Reclaiming My Faith

girl in pain

girl in pain

Two-and-a-half years ago, I was prepared to walk away from the Catholic Church, along with my family. The reasons are personal, yet quite universal. Although our experience is deeply painful and private, and our recovery ongoing, sharing it now is quite cathartic, and will hopefully help others who feel disenfranchised.

After the Boston Globe exposed sex abuse in the Catholic Church, and the subsequent deceit and deception among the leadership of the Church, we thought  the Church leadership learned their lesson never to repeat those mistakes. But what my family and I witnessed during our own ordeal is that the lessons learned are simply to have better legal representation, while continuing to perform in their own best interest.

We walked away from our experience with three difficult realities confirmed: 1) Most schools are run as businesses, not ministries; 2) Not all shepherds wish to shepherd their sheep; 3) Our expectations of Church leaders are unrealistic.

Shattered Faith

Our family supported and promoted the Catholic educational system for 10 years. From preschool to eighth grade, we watched our daughter blossom in the Catholic environment; receiving the Marian Award (most like Mary), Citizenship Award (service to others), Altar Server (yes, I know), D.A.R.E. Girl Award (most likely to live free of drug/alcohol) and Junior Honor Society. Even one of her Dominican teachers confided, “She’s nun material, you know.” So it only seemed natural that we continue the Catholic tradition into high school.

Three months into her freshman year, our daughter made a prophetic statement: “This isn’t the school you think it is, Mom.” Her father and I dismissed the statement as merely part of transition into high school; an assumption we regret.

A year later in her sophomore year, our daughter survived a sexual assault on the campus of the school. The attack occurred after school while she and literally hundreds of students were waiting outside for their rides home. The assailant grabbed her cell phone and took off running into a building where other students and adults were present. Knowing that every teenager has a personal connection with their phone, the assailant knew she would follow him. But what our daughter did not know was the 6’-2” 210 lb. classmate had a “history of inappropriate behavior towards girls on the campus” and was poised, waiting for her in a remote part of the building.

The rest is documented. Legal limitations, and self-preservation, prohibit me from sharing anymore about the incident, or the nature of the legal claims. We removed our daughter immediately from the school. Filed legal action. Began homeschooling. Began therapy. Survived one suicide attempt. Witnessed deceit and deception by both the school and the diocese. School clergy never reached out to us in an effort to help our daughter heal. Every attempt to meet with the bishop to seek his help in spiritual healing was ignored, including three certified letters. A Vatican representative failed to respond to two certified letters requesting intervention. Thus, the school, the diocese, and the Church failed two children under their care. One student did not receive a safe environment or the love of the Church in healing, while the other student was emboldened by never facing consequences, or receiving the professional therapy he obviously required, while continuing to actively participate on the football team.

Sadly, our family were the only ones surprised by these events.

According to education attorneys, peer on peer sexual assaults on primary and secondary school campuses are quite prevalent. There are cases that involve students as young as second grade. It is important that parents recognize that schools are businesses. In these assault cases, school officials will, and do, take whatever steps necessary to maintain their Title IX funding and donor contributions, even sacrificing a student or two, while impugning the family’s reputation in the process. This fact holds true for both public and religious schools. Of course, this reality is most difficult for Catholic families to accept. Such behavior blatantly defies Christ’s teaching. We must remember, however, that Catholic institutions are run by fallible human beings, often employing non-Catholics who lack respect for Catholic teaching. For those who are Catholic, they often replace Church teaching with moral relativism.

Mass Exodus

When adversity challenges your life, you have your faith and your church to sustain you. Imagine for a moment your life without your faith; no church to call upon for counsel, spiritual healing, or guidance.

At the onset of our ordeal, our parish priest met with us privately to offer healing. As an alumnus of the school, he was not surprised by how we were treated, saying, “The outcome will probably not be what you expect.” It wasn’t.  The diocesan Safe Environment Coordinator, who was never notified about the incident, apologized to us profusely after meeting with him at the request of our pastor. The SE Coordinator advised us . . . “the bishop will never respond to you, preferring to let the diocesan attorney take care of it. That’s how he prefers to work. I certainly do not agree with that approach.”

