The continued evasion perpetuated by the Catholic Church is nothing short of a denial of the pain and suffering that countless children who are now adults continue to suffer.

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THE recent story in The Seattle Times of one man’s struggle to heal from being sexually abused while a student at St. Benedict School in Wallingford brings to light both the lifelong, often silent, struggle for those who have been sexually victimized in childhood and also the critical need for adults to act when children divulge abuse.

Steve O’Connor’s story [“Victim speaks out on archdiocese’s omissions from list of accused child sex abusers,” Jan. 25] depicts the all-too-familiar pattern for sexually abused children who grow into adulthood carrying the secret of abuse. Many, if not most, victims wait decades before coming forward to speak of the abuse. In that time, they carry on with life, attempting to outpace the self-doubt, the fears and the pervasive and often debilitating sense of shame.

Unfortunately, the effects of the childhood violation of one’s body and ability to feel safe in the world do not dissipate as time passes. The demands and responsibilities of adulthood, including the need and desire to form close relationships, actually compound the effects of abuse, often leading to struggles with anxiety, deep depression, addictions and a number of other chronic mental and physical difficulties across a lifetime.

Get help if you suspect child abuse or have been sexually abused

State Child Protective Services (CPS), 866-ENDHARM (866-363- 4276)

Hotlines for help and treatment:

• Harborview Center for Sexual Assault and Traumatic Stress: 206-744-1600

• King County Sexual Assault Resource Center’s 24-hour resource line: 888-998-6423

O’Connor’s outrage that the Seattle Archdiocese’s list of known perpetrators did not include the name of his perpetrator, who was a teacher and principal at his school, is justifiable. The need for accountability provides validation of the life-altering harm that was done. The continued confusion and evasion perpetuated by the Catholic Church is nothing short of a denial of the pain and suffering that countless children who are now adults continue to suffer.

Janice Palm is the executive director of Shepherd’s Counseling Services in Seattle, a non-church-related nonprofit that provides affordable therapy to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.
Janice Palm is the executive director of Shepherd’s Counseling Services in Seattle, a non-church-related nonprofit that provides affordable therapy to adult survivors of childhood sexual abuse.

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Certainly, and regrettably, the harm caused cannot be undone. Offering sincere and thorough transparency that allows victims to receive the vindication they deserve seems to be the least the church can offer.

It is stunning and heartbreaking to read of O’Connor’s efforts to tell of the abuse at the time it was occurring and of the denial and threats he received from those who had the ability to intervene to end the abuse. It is nearly impossible to imagine anyone, much less someone in authority, silencing a child’s plea for help with such vicious and intimidating threats, virtually ensuring both the continuation of the abuse and the victimized child’s sense of isolation and powerlessness.

This is all the more reason for those who are currently in power to take an honest and honorable stand to acknowledge and take responsibility for the wrong that was done under the watchful eye of the church.

If there is a lesson to emerge from this difficult story that could help us all to protect children, it is the reminder of the absolutely critical need for adults to be aware of the vulnerability of all children, to know the signs that a child may be abused and, most important, to listen and believe a child who dares to tell of being abused. We know from statistics that the majority of children never speak up about their abuse. And, incomprehensibly, when children do gather the incredible courage necessary to risk divulging their terrible secret, they are not always believed.

The reflexive need to turn away from the horrible reality of an adult sexually abusing a child, thus protecting the abuser, appears to be all too common. We know the certain outcome of this egregious failure: Children are left to silently bear continued abuse and a lifetime of nearly unbearable struggle and abusers remain at large, free to continue to perpetrate.

It is the job of all adults, most certainly those in positions of authority, to unequivocally put the needs of each and every child before their own, to be alert to the opportunity and the signs of abuse and, most of all, to listen and believe a child who asks for help.

This is what Steve O’Connor desperately needed and what every child deserves.