The Sexual Abuse of Seminarians by My Fellow Friars:

What It Was Like for Me and How I Want To Help

By Alberic Smith, OFM

SAS Class of 1951

When the horrendous truth first came out I was stunned. I remembered thinking: How could these Friars we trusted, worked with, planned courses and liturgies with, who lived with us day after day, do such a thing? I had no answer.

To this day I can study all the literature about this horrible sickness; I can read about people who prey on little children for sexual gratification--maybe 2 to 6 per cent of the male heterosexual population; I can listen to what the experts say about others who, for whatever reasons, succumb to sexual temptations to approach older young men. And still it just shocks the hell out of me. Like so many others in my order, I have spent most of my life trying to serve others and bring good to them, inspire them in their younger years, invite them to interiorize their Christian faith and their commitment to God, help them approach life with strong well formed egos and a balanced view of all our human powers and gifts, including the gift of sex. This was the way of St. Francis, and I was at a loss to explain how such terrible acts could have been committed in the shadow of this spirit.

As a result of the abuse, I experienced a deep pervading anger that needed to be listened to and healed as the first step on the long road to forgiveness. My anger healed over some months of group therapy provided by the Franciscans to the people of the St. Anthony's Seminary Chapel Community. With a professional counselor, a group was formed to support the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and to seek some way to heal their own terribly hurt faith and human spirit.

It was a successful group, I think. And for me it was a true blessing. It helped me to heal the deep pains of being a secondary survivor: two of the young boys who had been victimized were my cousins, abused by two Friars in my Order that I had known and worked with.

The healing for many, and I was one of them, was genuine, and it prepared me to forgive the perpetrators even though many felt they did not deserve forgiveness because of what they had done. Over the years one of the perpetrators expressed sincere sorrow to me for the terrible crimes he committed, and I was able to accept that apology and turn forgiveness into reconciliation. With all the perpetrators that I meet now, I find I can encourage them to continue with their healing programs.

But where I feel most helpless is with the survivors. If I could speak to them directly this is what I would say:

I am so sorry that these things happened to you; particularly those who were abused during the time I was teaching at the Seminary. I wish I could hold each of you, and let you know that you were not to blame; that God, so distanced by these behaviors of religious and priests, is close to you and loves you, and cries with you over the shattering of your innocence when you were so helpless.

I want to raise each of you up, though I could not physically lift you, as high as I could so you could see the world around you and be proud that you are in it. I want to lift you up so you could be with every other person in this world, so precious, good, full of gifts. I want to take away that hurt from you even though I know only you can heal your own pains. I want to be with you as you heal. I want to share my own healing though I know it is very different from your own.

How I wish I were all powerful to do these things and turn life around so each of you could redo life without the travesty imposed on you. But I can't do that. I can't reverse even my own pain. I can only heal, and be here for each of you so that I might support your own healing, knowing that you are good; knowing that nothing any sick predator ever did can take away the fact that you are perfectly good. God has guaranteed that, and God has given each of us the power to remind the other of your goodness. No one can change that.

I sit in gratitude that I have been able to heal in the measure I have. I want to help you who have been hurt. I want to do that on your terms, at your pace, with you taking complete control. I, the servant, am here to answer whatever you may ask, and I am full of love and regard for each of you, unconditionally.

As I continue my own healing, a healing that will take a lifetime to be complete, I await any hand that wishes to grasp mine. It is my hope is that we can move together into the future and experience more of God's goodness and more faith in each other. It is my desire that we understand that no matter what the past, there are those we can trust, those we can depend on, those we can love. And it is my wish that we can come to realize that we are here for one another, unselfishly, with nothing to gain, but in fact, gaining all.