Friday, August 12, 2011

Putting a Human Face on Abuse: Reviewing Restoring Sanctuary

For one long period, my idea of going to Sunday Mass involved parking near a church while Mass was underway inside, imagining sorrowfully the ritual by reading from a missal I kept in my glove compartment. I faithfully attended daily Mass, hoping it and “parking lot” attendance could somehow be calculated into a second‐class holiness. In truth, nothing could have made me feel worthy of Mass attendance: I was sure I was at fault for all that had transpired in my childhood.
These words are from a reflection that author T. Pitt Green wrote. Although not in the book, I found them when poking around on the author's site before agreeing to look at the book for review. Suddenly I identified a bit more with the emptiness and anxiety that a victim of abuse feels, especially if their abuser was a predator with a Catholic priest's collar.

Restoring Sanctuary languished in my review stack, pushed aside by the heaviness of the subject and by more immediate promises for columns or podcasts. Then my oldest daughter and I were talking about someone who left the Church because of a priest's extreme insensitivity, but who still longed for the Eucharist. She said, "Remember that lady you told me about who would sit outside the church during Mass and follow along outside?"

Indeed I did. And went to pull this book out of the stack.

Teresa Pitt Green suffered sexual abuse as a child from her parish priest. She later discovered that her mother had also been abused similarly long ago. On her deathbed, Green's mother asked her to write their story.

This unusual book chronicles an abuse victim's journey back to the Catholic Church but without details that might traumatize readers. We see her struggle to find a therapist who doesn't have an additional agenda, with the lack of response from the diocese, with illnesses like brain tumors, and from a physical attack as an adult.

The story is not all dark, however. Green tells also of inspired moments, one in particular after her mother died. She meets people who understand and provide support. Not least of all, she acquires a puppy who becomes her friend and protector. Underlying every experience, whether good or bad, Green is never without faith in Jesus Christ as the word speaking to her, the good shepherd guiding her recovery, and her savior.

It was Green's acquisition of McGee, a second puppy, that sparked a bit of true insight for me. I have had a very easy life by comparison. Although I empathized as I would with anyone who has suffered, it was without a personal frame of reference until reading about McGee. He was a rescued dog and became so afraid when Green brushed her hair that he went into seizures. I suddenly thought of our oldest daughter's dogs, both at least half feral when they were rescued and came to live with us. One in particular, a gentle Staffordshire Terrier named Kif, had over 50 birdshot under his skin when he was x-rayed. He would cower and quake if I reached up to open a cupboard. We had to be extremely gentle with him in order to teach him to trust people, a process that is still underway. I mean no disrespect, but I was able to see Teresa as a mirror image of Kif, who had been so victimized. Suddenly Teresa and her struggles became more real to me as I read the rest of her story. When she discovered a diocese victims program that cared more about the victims than the system and so allowed Teresa as much time and patience as she needed without judgment, I felt like cheering.

The fact that Green is able to communicate all this without revealing identities, going into details, and traumatizing the reader is extraordinary. We understand her struggles but are not pulled to the brink with her. This leaves readers like me who have never suffered in such a way with insight into the pain caused by predator priests and unresponsive bishops.

More importantly, it shows not only the anguish which such abuse leaves behind but looks at the problem of sexual predators with clear eyed reality. This reality accepts the fact that predators can be married or single, that their desire is ultimately domination no matter what means they use to achieve it, that they come from all walks of life, and that those who enable them are collaborating in evil. She does not condemn the Catholic Church as a whole, which is refreshing, but targets abusers and those whose behavior allows them to prey on others.

Green weaves the details of her recovery together with a larger call to action. She asks us to know the truth about how predators act, to be vigilant, and to act on behalf of the weak. She knows that there is not one easy answer. There is not a list of steps or a plan provided in how to do this. Green asks each of us to learn the truth, know it well, and to act upon it in our own way. In that, she seems to me to be mirroring Jesus, who gave his disciples the truth and then sent them out to act upon it wholeheartedly in the ways that worked with their personalities.

Highly recommended.


  1. Great to see that she stayed within the Church! What a sad, sad state of affairs when those meant to be set apart as holy are abusing the innocent.

  2. This book is a gift to survivors who struggle to resolve their suffering in their faith by integrating their recovery with their Catholic beliefs. It's for survivors of abuse, including those like me abused by priests, but also for priests to take heart. It is, especially, a wake up call for Catholics who really have very little understanding of the crisis, so remain unable to bring the Good News to life even in this darkness. Veritas Curat, and thank you for your kind review of my book. McGee especially appreciates the spotlight.