"He Changes the Darkness Itself" - An Advent Update from Jessica
If you have been reading this blog for a while, I know that you remember Jessica.
Jessica Jung is a courageous survivor of childhood clergy sexual abuse, who entrusted me with sharing her story in a public way for the first time. The series of posts we created, about her abuse and the painful process of reporting that abuse to her diocese, was the culmination of many months of conversation, dialogue, and prayer. If you have not read Jessica’s story from beginning to end, I would invite you to do that today, starting here: Jessica’s Story: “How Could I Say No?”.
When I hit publish on that first blog post, on August 23, 2019, Jessica and I both knew this was not an end, but a beginning. Today, we’d like to give you an update on what has transpired in the four months since then.
Here’s the truth: It’s not easy to share your heart in such a candid and public way.
Jessica made the decision to share her story because she was convinced that God wanted to work through that story to bring about good. This conviction remains, but that doesn’t mean the process wasn’t incredibly painful as well.
In the days after we shared her story, many readers sent Jessica messages of prayers and gratitude, and these messages served as a great source of encouragement and strength. Jessica also received support from family and friends - from those who already knew her story as well as those who were hearing it for the first time. Most of all, she clung to the Lord and asked him for continued strength and peace.
Amidst all of this support, Jessica also faced anxiety and doubt. After we published the final part of her story, Jessica emailed me with this confession: “Honestly, the last few days have been rough. I’ve been very anxious and second-guessing myself with this whole thing.” While Jessica knew that more people reading her story meant more opportunity to make a difference, the reality of having her heart on display was a lot to process. It was difficult to see comments on social media that questioned her motives for sharing her story. Even harder for Jessica to face were those comments that criticized her for being “too nice” to her diocese, labeling her as naive about the real motivations of those she interacted with.
The emotional turmoil of these first few weeks was intense, but Jessica was buoyed by many words of compassion, especially those from other survivors who thanked her for speaking out. Over time, Jessica was able to rest in the conviction that what she had done was good and important. While she might not be able to see all of the results firsthand, Jessica trusts that God is at work and will bring good fruits from her courage.
Let me tell you about some of these good fruits:
You may remember that Jessica was deeply wounded by the way she was treated by staff members at her diocese. But through it all, she chose to believe the treatment came more from ignorance than malice.
Once the diocese had completed her case, it would have been so much easier for Jessica to walk away in frustration, anger, and pain. No one could blame her if she had done just that. However, Jessica is determined to help her diocese recognize the mistakes they made. She is determined to use her experience to make things better for the next survivor who comes forward.
So, Jessica sent her story to the diocesan Investigator, the Victim Assistance Coordinator, and the Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, hoping they would read these blog posts with an open mind and heart. After reading, the VAC asked Jessica if she would be open to meeting again, and Jessica agreed.
Jessica met with the Victim Assistance Coordinator and the Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection in September, and the meeting went much better than she had expected. The tone of this conversation was very different from that of her previous interactions. “The story really does seem to have opened their eyes to the way the process feels and what kinds of things need to change,” she explains. “The Victim Assistance Coordinator acknowledged that a lot of things should have been handled differently and apologized.” After so many conversations that made her feel like a problem to be solved or an adversary to be defeated, Jessica was grateful that these two women seemed genuinely concerned about her well-being.
Jessica made sure this meeting wasn’t just about generalities and platitudes. She talked through specific details and decisions that had been hurtful. She explained how painful it was that the public announcement called her allegation “not credible,” as opposed to the language that had been used with her - “unsubstantiated.” The Director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, who is fairly new to the diocese, agreed that these terms had not been clearly defined and showed Jessica a draft of new clarifying language that was in the process of approval. Jessica spoke firmly about the need for all people involved in the process of receiving, investigating, and making decisions about allegations (including the bishop himself) to be well-informed about the effects of trauma. (She was heartened to learn that the VAC was in the process of reading The Body Keeps the Score, a pioneering text about the life-long effects of trauma on the brain and body.) They also had a long conversation about the term “recovered memory” and how Jessica felt it had been used to imply that her memories were somehow false.
In the end, Jessica left the meeting feeling optimistic that her diocese is heading in the right direction. Although she didn’t agree with everything that was said and finds it difficult to trust after so much hurt, she remains hopeful: “I truly believe that they are trying to do the right thing and take care of victims, though their vision is limited.”
Jessica reflects: “It has been difficult work, staying engaged with them, but I am so, so grateful to see some fruit. I really am becoming more and more convinced that this is the work the Lord is calling me to, although I still don’t know how exactly that will look. I think part of things moving in the right direction will be noticing when things get better and being willing to leave room for that, without letting our anger and frustration blind us or build walls. What we did is helping.”
For Jessica, this journey has always been a spiritual one, walked hand-in-hand with her Lord. So it also feels important to share an update about that path as well.
Recently, Jessica decided to go back to her childhood parish to spend some time in prayer. She reached out to me afterwards to share her experience of hope and healing through that prayer time. This is what she had to say:
“I was incredibly anxious about going. At first I was overwhelmed with anxiety, and it was painful being there. As I stayed and prayed, so many memories came flooding back. Dark and difficult ones - memories of the priest who abused me and of going there so many times over the years with my broken heart. But also beautiful memories - the first time I heard the Lord’s voice, the first time I felt His presence, so many times of grace after that. I felt the stark contrast of having come to know evil there, but also, so much more, having come to know the Lord. I was overwhelmed by His goodness - how He found me there, such a broken, lost little girl, and how much He came to me, even then. Such darkness and such Light collided there…and how resoundingly the Light has won! It did not feel that way, all those years I was sitting in that church. There were moments He broke through the dark, but I couldn’t see then what I see now.”
“I think the whole Church is experiencing something like that now. The darkness feels overwhelming, and certainly it is such a real and oppressive thing. But still the Lord is here, teaching us who He is. The Light is not only not overcome by the darkness; He changes the darkness itself.”
It seems fitting to share Jessica’s reflection on darkness and light during this season of Advent, when the whole Church is meditating on the tension between these two realities.
Personally, I know how easy it can be to feel swallowed up by the darkness, especially when spending so much time focused on the most awful experiences of evil in my Church.
But Jessica’s courage gives me hope. Her persistence teaches me that all things are possible with God. And her faith reminds me that we worship a God who comes into this world to defeat the darkness.
O come, Thou Dayspring from on high,
And cheer us by Thy drawing nigh;
Disperse the gloomy clouds of night
And death's dark shadows put to flight.
Rejoice! Rejoice! Emmanuel
Shall come to thee, O Israel.
A note to my readers: Starting this weekend, I am going to be taking a much-needed break over the holidays. I will be travelling with my family, spending time in prayer, and trying to stay away from this heavy work for a little while. So, barring any major news, there will be no new blog posts or Facebook updates until after I return on January 5. In the meantime, I hope we can all focus on welcoming Christ, the Light of the World.
Come, Lord Jesus, come.