The ministry of pastoral care is
fundamentally a relationship of compassionate presence in imitation of Jesus’ care of people, especially those who were hurting and in need. The ministry of Pastoral Care involves promoting minors and their family’s development through a variety of positive preventive strategies, caring for minors and families in crisis through support, counseling, and referral to appropriate community agencies. It nurtures growth toward wholeness, provides guidance in decision-making and challenges obstacles to positive development (USCCB, 1997).
Forgiveness is another spiritual issue encountered by survivors of early sexual abuse. Forgiveness is a decision to let go of resentment and thoughts of revenge. The act that hurt or offended might always remain a part of life, but forgiveness can lessen its grip on the person and be helpful for individuals to focus on other, more positive parts of life.
For most survivors of sexual abuse, forgiveness may be understood as excusing the offender or condoning wrong done to them. However, forgiveness interrupts the process of the internally replaying the lingering pain which if not relieved has the effect of keeping the victim captive to the offender. Some religious survivors may feel guilty for being angry and may rush to forgive without working through the abuse and how it influence their lives and may try to apply scripture that encourages forgiveness prematurely.
It may take significant time, sometimes years for sexual abuse survivors to get to the point where they could consider forgiving the perpetrator and the non-offending adults who did not protect them from the abuse. It is also very important for survivors to forgive themselves but only after they have dealt with the impact of the abuse such as shattered self-image, trust, anger, vengeance etc. For survivors the Grace of God may be hidden or inaccessible.
Pastoral care givers need to intervene at the right time when the survivor is open to explore the possibility of forgiveness since it should not be imposed, as well as when and how to apply the Gospel values to the suffering and pain of survivors and the meaning of what happened to them.
Pastoral care givers need to model God’s grace and unconditional acceptance to encourage survivors of sexual abuse to discern forgiving the offender and moving forward in their process of recovery and healing.
Pastoral care givers need to be patient and empathic toward sexually abuse survivors because they may struggle to accept help because of shame. Survivors may have difficulty in raising the topic of sexual abuse in pastoral care, the need to be recognized or heard, the feelings of ambiguity, and sometimes the contradictory need for affective dependence on one hand and their avoidance or withdrawal on the other hand.
It is important that pastoral caregivers be aware of their expertise and limits and be willing to refer victims of sexual abuse to other professional helper who are competent in the field of sexual abuse when it is necessary. Some therapists and counselors may not address forgiveness or understand its importance as part of the overall process of accompanying a sexually abused individual. Survivors can be misunderstood from a faith perspective in psychotherapy thus the need for religious survivors to seek help form psychotherapists who have deeper understanding about the faith implications of sexual abuse.
Rudolfsson, L. & Tidefors, I. (2015). The Struggles of Victims of Sexual Abuse Who Seek Pastoral Care. Pastoral Psychology. link.springer.com/content/pdf/10.1007%2Fs11089-014-0638-9.pdf
USCCB (1997). Renewing the Vision: A Framework for Catholic Youth Ministry. (www.usccb.org/about/…and-youth/…/renewing-the-vision.cfm)