Apparently, some bishops prefer not to smell like their sheep, as Pope Francis suggests.

Then our parish pastor took a sabbatical due to health concerns, making him unavailable to continue counseling with us. After all that we had experienced and witnessed, we frankly didn’t trust any other clergy.

Attending Mass was no longer a blessing, but a torture. It served as a trigger for our daughter. Post Traumatic Stress Disorder was so intense until the experience was debilitating for her. Assault victims do not want to be touched by strangers. Mass only made it worse. The announcement before Mass to “take a moment to turn  and greet someone sitting near you”  triggered severe panic disorder. The Sign of Peace gave her no peace. Touching strangers is triggering. Her injury was deep; her spiritual wound an abyss of constant pain and suffering. She was robbed of everything she trusted and believed in by the very Church that taught her to believe that she is loved by God and His Holy Church through First Communion and Confirmation.

Our daughter felt betrayed and unworthy. She heard the attorneys reference how the school was protecting the boy because of his football ranking, which they did, she asked, “Why wasn’t I worthy of protecting?”  Why indeed! Aren’t all children worthy of protection?

Witnessing her torment impacted me and her father deeply. We all dreaded dragging ourselves to Mass. There were times when we would walk into the church only to turn around and leave due to her PTSD. Our saving grace became televised services, the Rosary, and family prayer.

A State of Being

One morning, I awoke in a deep spiritual exhaustion. I texted my dear friend, Cathy, reaching out in despair; “I am so tired. I quit. I just don’t want to be a member of the Catholic Church anymore.”

Now Cathy is a woman of deep discernment and fortitude with a dry wit and an extensive understanding of Church doctrine. She is one of the many grounded and faithful Catholic women I am blessed to know. Within a couple of minutes, I received the response only she could deliver, “The Church is not a country club. You can’t just quit. Being Catholic is a state of being.”

Simultaneously my friend and spiritual mentor, Debi, sent me this strong message: “You don’t throw the baby out with the bathwater. You can’t leave the Church. The Church needs you.”

In the days that followed every Scripture I read, every prayer I prayed, every Church doctrine I researched, all fueled my passion to reclaim my faith, re-enforce it and impart that knowledge to my daughter and husband. I immersed myself in the writings of the Desert Fathers, Henri Nouwen, St. Thomas Aquinas and St. Augustine, while Scripture resonated our responsibility to hold our prelates accountable. (1 Timothy 5) Soon I was infused with the Holy Spirit. Jesus was betrayed by those He loved and believed in, and He didn’t let them detract from His purpose in life. And my purpose as a mother holds a high calling.

“It must be observed, however, that if the faith were endangered, a subject ought to rebuke his prelate even publicly.”  –  St. Thomas Aquinas (Summa Theologica II, II, q. 33, a. 45)

The Body of Christ

If the Catholic Church is the Body of Christ on earth, established on the shoulders of Peter, a fallible man who denied Christ three times, what makes us believe that any one of us, including the clergy, are infallible just because we call ourselves Catholic Christians? When someone discerns their vocation in life and chooses to serve Christ, and His Church, as a religious, they are not guaranteed immunity from sin. In fact, they are more guaranteed to suffer greater because of sin. Who would bring Satan more joy and victory than a Catholic priest, bishop, monk, or nun who lives a pious life outwardly, but embraces sin and falls from the pedestal we create for them? Did not Satan tempt Jesus in the desert?

As the Body of Christ, we are all called to lift up one another in prayer, in counsel, and in admonishment. “Iron sharpens iron, and one man sharpens another.” (Prov 27:17) If we cannot lift up our own, who are we fooling?

When schools and churches strain to protect their reputations and finances at the risk of destroying the souls they vowed to protect, they are greater than hypocrites. For causing a child to lose his faith is a great sin.

