. Hebert

Your Holy Family Publishing, 2019

324 pages, Kindle edition, $9.99

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Allen Hebert is a devout practicing Catholic. He and his wife, Denae, have nine children. They are active in numerous Catholic apostolates, including Your Holy Family Ministries, which they founded. Allen is also a survivor of childhood clergy sexual abuse.

Scott Peyton is a deacon in the Catholic Church. He and his wife, Letitia, have six children, whom they home-school. Letitia leads women’s Bible studies. One of their sons was sexually abused by a priest — a friend of their family with whom Deacon Scott had served at the altar.

Jessica McGuire is an extraordinary minister of Holy Communion and teaches religious education. She is a trauma and rape hotline volunteer. She was abused by clergy starting from age 4. When she became pregnant at age 13, a powerful prelate participated in arranging for an early induced labor, which, she was assured, did not count as an abortion. She gave birth in a sacristy in a church near the medical district. Priests buried the remains of her child in a church courtyard, near a statue of the Blessed Mother.  

These men and women are some of the contributors to Abuse of Trust: Healing From Clerical Sexual Abuse, recently published under the Heberts’ imprint, Your Holy Family Publishing. This collection of essays marks a new beginning in the public discussion of clergy sexual abuse. As these examples indicate, the authors continue to be devoted members of the Catholic Church, in spite of the evil and injustice they experienced at the hands of some Church representatives. Unlike the assortment of lapsed and dissenting Catholics who so often dominated earlier discussions of clerical sexual abuse, these authors do not want the Church to change her teaching or be destroyed. Instead, Allen Hebert has assembled a group of authors who want the Church to become more of who she ought to be — what she should have been from the beginning.

In today’s climate, that message is more likely to get a hearing than it might have in 2002. Back then, Pope John Paul II reigned. Catholics who embrace Humanae Vitae and theology of the body loved and revered him and wanted to shield his reputation along with his teaching. I know. I was one who just wanted the whole clergy sex-abuse issue to go away. Like a lot of people, I was relieved when the bishops enacted the Dallas Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. I told myself that the problem was handled and we could move on.

I speak for myself when I say: I was wrong then to avert my eyes so quickly. I plan not to make that mistake again.

By contrast, some of those, inside and outside the Church, who disagree with the Church’s magisterial teaching on human sexuality despised Pope John Paul. Such people saw the sex-abuse scandals as an opportunity to lobby for a more “relaxed” approach toward sexual matters. They argued, “If only the Church would allow married priests, if only the Church would lighten up on homosexuality, the clergy would be better behaved.”

There are still those inside the Church trying to make those arguments. But the cascading scandals, the revelations of widespread cover-up, the knowledge that our entire society is rife with sexual abuse — all these factors make the “just lighten up” position far less plausible than it was in 2002.

At the same time, the pontificate of Pope Francis has shuffled the ecclesial-political deck. Defending the Church’s ancient teachings on marriage, family and human sexuality no longer means defending the Pope and his appointees. The very sort of person who might have once minimized clergy sexual abuse is less inclined to do so today. Defending the Church’s teaching may well mean that the reputations of certain clerics, including ones we love and revere, may suffer. We are more inclined to say, “So be it.”

That is why the testimonies and perspective of Abuse of Trust are so important. This book allows the reader a window into the impact of clergy sexual abuse on people’s lives. The survivors and the family members tell their stories. The impact of childhood sexual abuse is profound and long-lasting, sometimes spanning generations. People don’t just “get over it.”

These are real people. They are more than ideological objects that can be moved into place to score points in some political or ecclesial debate. The only point that all these stories make is an authentically Catholic point: Healing is possible with the love of Jesus Christ.

Pediatrician Deborah Rodriguez contributes chapters on recognizing signs and symptoms of abuse and on creating ministries that are appropriately sensitive to trauma survivors. Herself a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, Dr. Rodriguez is a shining example of how a person can be transformed by the love of Jesus. The worst things that have happened to her have become the basis for a lifetime’s work of help and healing for others.

I have no doubt that God has big plans for all of us in the Church today. But for God’s plans to be realized, we must allow him to work through us and surrender our petty agendas. This is not about us and how embarrassed we are. This is not about losing our buildings and our contributions. Yes, I know it is awful to watch loved ones walk away from the Church in disgust. Yes, I know it is horrible to recall the generations of immigrant Catholics whose blood and sweat built our beautiful churches and schools. I don’t deny this. But I am persuaded that the more we stay focused on the victims who are right here, right now, the more likely we are to succeed in keeping our children in the Church and preserving what is left of the Catholic heritage in America.

Both healing and justice are possible with the love of Jesus Christ and the people he enlists to do his work. That would be you and me. We have been chosen to live in this time and place. We have been chosen to speak for the victims, to support the victims, to treat them with the respect and love they deserve.

That is why Abuse of Trust is a great contribution to the most important Catholic issue of our time.

Jennifer Roback Morse, Ph.D., is the founder and president of the Ruth Institute and the author of 

The Sexual State: How Elite Ideologies Are Destroying Lives and How the Church Has Been Right All Along.

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