BRAZIL, Luciana Rosas •
Following the reaction to the article Abuses in Schoenstatt: a topic to be discussed, I realized that it is very important to give continuity to the topic and the debate, creating more knowledge, awareness, and empathy. This new analysis will be divided into three articles that will be published weekly, namely: Speaking about the comments, so that we can deepen the conversation about the most recurring themes in the comments published in schoenstatt.org when the first article was published; Are we prepared to receive allegations of abuse in Schoenstatt? in which we will present some of the difficulties the victims of abuse face when they denounce it in Schoenstatt and how the structure of the Schoenstatt Movement can contribute to this; and the third aspect Understanding more about spiritual abuse, in which we discuss some of the characteristics of abusive systems so that we can identify situations of abuse and help to empathize more deeply with the victims who have suffered abuse. —
The goal is that, by means of a better understanding of the issue, we can develop greater empathy to offer more support to the victims and work more objectively, as the Schoenstatt Family, to fight the various kinds of abuse that happen in our Movement, because abuses do occur.
Speaking about the comments
When I decided to write the article Abuses in Schoenstatt: a topic for discussion, I truly hoped that the decision to write in a clear and direct way about the issue would generate debate. But I must confess that the reach of this text surpassed my expectations. There were many comments about the text, both those published by schoenstatt.org as well as those sent to me personally, thanking me for my courage and clarity in exposing such a delicate issue.
Reflecting on the comments that we received directly about the text – and I would like to take this opportunity to personally say thank you for each of them – I understood that we really need to speak more and more about this issue, with the goal of forming our conscience about what is meant by spiritual abuse, offering people the ability to recognize whether they are being exposed to an abusive situation, to know what is possible (and often impossible due to the difficulty of the process of denouncing abuse) and the clarity of those who still feel that it is victimhood, lack of faith or vocation to denounce an abusive situation.
Clarity about the previous text
Due to the outpouring of comments in the previous text, I would like to clarify something: at no point does the text refer to the accusations against Fr. Joseph Kentenich that were made public because it was written and posted before the publication of Alexandra von Teuffenbach’s book.
This text will also not discuss the accusations against Fr. Kentenich. Instead, the topic of discussion is the way in which the issue has been conducted, the lack of empathy and respect for possible victims who denounced the abuse suffered and the lack of professionalism in dealing with issues as sensitive as this.
Facing reality is not victimization
One of the most painful experiences for a victim of abuse, irrespective of which kind of abuse, is for the victim to be blamed for the abuse suffered. I would like to share one of the themes that struck me most in the comments that were received about my text: the most aggressive were from people who know me. Or rather, they know who I am, but they do not know me and they do not know my story. This is simply to point out how difficult it is for a victim of abuse to find a safe space in which to speak, to share his or her story, to be supported and to receive advice on how to proceed with the theme.
It should be clear that the recognition of having been a victim of abuse does not transform the conversation into victimization, on the contrary. Recognition is part of the journey to give new meaning to one’s personal history, the history of the community, and the relationship to faith. I am certain that a victim who is supported with love and an open heart will have a greater chance to find renewed meaning and to continue to live his or her faith.
Another issue that was raised in the comments and that I think is extremely important to discuss is the issue of the age of the person who was abused. “But how old were you when you were abused?” As if the fact of being a particular age minimized the impact of the spiritual abuse suffered.
Of course, even now conversation continues about cases of abuse against minors, especially due to the criminal consequences of certain acts. These kinds of abuse must be fought to the point of exhaustion until no child or young person is the victim of any kind of abuse.
But we must also keep in mind that many of the people who are abused spiritually have been in a religious environment from a very young age, and therefore had their personalities educated and formed to understand and accept that those who “guide” their path are the presence of God, or even that these guides are infallible or are the unquestionable voice of God. Taking this as the starting point, even a person who is older than 18 and has reached legal adulthood is susceptible to becoming the victim of spiritual abuse and it may take a long time to understand what is happened, especially when the issue is not even discussed or clarified in the circles in which he or she lives.
In November 2020, author Barbara Haslbeck published the book Erzählen als Widerstand” (available only in German, translated roughly as: “Narration as a form of resistance” In an interview published by jesuitas.lat on the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women, she discusses precisely the difficulties that adult women have in denouncing abuses suffered, the pre-judgment they receive in the community and society to which they belong, and how spiritual abuse opens the door for sexual abuse:
Faced with the question: “Do adult women frequently hear the argument that they could have said ‘no’?, she answers:
“Many are afraid of being blamed for the abuse. You ask yourself over and over why I couldn’t say no, why I didn’t leave immediately. But as I said: Abuse happens slowly, it is not sudden. The perpetrators build up a relationship of trust and become indispensable. (…) Those who are affected feel that it is not good for them but their perception is so destroyed that they are no longer able to recognize it. In communities, members are confronted by one another and whoever tries to say something different is intimidated and isolated. And suddenly, the affected person has no one else to tell what is happening to her.” (Translation from the Spanish)
Anonymity: sad consequence for abuses suffered
Continuing the reflection about the comments received of the text, I expected that some people would express that they had also been the victims of abusive situations in Schoenstatt and that, in many cases, they did not want to identify themselves. Speaking about spiritual abuse (any kind of abuse, in fact) is still taboo and it is understandable that in that moment the person would not want to identify him or herself. Perhaps it was the first time that the person read about the issue in Schoenstatt and, therefore, felt encouraged to share a little of their story. This is an important inner decision, because expressing oneself is the first step to look at a painful situation and give it new meaning. For this reason, I am very thankful and admire the courage to share some of their stories. Thank you for the trust and the strength that each of you had to continue. None of you is alone on this journey and it is important in a process of inner and outer healing.
On the other hand, I must express my surprise to also read aggressive comments about their decision to remain anonymous, in what should have been an opportunity for greater understanding, support and willingness to listen and guide. This showed, once again, that we are very far from where we should be. Instead of discouraging me, this awareness gives me more courage to continue fighting so that this issue can become more widely known, understood and that the victims can be supported and respected in their integrity and dignity.
Positive experience does not invalidate the negative experience and vice versa
A discussion that is harmful for a victim of abuse (once again, any kind of abuse, but here I am referring especially to spiritual abuse) is to try to invalidate the abusive experience with positive experiences. “I’ve never seen this happen.” “It has never happened to me.”
Good! This does not mean that the abuse did not happen to the person who is denouncing it. Nor does the existence of an experience of abuse invalidate the positive experience that another person/people may have had.
It is known that in abusive systems not everyone is abused, nor are the victims abused in the same way. This should be clear for all of us. Abuse is objective and personal and does not allow for generalizations.
We cannot see or experience everything that happens, in life or in the world. But that does not mean that it does not exist. We should be careful not to enter into the field of fallacy and continue to create more pain for those who try to raise their hands and speak out about a situation of abuse that they suffered.
Next week, we will discuss the issue with the second article in the series:
Are we prepared to receive allegations of abuse in Schoenstatt?
Luciana Rosas is 39 years old and lives in Curitiba, Brazil. She is an economist and a student of psychology and theology. She is a translator and social media manager for schoenstatt.org.
She has been a member of the Schoenstatt Movement since 1994. She is active in areas that promote women, the inclusion of minorities and human rights. She is currently studying the impact of marginalization in the Church, especially on issues of moral and sexual abuse, and the abuse of power and conscience.
She is a dreamer and a fighter. She is passionate about Schoenstatt and freedom.
Original: Portuguese, 14.01.2021.Translation: Sarah-Leah Pimentel, Cape Town, South Africa