2. Materials and Methods
3.1. A Need to Understand
3.1.1. Who Am I to Forgive?
“I still feel like I am partly to blame. That is, I think that… yes, I think that… that is how I feel.”
“When it comes to forgiving my [male relative and perpetrator] or other people around me… sure, that is hard as well, but the hardest thing is to forgive yourself…”
“Forgiveness postulates some kind of… equality; that you are two people at the same level. Then you can say “okay I forgive you”. However, when it comes to a parent abusing their own child, I mean the child is totally dependent on the parent to even exist… as an individual. Well, forgiveness kind of loses its… meaning in that context I think.”
“If I can forgive God… That is, ooh I feel like, it’s like (crying). You know, I haven’t worked that through yet. Since it affects me this much, that’s how I feel.”
3.1.2. What Makes Forgiveness Good-Enough?
“The way that forgiveness is talked about can lead to silencing and to making excuses, oh yes! Definitely. It’s as if they have an idea that, well “you just have to forgive and everything will be fine”… But really, it’s a process… and… you might need to go through that process, even if it turns out that you cannot forgive.”
“Well, instead of this confession of sins and receiving forgiveness, it’s the other perspective that I need. That I have been… that someone else has hurt me and I need… to heal, not to forgive. Yes, I wish there was more room for that [in Church].”
“At these times, it has felt like a burden… and forgiveness is supposed to be something beautiful but really, to me it isn’t. It is charged with so many other things…”
“When it comes to my [male biological relative and perpetrator], I’d rather say that I have forgiven him in the way that I can. And to me, that means to let go… actually, forgiveness is to let go.”
“Sometimes I have thought that well, God might be able to forgive, but… I can’t and I don’t have to. And after all, I think it’s quite amazing that I have reached that point where I can feel it’s okay if God forgives him.”
3.2. A Need to Feel Included
3.2.1. I Need to Be Acknowledged
“You see all these people who are successful, or at least you think that they have these successful lives. They make good money, they have their careers and they can manage to interact with others socially. And you can’t help but to think it’s bloody unfair.”
“Well, I have never heard anyone use the words sexual abuse in Church services, or that is, even if we know how common it is for people to be victims of sexual abuse… they might have said “being taken advantage of”. In some ways, it makes you feel like you don’t exist.”
“I have… a need to go to Church and I feel like… sometimes it’s calming to be there but (sigh) the services sometimes, they don’t apply to me, there’s so much… there’s no awareness about these things, no…”
“I have met many people in Church who go “there’s a meaning to everything”, but… if you have been through what I have been, well, it has only meant hurt… they don’t know what I have been through, but still, I have questioned things, the meaning of, because to me there is no meaning to some things. Being told that everything has a meaning, that the abuse I have suffered has a meaning to it; it has felt like being abused once again. There are so many concepts used in Church that trigger the pain.”
3.2.2. I Need a Safe Space
“Well I mean, it cannot be, I know I’m not the only one… I mean, there have to be many people who have been through hurtful… experiences and so on, where those other perspectives would be needed.”
“It felt great to get to meet with others and it made me feel like I wasn’t as crazy as I thought.”
“They had arranged for some special services, where there would be more room for… well I’m not quite sure about the set-up. Because unfortunately, there wasn’t any… time and so… I didn’t get to go. But I remember feeling curious and feeling like… that would have been a good thing for me.”
“There wasn’t… no one would offer that… I would have liked that. I would have come to that. That could have made me attend Church again.”
“I think the set-up is important, this non-authoritarian… passing [the rose] around, it felt devotional because when you… got it, when you tore a leaf off you were alone with your pain, but in the process of receiving it and passing it along you also shared your pain with the others.”
4.1. Belongingness and the Need for a Safe Space
4.2. The Risk of Secondary Victimization
4.3. The Importance of Christian Worship: The Rainbow Mass as an Illustrative Example
4.4. Restitution Mass for Victims of Sexual Abuse
5. Conclusions and Practical Implications
- The suffering and pain of victims of abuse perpetrated by a representative for the Church raises even more challenging questions in regard to the congregation as a safe space. The informants in this study had all suffered abused that occurred outside the Church. The conclusions listed below should, therefore, not be applied to victims who has been abused by a representative for the Church. How the congregation could possibly function as a safe space for such victims, needs further investigation, beyond the scope of this study.
- Representatives for the Church should not treat psychiatric symptoms. They need to be aware when a victims’ reactions exceed their competences and, in such cases, refer the victim to a clinical specialist. Furthermore, even when referrals do not need to be made, if a representative of a Christian congregation want to offer care to victims of sexual abuse, knowledge about sexual abuse and its consequences need to be acquired, including the risk of secondary victimization.
- Forgiveness can become a burden for someone who has suffered sexual abuse, and an insensitive way of addressing forgiveness can make victims feel like the abuse they have suffered is in some ways excused. However, victims of sexual abuse might also need to be allowed to work with forgiveness and to come to their own understanding about forgiveness. Therefore, representatives of the Church have an important role to fill when addressing forgiveness, in an unburdening way.
- When caring for victims of sexual abuse, the congregation needs to be vigilant not to trigger traumatic memories of the abuse and the negative feelings associated with them. The choice of Bible texts, prayers, confessions, and hymns must be adapted according to the victim’s needs and concerns. The language used, the narratives reproduced, and the rituals practiced must be revised so that they do not consolidate the victim’s feeling of exclusion, guilt, and shame.
- A safe psychological space, where threatening and intrusive thoughts can be kept at a distance, will give the traumatized individual a better chance to regulate their emotions and uphold significant interpersonal relations. A restitution mass is one way for the Church to create such a safe space, and further to enable victims to meet with others who share their experiences. The responsibility for the memories of the abuse should not be put on the victim alone. Instead, the victim needs to be allowed to share their pain, allowing the congregation to bear some of the burden they usually have to bear alone.
- The frameworks for a restitution mass should be developed from the needs and concerns of the victim, allowing for the formation of a safe space where the victim’s situation is acknowledged, while avoiding feelings of shame and guilt. The set-up for a restitution mass should be non-authoritarian.
- Generally speaking, Christian theologians are sensitive to the fact that there are crimes that are more or less impossible to forgive. When addressing forgiveness, a “forgive and forget” mentality should be avoided; instead the focus should be to create a safe space where the victim is not required to forgive in a way that they might neither be ready for, nor have the capacity for. In particular, the work must be characterized by a humble attitude, avoiding finding simple solutions to the victim’s situation.
- The goal of a restitution mass should be to create a safe space for the victim, where the practical and narrative conditions allow the victim to find rest from the negative feelings associated with the abuse. Such a safe space will offer the victim a better chance to, possibly, forgive in the way they find most comforting. Such a forgiveness could involve letting go (of feelings of anger and revenge), or coming to terms with the idea that God might forgive their perpetrator. It could also mean helping the victims to find comfort in being assured that they do not have to forgive.
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|A need to understand||Who am I to forgive?|
What makes forgiveness good-enough?
|A need to feel included||I need to be acknowledged|
I need a safe space
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