“Jesus said to his disciples: “Things that cause people to stumble are bound to come, but woe to anyone through whom they come.  It would be better for them to be thrown into the sea with a millstone tied around their neck than to cause one of these little ones to stumble. So watch yourselves.” (Luke 17 :1-3)

The Other Side of the Mountain

With any loss there is grieving. Recovery from a sexual assault is a long process of grief. You never quite forget, because there is always something to trigger a memory of what was lost and what might have been. Your body and spirit struggle to manage the pain. You are at great risk to develop eating disorders, insomnia, panic attacks, social anxiety, and self-harm behavior, as a way to cope with the trauma.  And your recovery is ten-times harder to manage when the faith foundation you were taught to rely upon crumbles. You must reclaim yourself in the midst of rebuilding whatever faith you have left. You question everything. You trust nothing. Having a good therapist is essential. After two therapists that were more interested in money than results, we found a Catholic-raised therapist who respects the importance of spiritual healing. She has supported us and worked tirelessly to impart the truth to our daughter; “God did not do this to you. Man did. There is a difference.” The message is slowly being embraced.

Today, we keep our eyes firmly fixed on Christ. Recovery on all levels continues. Our ordeal has made us acutely aware that all Christians are fallible and susceptible to moral relativism, even those who lead within the Church and Catholic institutions. Scripture and Church doctrine clearly define the responsibilities of the shepherd, as well as the sheep. (1 Timothy 5:17-21(1 Peter 5:1-4) Make no mistake, we are to forgive. And with each occasion of sin and suffering, trials and tribulations that we survive, we become the wounded healers for others. For I truly now appreciate:

“The great illusion of leadership is to think that man can be led out of the desert by someone who has never been there.” 
― Henri J.M. Nouwen, The Wounded Healer: Ministry in Contemporary Society

And so my ministry begins.

© 2016. Diane McKelva. All rights reserved.

“I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.”

– St. Paul to the Romans 8:18 –


UPDATE: We recently learned the reason why the Papal Nuncio never responded to our repeated requests for intervention. He was rather busy destroying evidence.  Vatican Papal Aide Told Bishops to Destroy Evidence Two Years Ago of Sexual Abuse

Postscript: Ms. McKelva has retired from Catholic Apologetics to focus on her family’s continued healing and recovery. She is grateful for the prayers and support from the staff of Catholic Stand and her readers.



104 thoughts on “Reclaiming My Faith”

  1. Pingback: Divine Roots of American Democracy - Catholic Stand : Catholic Stand

  2. Marion (Máel Mhuire)

    Diane, this is such a sad, horrible story. I want to encourage you and your family to be open to God’s leading you into a new land . . . a land well away from the old land containing the horror you all have gone through. Indeed, the land of the valley of the shadow of death. The Lord has been with you through it all, His rod and His staff giving you courage. Now His rod and His staff shall lead you into a land of light and newness of life.

    Let the Lord handle those who betrayed your little one (she will always be her parents’ “little one”) and who betrayed your trust in them. Leave them to God. They are deficient, like defective equipment you might buy at the hardware store. They look good; they are where they are supposed to be, but when they are tried in action, they fall to pieces and let you down. Place them and their failures and defects into the Lord’s hands. Trust Him to make right what needs to made right in His time, in His way.

    Ask Him to help your family wrap it all up – the entire disastrous, heart-breaking, soul-searing mess – and hand it off to the Master. Let Him take it. Let Him deal with it. And trust Him with it.

    I have had a family situation, completely different from your family’s story, of course. A family situation in which my mother took in my brother and his wife and children after his career went south. The couple gradually took over our mother’s home and finances and isolated her from her own grandchildren, as “punishment” when she tried to set boundaries in her own home. (Mom was a very low-key, mellow, and gentle individual, believe me, almost to a fault. She put up with their abuse for years for the sake of her grandchildren.) When she became ill with the disease that ultimately killed her, and had to sell the house, my brother and the family accepted a large gift of money from her, and moved 3,000 miles away. She died without ever seeing her five grandchildren again. And I know that she was hanging on in the hospice . . . hoping . . . hoping that her daughter-in-law would relent and allow at least one of them to fly back so she could be reunited one last time, and say good-bye . . . until at last she couldn’t hold on anymore and died. Meanwhile the rest of the extended family, for some reason, were very sympathetic toward the abuser, and for a long time, defended her, and I found myself having to defend my own actions in trying to stick up for Mom. It was a disaster.

