|Mike Hoffman, childhood sexual abuse survivor and chairman of the |
Healing Garden Planning Committee. / Tina Sfondeles
On Saturday, he rose his head high — looking into the faces of those sitting in those pews – and spoke about the great hope and faith that has returned to his life.
“It’s very, very nice to see your faces. I wasn’t able to say that four years ago when I went to my first Mass because the tears of shame and abuse, of loneliness, of sorrow, of isolation, they would have prevented me from seeing your face,” Richter said.
Richter joined about five other survivors in the Archdiocese of Chicago service aimed at promoting recovery for survivors and for their families, as well as calling on the Catholic community and society to protect children.
|James Richter, a survivor of sexual abuse by a Catholic priest / Tina Sfondeles|
Both Richter and Mike Hoffman, another survivor, are part of the Archdiocese of Chicago’s Healing Garden Committee. The garden, next to Holy Family church is a place where survivors can go to look for a safe place to cope.
Hoffman — who kept his abuse secret for 30 years – told churchgoers about a recent visit to the parish where he was abused, St. Mary in Lake Forest. He brought his current pastor to the church to speak with a priest there.
Those two priests, he said, helped him immensely.
“I share that story with you to provide a deeply personal example of two priests who helped me express myself on this terrible topic in my life. Talking about my story of abuse has helped me reconcile myself to the truth of the abuse and how it has affected my family. I now can look back at my youth with an understanding that my abuser can no longer harm me or my family,” Hoffman, 50, of Edgebrook said.
He also urged any victims of childhood sexual abuse to come forward.
Robert Mayer, the priest who abused Hoffman, was convicted of sexual misconduct with a minor in 1992. He was formally laicized in 2010.
“Knowing that childhood sexual abuse cuts so close to the heart and soul of everyone who entered this church this morning, it is my hope and prayer, that each of us can lay that pain, and terrible sadness, at this altar,” Hoffman told the church. “With an open heart and an open mind, we gather this morning to pray.”
Hoffman and Richter both help plan the Mass every year, as well as an event in the garden for children, in which survivors speak to them about child abuse prevention.
Hoffman said his faith is still strong, and he wants the Catholic community to know there are plenty of great priests out there.
“Even though a priest abused me, not all of them are abusers,” Hoffman said. “We have to live with this and there could be deep despair but there can be hope at the end. I feel really good right now. This is a great moment of sharing for me.”
'Coming out' about your childhood sex abuse is an extremely important part of getting out from under its terrible weight. Eventually coming to a place of forgiveness is an important step in healing. If you have a secret of sexual abuse, it's time to share it and begin to heal.