Patsy Seeley, pictured at age 5, was sexually abused by her grandfather and then a priest from ages 4-11. (Courtesy Patsy Seeley)
Patsy Seeley, pictured at age 5, was sexually abused by her grandfather and then a priest from ages 4-11. (Courtesy Patsy Seeley)

The lacerating grand jury report on sexual abuse by Catholic clergy in Pennsylvania and the alleged crimes of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of Washington, D.C., have left many in and outside the church trying to discern what went wrong, who is to blame and where the church should go from here.

For victims of clergy abuse, the recent revelations rouse familiar pain.

“I’ve been somewhat sarcastically telling others, ‘Welcome to my world,’ as we survivors have been living these realities for a long time,” said Deborah Rodriguez, a Catholic physician in the Seattle Archdiocese who was abused by priests as a child.

Laity as well as clergy and religious are heartbroken and enraged at the reports of abuse, and many wonder what action they can take. Here are suggestions from Rodriguez and two fellow survivors and practicing Catholics.

— Pray. Pray for the healing of all survivors and their families, said Rodriguez in an open letter she recently posted to a Catholic Facebook group. “Pray for the holy priests who now bear the burden of the sins of others. Pray for the conversion of bishops and other leaders. Pray for each other.”

— Offer compassion. Catholics must keep expressing compassion not just for victims but also to their family members, said Teresa Pitt Green, a Virginia-based writer who was sexually abused by Catholic priests for 10 years and now works with dioceses to integrate faith with recovery.

— Listen to each other. “We as a church must open our hearts to another’s sorrow and sadness,” Rodriguez said in her letter. “Survivors have felt alone too long.” While some may eventually feel clergy abuse fatigue, people must be willing to listen and be open to the hurt, added Oregon Catholic Patsy Seeley, who was sexually abused by a priest until he was transferred.

— Learn. Learn about the effects of trauma and abuse and about spiritual warfare. “This is a spiritual battle,” said Rodriguez in her Facebook letter. “Pray the rosary, read Scripture, recite spiritual warfare prayers.”

— Provide encouragement. “I’ve noticed the suffering of priests about how their fellow brothers could do this,” said Seeley, who believes local priests aren’t always getting the support they need. “There are some who hesitate to wear their Roman collars, who have been spit upon and called nasty names,” she said. 

— Priests, deacons, religious: Get trained in trauma-informed ministry. “This is a suffering time and therefore an evangelical watershed where they can and must engage deeper in the suffering with true respect and awareness,” Green said.

— Receive the sacraments. “I remain a faithful Catholic because of Jesus’ promise and because I encounter the living God in the sacraments,” said Rodriguez in her Facebook post.

— Be open to the Holy Spirit. Allow the Holy Spirit to guide you, said Rodriguez. “We are one family, the body of Christ. We have work to do, but I take Jesus at his word: He will never abandon us. He will come to us when we call. Call upon Jesus, cast all your fears on him. He is the way, the truth, the life.”