    Throughout all this, my heart gradually turned to stone, frozen stone, filled up with dry sand, for a very long time. I was filled with bewilderment, and with hate. God was merciful to me, and I had good habits, and continued to function fairly well, attending properly to the duties of my state in life. But on the inside, living with the hate in my heart, I fell apart, emotionally speaking, so much so, that I became ill with fibromyalgia.

    This is not about me; it’s about you. I’m telling you my story because I want you to know others do know what injustice and abuse and betrayal of one you love, feel like. And only God can take away the pain, and make things right. And He will, for you, too, as He has been doing for me. I know He will.

    God bless you, and trust Him – trust Him.

    1. Thank you, Marion, for taking the time to read my article and then to share your struggles with me. I admire your courage and your willingness to share your struggle. You are blessed to have found priests that supported you in your journey. And yes, in time, God heals all wounds and we are stronger for having endured, trusting Him. Peace be with you.

  3. For those of you still following the comments to this article, let me share something with you that I also shared with another commenter. If our purpose in sharing this experience was intended to defame and shame an already wounded Church, I would have written this article 2-1/2 years ago, sold it to a secular publication, and provided all the salacious details with names and references. But at the wise counsel of my spiritual director, I took the time to allow God to work. I chose to remain respectful and dignified and not to turn these events into a tabloid story. Doing so serves no healing purpose. And yes, I trusted Jesus to tell me when the time was right. My daughter has suffered greatly, and I have to witness that suffering every single day of recovery. We are still on a journey toward healing. This is not a case of he said/ she said. We have evidence that the boy provided us, texting us asking us not to report him for what he did, because he hopes to be in the NFL one day. I have never until now identified that the assailant was a black student, non-Catholic, on full scholarship to the school (because of his athletic ranking), living in the subsidized housing, single mother, no father in the picture, grandparents helping to raise – and that he reached out to us asking that we not report him for what he did. (He knew what he did was wrong.) And yet with that evidence, the school, Church and Vatican proceeded to look out for their own best interest and not the boy’s or our daughter’s. The boy was removed from the school a year after the assault due to other complaints.

  4. You made a mistake in attending Latin Mass. Tridentinism is dead! Go back to an Ordo Missae parish and relearn everything!

    1. Really, Jeanne? You had to take the time to post here to chastise us in our healing? Latin Mass has been a blessing toward our healing. I will never attend any other Mass. And that is our choice. We should never criticize others for where they feel the closest to Christ in the Mass.

    2. What a nasty, uncharitable and non-Catholic comment to make toward someone with enough courage to tell her very personal story of sexual abuse. Perhaps it is YOU who need to go to your Ordo Missae parish and find the Confessional.

    3. Birgit Atherton Jones

      What a sad state of affairs when that’s all you can come up with as a comment. It appears that Diane has found exactly the right to heal – spiritually and emotionally. Perhaps you harbor some resentment about things of which you know little. Pray for understanding, love, and mercy. No matter which form of Mass we attend, that is the lesson from our Lord!

    4. The Latin mass is available for good reasons. It is not appropriate for us to judge the need of the attendees, in fact it is quite presumptuous for any to do so.

  5. I have the deepest sympathy for those caught up in situations where people in an organization, thought to be trustworthy, are betrayed. Not without cause did Dante place the offenders in the innermost region of hell. At the same time, it takes real effort and courage to rise above the individual or group and look to the goodness of the organization. Unfortunately, there have been many who were unable to do that, through no fault of their own.

  6. Thank you and God bless you for sharing the way out of the desert. You gave me so much strenght! Praying for you from Romania.

  7. We need the Church because everyone sins. We know this and yet it is so easy to look at priests, men who literally serve in the place of Christ on Earth, as being some how beyond our weaknesses. Unfortunately we are too often reminded they are not.

    Thank you for sharing your story, and your family and daughter will be in my prayers.

    1. Thank you, MarylandBill. Yes, you are correct. We often play our clergy on pedestals, believing that since they took a vow they are somehow less vulnerable to sin. Columnist David Roney wrote on that very topic not long ago. Thank you for your prayers and kindness. Peace be with you.

