An Update from Jessica: "My Heart Can Find No Peace"
If you are a regular reader of this blog, I know you remember Jessica. I first shared her story back in August 2019, as a series of blog posts that chronicled her abuse at the hands of a childhood priest, the painful process of reporting this abuse to her diocese, and the eventual conclusion of the diocesan review board that found her allegation “unsubstantiated.” I know that many of you were deeply moved by Jessica’s story, as well as her faith, so I shared an update in December 2019 to let you know how she was feeling after a few months had gone by. This post included information about her ongoing interaction with diocesan staff members and her continued search for healing.
Nine more months have passed since that last update, and in that time, Jessica and I have become close friends, sharing the ups and downs of life along with a small community of survivors that have come together to offer mutual friendship and support.
Now, Jessica has once again asked me to share an update, as well as a request for help. I’ll get to that request at the end, but first, I invited Jessica to share a bit about how she is doing these days.
“I am doing really well,” Jessica writes. “These past months have had many challenges for me, as they’ve had for everyone, but the Lord continues to meet me in my most wounded places and bring His presence and healing. So, even if at times the road has been rough, there is a deep peace and gratitude for that presence.”
This summer, Jessica received an invitation from her diocese to offer feedback as they reevaluate their protocols for informing a person after a decision is made about their allegations. The way that the diocese notified Jessica about her case caused her great pain in 2015, and again in 2019, so she accepted this invitation in hopes of helping shape a more compassionate response for the next victim who comes forward. “I believe that they are sincerely trying to create a process that will better serve survivors,” says Jessica, “and that is very encouraging.” While Jessica trusts the good intentions of the individuals she is working with at the diocese, these interactions are still difficult. “It creates a lot of anxiety - brings it all back up - but I am also deeply grateful, because it allows me to see some good that the Lord is bringing from all of the struggle and heartache.”
Jessica’s diocese is also trying to develop resources that will support survivors. They have started live streaming a monthly rosary to pray for abuse survivors and are offering an ongoing survivor support group. The Victim Assistance Coordinator’s job title has been changed to "Victim Care Advocate," and her role seems to be changing and expanding. “She has been very open and supportive to me,” Jessica says. “I can’t emphasize enough how important I think this is, as it puts a caring human face on the whole process, which was lacking before.”
However, Jessica’s relationship with her diocese is still complicated: “At its very roots is a dichotomy I find difficult to wrap my mind around. How can I be seen in their eyes as both a victim-survivor to support and also someone whose allegation was not substantiated? I was invited to the support group but decided I could not be part of it. How could I feel truly safe or supported by people who, when all is said and done, do not believe that I was abused by a priest? Who continue to allow him to minister at a parish and be around a school? At the same time, I also recognize that I would be even more heartbroken if they did not invite me.”
While the diocesan-sponsored support group was not a good option for Jessica, she is grateful to have found another opportunity to connect with fellow survivors. “By far the greatest gift of the last few months has been a small group of other survivors I have been blessed to get to know and walk with,” she explains. “Their faith and courage and friendship have deeply impacted me, and they are such a gift and encouragement. They remind me that in our group the Church is present, and they have shown me that I can trust and be safe in community again.”
As I mentioned, the main purpose of this blog post is to ask for your help. While Jessica reported her abuse to her diocese, her allegations was deemed “unsubstantiated,” and her abuser remains in ministry at a local parish. (She has also reported her abuse to the Kansas Bureau of Investigation, but they are unable to act because her abuse falls outside of the statute of limitations.)
At every step in this process, Jessica has been prayerfully discerning what she feels God is calling her to do. Lately, she has been feeling increasingly unsettled about where things stand.
Jessica explains: “As a new school year is starting, I find that my heart can find no peace. So, after a lengthy time of prayer and discernment, I feel that the Lord is again asking me to speak and move. Through this whole process, I have tried hard to discern and do what He asks, and only what He asks, trusting that He sees so much more than I do, and that He knows what needs to happen when.”
Jessica has discerned that her next step is to make an effort to connect with any other victims who were abused at her school. While she hopes that she is the only victim, if there are others out there, she believes that their stories might be able to help remove this priest from ministry.
With this intention, Jessica wants to share these details: Her abuse took place at Most Pure Heart of Mary School in Topeka, Kansas, in 1995/1996. Jessica believes this priest was also present at the school for several years before and after this abuse.
Here’s how you can help:
If you had an experience at Most Pure Heart of Mary School in this timeframe that might be connected with Jessica’s abuse, would you please reach out to me at email@example.com? Any information you share will be held in strictest confidence, and we will not pressure you to take any action you are not ready for. Simply knowing that there is someone else out there would be really helpful to Jessica.
If you attended Most Pure Heart of Mary during these years, please share this blog post with any past classmates (or staff) you are able to contact.
If neither of these apply to you, would you please consider sharing this blog post widely, particularly with any contacts you have in Kansas?
We have also reached out the local chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP) to ask if they happen to be in touch with any other victims, and Jessica has contacted the investigator at the Kansas Bureau of Investigation to see if they can be of any help.
Jessica offers this message for any other survivors who may see this post: “While I hope so much that there is not another victim out there, if there is and they happen to read this, I am sure they are afraid. And they probably feel alone and overwhelmed. I pray that they experience a deep sense of the Lord’s presence today, and rest in knowing that He will give them the courage for whatever He calls them to do.”
Will you join me in praying for Jessica today?
Lord, thank you for Jessica, for her compassionate heart and her deep faith.
Thank you for being with her in the darkest times and leading her always toward your light. Please be close to her right now and give her your strength and peace.
If there are other victims from her school, please help us to connect with them.
In all of this, may your will be done.
PS: If you would like to pass a message of support along to Jessica, you can leave a public comment on this blog post or on the In Spirit and Truth Facebook page, or you can send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org, which I will pass along to Jessica. Your support does mean a lot.