Systemic_Practice_in_a_Complex_System._Child_Sexual_Abuse_and_the_Catholic_Church.doc

Finding a place to stand all systemic practice is a

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meetings that lives and worlds can change. Finding a Place to Stand All systemic practice is a form of reflexive inquiry and it was clear to me in undertaking my work with victims of clergy and with clerical men who had sexually abused children, both as a Catholic citizen of the Republic of Ireland and a mother of two children that I was an insider and an outsider to the process and that the journey would necessarily be a reflexive one in which all assumptions and prejudice must be held “in parenthesis”. Confronting sexual abuse of minors goes to the very heart of what most adults appear to abhor, and in working with victims and particularly with men who had abused I had a number of concerns. Whose truth matters and whose account can claim to be final? Whose story is to be privileged and whose is to be marginalized? Can a space be created in which all voices are held and honoured, and in which no one is disqualified? What position or observation point should a therapist take when it comes to criminal acts that have been committed? What about “us” and “them” distinctions? Should perpetrators tell their story or should they be listened to only through the lens of lawful and clinical assessment and through legal judgment and punishment? While I was always clear about the powerlessness of the child victim in situations of sexual abuse and in their attempts to get “justice” as adults within the criminal courts and in relation to the Catholic Church, I also wondered about other dimensions of victimhood and perpetrator-hood and who defines and reifies these crucial distinctions. While registering differences in scale, in different situations and different contexts, I wondered whether we have all been victims in some contexts while taking on the perpetrator role in others. Furthermore, are there contexts in which we have all been bystanders, particularly in situations that involved sexual violence? In contemplating the personal violence involved in sexual abuse of minors, I wondered about social 6
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violence and how it too goes unaddressed. I also wondered if our reactions to the violence and the continued trauma could be transformed into compassionate witnessing for all, with the potential for addressing and finding healing from the pain (Weingarten, 2003: 7). It is always challenging to try to locate oneself in the place of another person. To do so with victims of sexual abuse was often a challenging lesson in humility as I was continually taught to listen carefully to the entirely subjective nature of their experience, irrespective of the type or level of the offence. To locate myself in the place of the other when the other is someone who has sexually abused a child also brought forth existential uncomfortable moments that took me to the core of human dignity and sexuality. To locate myself in the place of the bishops who were seen as covering up the defilement of children is also posed significant challenges.
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