  8. Diane, thank you for sharing your story. I have worked in the Church for almost 20 years at both parish and diocesan levels, and sadly, I could share dozens more stories like what you recount. I left the private sector as an attorney but also have my masters in theology. Many times I have considered leaving the Church and the faith based on the horrors of scandal… but where else can I go? And if people like myself abandon ship, where the prophetic voices come from? There is much evil (humanity) within the Church. I’m not sure this reply will sit well w/ many that read here … but I will say it. The problem is the priestly culture (secrecy, excessive privileges) of the Church. There is not enough transparency, checks and balances. No where in Scripture is the current structure required. Priests are ordained and become “wards” of the Church for life under canon law. More should be defrocked, let go than are. Many are lazy, incompetent, too disordered for ministry, corrupt and some should be imprisoned. There needs to be more “lay” involvement and oversight of priest personnel and Church organizational structures.

    1. Voice, thank you for taking the share your thoughts, even though you feared how your comments might be taken.

      There are two statements you make above that rang true for me. “And if people like myself abandon ship, where the prophetic voices come from?” Amen. The disciples didn’t abandon Jesus, because of Judas.

      And “There is not enough transparency, checks and balances. No where in Scripture is the current structure required. Priests are ordained and become “wards” of the Church for life under canon law. More should be defrocked, let go than are. Many are lazy, incompetent, too disordered for ministry, corrupt and some should be imprisoned. There needs to be more “lay” involvement and oversight of priest personnel and Church organizational structures.”

      You are preaching to choir here, Voice. I agree with you wholeheartedly. A friend suggested that I watch a PBS special “Secrets of the Vatican”. I hesitated, because I thought it was probably very biased. When I did around to watching….2 years after the assault…I wept while watching. Every statement made by the attorneys in that documentary was also made to us by the diocese attorney. There truly is a “Vatican Playbook”.

      Thank you for take the time and effort to share your thoughts with me. May God bless you abundantly in all things. Peace be with you.

    2. I completely agree with you Voice. Unfortunately the priestly class has largely elevated itself to the point that they are only “accountable to God”, which in theory sounds accurate, but in practice is completely flawed. Too many times I have heard priests confidently proclaim, “I answer to God” only to see them make mistakes that are not acceptable to anyone else and would have cost regular (i.e. lay) folks their jobs. What other job can one have that allows a person to do whatever he wants in the name of God with free license to do whatever he feels like doing? (I hesitate to use “job” given that the priestly office is supposed to be a vocation, but more priests and bishops seem to treat as nothing more than a job). I no longer work for the church because I became very disillusioned by the relatively small, when compared to Diane and other’s experiences, sins committed by some of the clergy that I know. Like Diane I found it difficult to be involved with the church, but do believe the Catholic Church is the Church.

    3. Zach, thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts. Aside from what my daughter endured and what we experienced from the school, Church and Vatican, my husband and I were very active in our local parish for years, and unfortunately, witnessed a parish priest and nuns doing things that . . . well just shocked us. But you know, they are human, and they are fallible. And like you, I do believe that the Catholic Church, grounded in Scripture, deeply rooted in tradition, is THE Church. But it’s being guided by some pretty troubling people. Peace be with you.

  9. The problem with “keeping our eyes fixed on Christ (I prefer ‘Jesus’)” is that we cannot perceive Him with out senses. But He is here with us, Personally, 24/7. To get over the sense deprivation, I consider Him behind me-out of sight but here. He knows and loves me through and through, and all that Scripture and spiritual writers’ stuff bolsters Faith. Jesus, God Almighty is everywhere, I’m never alone. Another “community-participation-point.” My dad was an immigrant to the USA and his English-let alone Latin-was non-existent for about the first 3/4 years in country. He used to go to the Sacrifice of Jesus every Sunday and receive Holy Communion, knowing he was fulfilling the command of Jesus to eat His Body. He smiled and shook hands with people and priest, and then went home with his family. This minimal “participation” lasted for about five years, after which he hooked up with the K of C and a couple of other Church societies. My point: he knew where he belonged and hung on through the tough times.

