WASHINGTON (CNS) – Sexual assault victims say they were hurt not only by individual priests but also by church officials and ordinary Catholics who treated them with intolerance and indifference.
Several survivors of sexual assaults by priests shared their stories with Catholic News Service, including Jim VanSickle and Judy Larson of Utah.
Many of them have not been to a Catholic church in years. They say the atmosphere of their former parishes created breeding grounds for abuse due to the hardhearted attitudes of diocesan officials, staff and ordinary churchgoers.
“Being raised Catholic, I remember – you don’t speak out against your own church,” said VanSickle. “Nobody’s going to listen to you.”
Most of them belonged to extremely traditional parishes and were attacked as vulnerable children. Their view of Catholicism changed when fellow believers showed them no compassion and acted to protect selfish interests.
“I’ve known others that came forward. They were ridiculed and ostracized – even by their own family members,” said VanSickle, 55. He stood next to Attorney General Josh Shapiro when grand jury findings were released to the public Aug. 14. He had suffered silently for 37 years after being sexually abused by a priest at age 16.
“We lived in a neighborhood where most of the people in the subdivision were Catholic. Everything in our lives revolved around the church,” said Larson. “To be in that kind of environment and try to say something horrible happened to you, by a person everybody thinks is a god on earth, you’re all alone.”