The Power of Bearing Witness
Over the years, as I’ve come to grips with the things that happened to me as a child, I’ve learned to take my responsibility to tell the truth about the church and abuse very seriously. In religious circles it’s often called bearing witness. Though usually that term is reserved for telling people good things about God and the church, I now know we need to tell about bad things that happen as well.
With my habit of bearing witness well developed from telling my story to support groups, friends and family, I branched out to telling co-workers and agencies, and then to telling the public at large. One venue I’ve made good use of for this is the editorial page of my local newspaper. Each time I write to voice my opinion about a story that touches on my field of un-looked-for expertise, I gain experience, credibility and opportunity. Many times those opinion pieces have led journalists, radio hosts and folks looking for speakers for their events to contact me for further comment on the topic.
The Power of Facing a Fear
I encourage other survivors of priest abuse, or any other kind of abuse, to write letters, engage with the ongoing story. It’s scary at first, but bearing witness, telling about your experience, is a great way to build strength within yourself, to battle fear and heal your broken places. So go ahead, write that letter. Give it a try.
The Power of the Written Word
An quick guide to writing a good letter to the editor
Here are my basic rules for writing a letter to the editor:
- Stick to one topic and to the facts. Rambling on and on, or straying into innuendo are good ways to get your letter rejected.
- Be respectful. You may not agree with the article, but that doesn’t mean you can put down the author or call them names.
- Keep it short. Editors are more likely to publish a concise note than an epistle.
Examples of Powerful Letters
To show how easy it is, and how little you have to write, to make your voice heard, here are some examples of letters I wrote about priest and organizational abuse cases that have been published in Seattle area papers. Feel free to use them as models when you want to voice your own opinion in response to stories like these.
In response to an article about abuse within the Boy Scouts of America and the heroic efforts to hide information from the public, “Tech group wants Boy Scout files blocked” I wrote:
Public has a right to review documents
As a victim of priest child abuse at age seven (I am now 70), I can assure you that if information about the priest who molested me was available to the public years ago, many other little girls would have been spared this devastating violation of the human spirit. Therefore, I am appalled that the Boy Scouts of America, dedicated to truth and integrity would choose to live in secrecy. I hope TechAmerica does not speak for the technology industry as a whole — if so, our country is in a graver place than I had imagined.
It is time for citizens and corporations to take a stand and withdraw support from organizations and churches that do not protect kids by giving over information that the public has a right to review. Is it American to protect your own organization from predators and bear no responsibility for protecting children at large? I don’t think so.
So, while the Boy Scouts of America keep their “perversion files” under lock and key, men are free to find other child prey in other organizations — and believe me, they will.
Regarding the story “Spokane Diocese tries to clean up ‘a hell of a mess,'” about yet another diocese, this one in Spokane Washington, trying to sweep decades of abuse by priests under the rug I wrote:
Worry about messages children are receiving
It is a hell of a mess that for over four years now victims of priest pedophilia in the dioceses of Spokane and Los Angeles have been shunned by the Catholic Church, which will do anything and everything to protect its assets, “good name” and brother priests.
When a child is raped by a priest, childhood is taken away — “stolen.” Intimacy becomes a lifelong challenge. Faith is often harmed forever.
The Catholic Church teaches that when something is stolen from a person, it must be restored, repaired or recompense for the damage given before forgiveness can begin. Why worry about our Catholic schools — wouldn’t it be better to worry about the inconsistent message this “hell of a mess” is giving our children?
And here are my thoughts on a Seattle Times article called End the culture of silence about sexual assaults in the military :
Take action against perpetrators
The crying shame is the fact that the two highest institutions in the United States, the military and the Catholic Church, perpetuate rape and the abuse of women and children.
As a victim of priest child abuse, my stomach does a flip-flop when I read about the crimes against women in the military and children in the Catholic Church that are covered up.
Where is power when we need it? The pope, the president, the secretary of defense — where are you? Stand up; speak out; use your power in ways that matter; say “no more violence and no more rapes of women and children.” Then, put some power behind your words. Defrock the perpetrators now.
The Power of Public Comment
Aside from being a great way to exercise your own healthy expression, letters to the editor are some of the most widely read parts of most publications. They’re the forerunner of the comment stream, where some of our most vigorous debate happens these days. In fact, there’s a good chance that your letter will be read by more people, and have more effect than even the original article that you’re responding too. So if you want to get involved in an issue or get active in an effort to make a change, a letter to the editor is a great way to start.
Here are some more great tips for writing an effective letter to the editor.
Your Turn to Express Your Power
How about you? Do You have a story to tell about how writing a letter to the editor helped you, or someone else? Any tips to offer from your own letter writing experience? I’d love to hear your thoughts, so please comment!