    1. So it is your contention that Jesus was there with the author’s daughter when she was assaulted? Behind her, out of sight, but there? I cannot imagine the suffering she experiences, but I can’t imagine that concept would be much help.

    2. Jesus is God Almighty; He’s everywhere, even present at that awful event you describe, just as He was present at the martyrdom of His people long ago, and just the other day, when a little girl, a Catholic, asked Him to “Forgive them” as ISIS murderers burned down her house with her in it. You’ve heard the expression “There are no atheists in fox-holes”? Means that those guys, who are Followers of Jesus, and who are likely to die momentarily, have their minds and hearts fixed on Jesus. I can’t bring myself to believe that God would not not, somehow, soften the pain of non-believers as well. For an atheist, no amount of explanation regarding these experiences will make a bit of sense.

    3. Atheists in the military scoff at the “no atheists in foxholes” fallacy. Being placed in a horrific situation in which you could die in a terrible way does not tend to make non-believers believe. And if you think that God “softens the pain” of believers who have had terrible things happen to them, you didn’t read the article very closely.

  10. there are so many comments here to support you and let me join them i am a 76 year old man and i felt pain for you and your family especially your daughter i was near to tears a number of times …..every day that i go to Mass i pray for special people at the Consecration at the elevation of the host and chalice you will now be part of this Thank you for sharing.As your friend said MAN did this to you not GOD…….and you and i are the church God Go With You.

  11. Dear Diane, your family and especially the healing of your precious daughter are in the my thoughts, in my heart, and my prayers.

    I pray for loving souls close to me to return to the Catholic Church. I will share your experience and family strength will not allow a life altering crime and abandonment by the fallable keep you from sharing live with the infallable.

    Your reassurance, hope and reward for folks to fghtfor what we want, not walk away will bring a life of deep love and bind with the Trinity and our Blessed Mother. God Bless you and your family.

    All your family suffering is offered up to help others and me… no greater love.

    Kind Regards,

  12. Marion (Máel Mhuire)

    I’m so sorry to hear of your and your daughter’s unimaginable suffering.

    My takeaway for families in such situations would be never to agree to anything that requires one to keep silent about a known perpetrator’s actions, or to keep silent about the institution’s lack of action.

    Shout it from the rooftops! Warn others! Names, dates, faces.

  13. Diane, sorry to read about your woe within the Church. Clericalism is far from dead, but I don’t really want to comment on the state of the Church but rather share with you something that has helped me in my relationship with God and the Catholic Faith. I pray it helps you and your daughter.

    Some 23 years ago, a friend of mine, a nun, introduced me to True Life in God, the mystical work being written thru the Greek Orthodox mystic, Vassula Ryden. After some discernment and prayer, I determined that our triune God is the author of this work and have been sharing ever since. It has helped me understand my God in a much deeper way, have a much more intimate relationship with Him and love and appreciate the Catholic faith like never before. It also helped me become an orthodox Catholic.

    While somewhat controversial (things like this frequently are – eg. St. Faustina, the work has much support from cardinals, bishops and priests, a nihil obstat and imprimatur. You can find the whole work here: I wrote a review of the book on Amazon which tells my story.

    He calls this work, among other things, His Love Hymn. May it sing to your hearts.

  14. My wife, who has hung around for over 42 years now, told me some time back we are going to start praying to Our Lady Untier Of Knots. I must confess that I almost rolled my eyes when I heard that title – new to me. But to all here I would say enlist this Lady, enmity will be put between you and any evil, including evil persons, and she will defend you. This “enmity” is her job and she does it extremely well. Over and over again she has untied knots for us. From the cross, Jesus was saying to Mary, “Behold your son and behold Diane’s daughter,” and the Lady is now interceding for her, and for everyone who has been hurt. “ So the Lord God said to the serpent, “Because you have done this, “Cursed are you above all livestock and all wild animals! You will crawl on your belly and you will eat dust all the days of your life. And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.” (Gn 3: 14, 15)

    1. Guy, thank you for that reminder. I have that devotion and will begin on Mother’s Day at your suggestion. God bless you for thinking of us. Peace be with you.

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