Do I need to confess the abuse I endured?

DEAR FATHER:

Father, I have a question for you. A few years ago, my sister went to my 85-year-old mother and revealed a period of incestuous molestation that one of my brothers perpetuated against her, myself, and another sister. I have buried this for years and never thought of it until her revelation. I have always been faithful to the Mass and sacraments, but now I feel as if all my life has been a lie. I have never confessed this and still have not brought myself to do this. I am not regularly attending Mass; I feel I am unworthy. Have I received the Eucharist in a state of sin since I have not confessed this? I am not sure where to begin to come back to what my faith and beliefs were before this was revealed. Any words would certainly help! God bless you, Father! — MARY

DEAR MARY: 

First, I wish to express my deepest sympathy for the pain you are feeling. Most of us cannot even imagine the suffering that this terrible abuse has caused you and your family. You and your entire family are in my prayers, and I offered a Mass for your healing and reconciliation.

Second, you should not think that you committed sin when you were molested. You are the victim of a terrible assault on your person. You are not at fault for this grave injustice. Objectively, your brother committed a serious sin against you and your sisters. We cannot judge his subjective state (then or now), but objectively his crimes were grave sins and did real damage to you and your family. You do not need to confess this situation, but if you believe it may help your confessor and/or spiritual director to know about this, you can mention it at your next confession or appointment.

Third, as hard as it may be, you must try to forgive your brother for this sin. When the Lord asks us “to forgive from the heart” (see Matthew 18:35), he does not mean for us to pretend that the harm never happened or that what was done to us was not evil. Rather, to forgive “bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2844).

In fact, when we pray the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us (see Mathew 6:9-13). As paragraph 2840 of the Catechism puts it: 

Now — and this is daunting — this outpouring of mercy [God’s mercy on us] cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see [see 1 John 4:20]. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace. 

You were greatly wronged, but you must ask God for the grace needed to forgive your brother from your heart.

While it is understandable and natural to feel revulsion about the evil you endured, you must not let this violation rob you of your peace or joy. These are great gifts given to us by God. Your brother’s assault on you is disturbing, but you cannot let it disturb your faith. 

Fourth, from the way you describe your current emotional situation, I highly recommend that you seek counseling to help you deal with this assault. I know from firsthand experience that sometimes we need the help of experts to help us deal with difficult and painful situations in our lives. It is not a sign of weakness but of strength to recognize this need and to seek appropriate professional help. When we are seriously ill, we need a doctor, and sometimes we need a mental health specialist to help heal emotionally as well. 

Last, but certainly not least, let me assure you that your life has not been a lie. You are a beloved daughter of a loving and good divine Father who finds you beautiful and adorable. You have suffered a great injustice, but this in no way diminishes your value or your worth. You are precious in the eyes of the Lord (see Isaiah 43:4; Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 139:13-16; 1 John 3:1-2). You have not sinned in this matter — you were sinned against. You have not been receiving the Eucharist unworthily. Please come back to the Body of Christ — the Church and the Eucharist. The Lord loves you with an infinite love, and he is calling you by name to receive his healing and his grace (see John 3:16).

If it would aid you in coming back, you might wish to seek the sacrament of Reconciliation, giving all of this to the Lord. He is kind and merciful (see Psalm 103:8; 145:8) and wants nothing more than to fill you with peace and joy. 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

DEAR FATHER:

Father, I have a question for you. A few years ago, my sister went to my 85-year-old mother and revealed a period of incestuous molestation that one of my brothers perpetuated against her, myself, and another sister. I have buried this for years and never thought of it until her revelation. I have always been faithful to the Mass and sacraments, but now I feel as if all my life has been a lie. I have never confessed this and still have not brought myself to do this. I am not regularly attending Mass; I feel I am unworthy. Have I received the Eucharist in a state of sin since I have not confessed this? I am not sure where to begin to come back to what my faith and beliefs were before this was revealed. Any words would certainly help! God bless you, Father! — MARY

DEAR MARY: 

First, I wish to express my deepest sympathy for the pain you are feeling. Most of us cannot even imagine the suffering that this terrible abuse has caused you and your family. You and your entire family are in my prayers, and I offered a Mass for your healing and reconciliation.

Second, you should not think that you committed sin when you were molested. You are the victim of a terrible assault on your person. You are not at fault for this grave injustice. Objectively, your brother committed a serious sin against you and your sisters. We cannot judge his subjective state (then or now), but objectively his crimes were grave sins and did real damage to you and your family. You do not need to confess this situation, but if you believe it may help your confessor and/or spiritual director to know about this, you can mention it at your next confession or appointment.

Third, as hard as it may be, you must try to forgive your brother for this sin. When the Lord asks us “to forgive from the heart” (see Matthew 18:35), he does not mean for us to pretend that the harm never happened or that what was done to us was not evil. Rather, to forgive “bears witness that, in our world, love is stronger than sin” (Catechism of the Catholic Church, 2844).

In fact, when we pray the Our Father, we ask God to forgive us as we forgive those who trespass against us (see Mathew 6:9-13). As paragraph 2840 of the Catechism puts it: 

Now — and this is daunting — this outpouring of mercy [God’s mercy on us] cannot penetrate our hearts as long as we have not forgiven those who have trespassed against us. Love, like the Body of Christ, is indivisible; we cannot love the God we cannot see if we do not love the brother or sister we do see [see 1 John 4:20]. In refusing to forgive our brothers and sisters, our hearts are closed and their hardness makes them impervious to the Father’s merciful love; but in confessing our sins, our hearts are opened to his grace. 

You were greatly wronged, but you must ask God for the grace needed to forgive your brother from your heart.

While it is understandable and natural to feel revulsion about the evil you endured, you must not let this violation rob you of your peace or joy. These are great gifts given to us by God. Your brother’s assault on you is disturbing, but you cannot let it disturb your faith. 

Fourth, from the way you describe your current emotional situation, I highly recommend that you seek counseling to help you deal with this assault. I know from firsthand experience that sometimes we need the help of experts to help us deal with difficult and painful situations in our lives. It is not a sign of weakness but of strength to recognize this need and to seek appropriate professional help. When we are seriously ill, we need a doctor, and sometimes we need a mental health specialist to help heal emotionally as well. 

Last, but certainly not least, let me assure you that your life has not been a lie. You are a beloved daughter of a loving and good divine Father who finds you beautiful and adorable. You have suffered a great injustice, but this in no way diminishes your value or your worth. You are precious in the eyes of the Lord (see Isaiah 43:4; Jeremiah 31:3; Psalm 139:13-16; 1 John 3:1-2). You have not sinned in this matter — you were sinned against. You have not been receiving the Eucharist unworthily. Please come back to the Body of Christ — the Church and the Eucharist. The Lord loves you with an infinite love, and he is calling you by name to receive his healing and his grace (see John 3:16).

If it would aid you in coming back, you might wish to seek the sacrament of Reconciliation, giving all of this to the Lord. He is kind and merciful (see Psalm 103:8; 145:8) and wants nothing more than to fill you with peace and joy. 

“May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that you may abound in hope by the power of the holy Spirit” (Romans 15:13).

abuseAsk FatherConfessionMsgr. Stuart Swetland
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