Abuse screams from the December 5, 1993 front page of the Santa Barbara News-Press. A 70-page report had just been released by the pastor of the Santa Barbara Mission, which chronicled “what some believe is the worst case of sexual abuse of its kind anywhere in the country.” The abuse spanned a period of 23 years and involved 25 percent of the Franciscan friars with children and adolescents at St. Anthony’s Seminary, which is no longer in operation. So far at least 34 men have charged their former teachers with having abused them.
Indeed, there is abuse out there, but in these cases the abuse had not been completely forgotten. In fact, one of the most serious consequences to these men consisted of the haunting memories that had plagued them through the years.
Silence hid the secret sins of the friars, but the abuse had not been forgotten, hidden away in the recesses of a Freudian type of unconscious. Silence prevailed because the boys did not think anyone would believe their word against the word of such holy and highly respected men. Many of them felt dirty and guilty, even though they were the victims. In addition, their success in school depended upon their silence. Even as the grown men began to tell about the former abuse, members of the church would not believe. The stories just sounded too horrible to be true. Nevertheless, the abuse has been documented. There was an investigation.
How unlike those people who only remembered abuse in therapy with no investigation into whether such abuse even occurred. We are still very concerned about false accusations of abuse and about the therapy which intensifies pain through the creation of false memories. How important truth is in determining guilt and in helping those who have actually been abused!
Former St. Anthony Seminary students are receiving psychotherapy to help them recover from the devastation of abuse. Many have lost their faith in the Roman Catholic church and are now placing their faith in psychotherapy. That is understandable when the religion and the abuse were intermingled, especially if they never really knew Jesus Christ as sovereign Lord and Savior.
Sexual abuse is a very serious sin against God, as well as against the human victim of the crime. Little has been said about the seriousness of sinning against God in cases of incest and other forms of sexual abuse. Much, on the other hand has been written about the harm it does to children. However, the assumption that there are certain characteristic lasting effects has not been proved, and there is no consensus in the research concerning whether there is a clear connection between early abuse and the lists of problems that are popularly proposed as symptoms of former abuse.
While psychotherapy may be the best the world has to offer, true Christians have a better remedy—one that transforms the person and even makes positive use of the abuse in conforming the person into the image of Christ. Positive use of abuse? Positive use of horrible sin perpetrated against impressionable children? Yes! Throughout Scripture, God promises not only that he will “bind up the broken-hearted” and “proclaim liberty to the captives,” but also that He will “give unto them beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness; that they might be called trees of righteousness, the planting of the Lord, that He might be glorified” (Isaiah 61:1,3).
The Lord has given His Son to save us from the devastation of sin—our own sin—and He has given us new life to replace the old self that both sinned and was sinned against. As we put off the old self that was in bondage to sin and Satan, and as we put on the new self created in righteousness through the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can walk in newness of life by the power of the indwelling Holy Spirit.
None of us has yet fathomed the depth of the grace of God. Some who have experienced the extremities of life have probably drunk more deeply than those who have not. The very life of Christ and the Word of God applied to the believer will do more than any psychotherapy can do.