July 21, 2006

Be Our Guest / Suzanne Yakimchick

Archdiocese’s Victim Assistance Program
helps healing process begin

What does the Archdiocese of Indianapolis do for people who have been sexually abused by someone who works for the Church?

When I receive information that someone has been abused by a Church employee or volunteer, I follow our plan for the pastoral care of victims that can be found on our Web site at www.archindy.org.

Our response is part of the larger pastoral care provided by the Church for all its members. Our first step is to make contact with the victim and to listen with great compassion to what they have to say.

For many reasons, victims often have waited a very long time to talk about being abused by someone who ministered on behalf of the Church. Sometimes they waited because they feared that no one would believe them, they feared that their parents would harm the abuser or they blamed themselves instead of the abuser.

What the person needs most when they contact the archdiocese is someone who will listen to them. After having heard what happened, my next response is always to apologize for the harm they have suffered. This apology may be decades after the abuse occurred, but it is a very important response.

Our response includes notifying Child Protection Services for the appropriate legal investigation. Our role is pastoral, so I will assist the victim in making the required report or make it for them if they request that I do so. At this point, I also explain the process for removing a person from ministry if the accused person is still in a ministry position. This process is also explained in the archdiocesan policy regarding sexual abuse that is found on our Web site.

The next step is to offer assistance with counseling to help the victim heal from the abuse. There are excellent counselors available to help survivors of sexual abuse. The archdiocese will help with the out-of-pocket costs of this counseling as part of our pastoral care plan.

Often, people ask me why someone bothers to report abuse that occurred decades ago, especially when the perpetrator is now dead. Child sexual abuse is always tragic and harmful. It is especially so when it is done by someone who works for the Church. Some victims have not been active in the Church since young adulthood when they made the decision to walk away from the place of their abuse. Others have difficulty believing that God really loves them.

How does this work in real situations? Recently, I was contacted by someone who heard a letter read in a parish about how to contact the archdiocese to report abuse. This person had been abused more than 35 years ago by a priest who is now deceased, but they felt that it was the right time to talk to someone in the Church about it. This person was grateful to be heard and to hear the apology that was so long in coming.

In another situation, a victim asked to meet with Archbishop Daniel M. Buechlein and their pastor to talk about what had happened during their childhood years. The victim felt the need to know if the Church was really interested in helping people get through this ordeal. This individual wrote later that, “Archbishop Daniel and my parish priest were tuned into my every thought and word” and “made me feel that the Church really does care about its members and
that they would be willing to help anyone who has been molested. God blessed me that day!”
Why bother? Reporting the abuse to the Church is a step toward healing. It helps victims experience the compassionate, healing power of God at work in their lives. It helps the Church to apologize for what has been done and to offer help to the victim. It removes this ugliness from the dark secret place where it has been kept and places it in the light of the resurrected Christ where we all find new life.

(Suzanne Yakimchick is the archdiocese’s chancellor and victim assistance coordinator. To report abuse by someone who works for the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, contact Yakimchick at 800-382-9836, ext. 7325, or 317-236-7325.) †

Local site Links: