Assisting the victims of sexual abuse


Anne_Lastman.jpgRecent media reporting of anonymous allegations against Cardinal George Pell are further evidence of the unfair and decidedly biased intent of the Royal Commission‘s key characters into this tragic story of childhood sexual abuse by members of the Catholic Church.

Even though Cardinal Pell has continuously rejected all allegations against him, the fact remains that he has been hounded and harassed by the media and the Commission, through possible leaks and what appears like a vendetta.

It seems that if the subject is a person of note, like Cardinal Pell, the more furious and unrelenting the attacks will be, until they achieve the desired outcome (his collapse or charges of abuse).

This is supposed to serve the victims, like Salome getting the “head on a platter”.

Whilst it is clear that clergy abuse was not handled well by church bodies of all denominations – and there are many reasons for this, and I am certainly not excusing the perpetrators or their crimes – the reality is that there is a money trail in this issue.

The advocates for the victims are oxygenating this because of the money trail thinking that money will “fix” the trauma experienced by the victims.

Financial assistance is very much needed, especially for those so deeply wounded that they have not been able to integrate the experience into their history, just like any other trauma.

It is my view that a wounded soul cannot be “fixed” with money. No amount of money. What a wounded soul needs is help to recover.  This means really good counselling by counsellors who know, understand and are not scandalised by the issue and who can journey with the victim through the dark days and help them come to the other end.


A healed spirit is not bitter, but is able to see that the perpetrator was very, very emotionally wounded himself (perhaps also a victim of possible childhood abuse), and was acting on generally learned behaviour which became an addiction.

I am here reminded of the late Fr Benedict Groeschel a noted American priest and psychologist saying that during his training to be a psychologist never did he hear the word “paedophilia”

When cases began to emerge, therapists at the time thought that this could be cured by therapy, and Bishops thought it could be cured by spiritual supports like retreats, sacraments and counselling.

Paedophilia was not psychologically understood and its effects were not understood. That it was morally wrong, was clearly understood, but that it caused lifelong wounds to its victims I do not believe was understood. As an addiction, it was not considered.

I believe that molester priests were moved from place to place with the thought that if moved, the object of his affection would be removed and violá all problems would disappear. Not so. Addictions are not healed by kilometres.

Addictions as we understand them take long term work and psychological care and a lifetime of being on the watch for triggers. (Both perpetrators and victims).


Soul neurosis

The condition and symptoms of this emotional illness is the weakness or even absence of faith. It is starvation of the soul. Persistent unhappiness, an inexplicable sense of guilt about everything they do or don’t do.

One suffering from soul neurosis sees an inadequacy in their own estimation of their life. Boredom and an inability to accept joy or stimulation from anything or anyone. Anxiety is the continual state.  There is loss of the capacity to be happy.  To experience joy.

There is literally, a senselessness to their lives.

Such a person has a seriously infantile emotional life, filled with anxiety, and fear-based repression (fear is the predominant feature).

The person with this neurosis needs to be treated like a child and loved like a child. Indeed to be re mothered and refathered beginning from the time the abuse began.  One of the main cries of the abused individual is of been very deeply lonely during the abuse. No one to tell and be believed. 

The emotional life of a human being begins from conception and it is changeable, malleable and develops throughout life.

Emotional Deprivation Disorder (EDD) is a syndrome which results from a lack of or absence of genuine affirmation and emotional strengthening in the life of the individual especially in the earlier and formative years.

Its causes are criticism, neglect, being ignored, emotional abuse, sexual abuse, being emotionally rejected both verbally and physically, emotionally rejected by the primary caregivers or those who are meant to be trusted.

The victim then practises disengagement as a last resort to self-protect, results in stunted emotional development.

In normal development, a human being’s emotional life is slowly awakened and strengthened through those who love the person, beginning from earliest times.

The emotional blueprint is in place but it needs to be strengthened, fed and activated and affirmed and built upon.  This is why children need their parents from the earliest times to set into place the firm foundation of love and having been loved and taught from the beginning.

A child whose emotional life in not activated or worse still whose life has been activated coldly or carelessly or deceitfully remains at that emotional level, frightened of people, of love, and of relationships.

At each step of emotional development, a person must experience love and joy, be strengthened, and then integrate these experiences before differentiation into next stage of development.

Where certain stages have been insufficiently lived, experienced and accepted or arrested, then differentiation cannot occur.  The physical person will develop and even the intellectual (at times more so) will develop, but emotionally, the person remains stuck at the age of abuse.

This presents difficulties. Because of their immature development, the person cannot “act” their chronological age.  Hence a 30 year old with the emotional development of a 10 year (he/she behaves like a kid!!)

Emotional immaturity results in serial relationship failures because the person is looking for the other to fulfil a need, rather than maintain a real relationship.

Sexuality is at the very core of the human being, and forms the mystery which is the human being.  Sex can be a sacramental action (inner/outer) or it can be a weapon for pain and the use of the person.

When sexuality is treated with disrespect the mystery retreats deeper but when sexuality is treat in a sacred way, then slowly the mystery unfolds.

Victims of sexual abuse – whether by clergy, teachers or other family members – have not been able to experience the unfolding of their sexuality because it was violated at a developmental stage when child/children could not understand what was happening to them, except that it was painful and had to remain hidden (with threats), and it was considered “yuk.” 

Understanding the emotional damage, and how it affects an individual’s life and spirit will help us understand the lifelong anger felt by those who have been its victims.



But scapegoating is not the answer to suffering, nor is money (though this helps in day to day life). More than money is the need to recover, feel normal and feel able to have relationships like everybody else.

The victim must not to be defined by what has happened to them but be defined by the courage to live a full and wonderfully peaceful life.

Those gunning for Cardinal Pell’s scalp are fuelled by others who have or are making money from their pain. This is not the road leading to healing, remembering that the money runs out but the memory of the experience doesn’t.

What is most urgently needed are fantastic counsellors willing to walk with the pain of the victim for as long as it takes, and not be abandoned because the story is ugly.

What perhaps can be done to help the victims (and perhaps even perpetrators) is to establish a recovery centre specific to this “wound”, with appropriate support, remembering that sexual abuse of children doesn’t only happen in religious organisations (as the Royal Commission seems to imply), but is happening in families and friendship circles, clubs, sporting groups etc.

It is happening this very day amidst all of us.  There is sexual abuse of children happening daily, and it hasn’t gone away because of all the media’s obsession with the Catholic Church and Cardinal Pell in particular.

A centre which will be able to handle this kind of abuse of all who have been affected in this way is what is needed most. Not huge amounts of money (though this is a help) not scapegoats because the previous perpetrators has died and “someone has to pay” but a very real help in assisting victims to re-join life ….whole.

(Anne Lastman has practised as a qualified grief counsellor for over 20 years, and has achieved professional recognition for her work. She specialises in post-abortion grief and assisting victims of sexual abuse.)