Ray Rodriguez’ story sounds hauntingly familiar: young altar boy molested by a trusted parish priest. But in this story, and others like it, victims of trauma and abuse can find healing and hope through Christ-centered programs.
Restore Dignity is a nonprofit healing ministry that provides resources to help survivors of abuse and trauma. Founded last year, the diocesan ministry’s focus is establishing Grief to Grace retreats in Arizona.
In an effort to offset the costs associated with the retreat, Restore Dignity is hosting, “A Light Affair,” 6 p.m. Sept. 29 at Mount Claret Retreat Center with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted. All proceeds from the benefit dinner will help provide funding for Grief to Grace retreats and its participants.
The first retreat in Arizona was last February, but Grief to Grace is offered worldwide. Limited to only 15 people, the five-day program is a psychological and spiritual journey providing safety and support for anyone who has suffered degradation or violation through physical, emotional or sexual abuse or neglect.
The retreat isn’t just for those who have suffered abuse by a member of the clergy, it’s also appropriate for anyone who has endured rape, incest or other forms of traumatic violation in childhood, adolescence or adulthood.
It’s a tough topic, but one that needs constant addressing.
“There are wonderful things in place to prevent abuse and to help us recognize offenders, but as far as people who were abused and survived, there’s very little available,” Rodriguez said. “One thing about the retreat, for me, was being able to see I wasn’t the only one and my story isn’t the most horrific. I know we’re never walking alone and God is always there with us.”
For Rodriguez, recovery is day-by-day; a familiar face, smell or even a piece of tile triggers memories of his abuse in Ohio, which he endured for several years beginning at the age of 7.
Rodriguez co-founded a local support group, Healing with Hope, specific to survivors of sexual abuse by a member of the clergy whether it be a priest, minister, rabbi or another leader of a religious organization. The group meets on the fourth Saturday of each month and anyone over the age of 18, including spouses, friends and family members walking the journey to healing and recovery with their loved ones is welcome.
Grief to Grace, developed by Theresa Burke, the co-creator of the Rachel’s Vineyard retreats, welcomes anyone regardless of their religious affiliation.
Restore Dignity is a nonprofit healing ministry that provides resources to help survivors of abuse and trauma
➤“A Light Affair,” benefit dinner for Restore Dignity with Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted, Sept. 29, 6 p.m., Mount Claret Retreat Center, 4633 N. 54th St. or call (480) 215-6762
➤ Grief to Grace Retreat dates:
Feb. 28-March 4, 2016
Aug. 7-12, 2016.
➤ Healing with Hope, a support group for survivors of clergy sexual abuse. Contact Ray Rodriguez at email@example.com.
The experience, however, is Catholic-centered by offering Adoration and the sacraments of Reconciliation and holy Communion.
It’s what sets it apart from other programs.
“One of the biggest tragedies of abuse and trauma is it alienates their relationship with God, and that’s why it is so important to us that what we’re offering help repair that relationship,” said Amy Corrieri, Restore Dignity board member, who has also participated in a Grief to Grace retreat.
Rodriguez, a 54-year-old father of seven, concedes he struggled with his faith as a result of his abuse.
“I was in turmoil on how I could stay positive in my faith and with the Church,” Rodriguez said, “but receiving the sacraments during the retreat was very powerful — for my mind, spirit and soul.”
Certified licensed therapists along with two priests and carefully selected and trained team leaders make up the core team.
Based on the Passion of Christ, it reaches beyond what most experience in other types of therapy, peer support groups or programs.
“The experience unlocked a deep level of understanding and restoration of self that is hard to describe, but that has continued to unfold by degrees in the months after the retreat,” Corrieri said. “It has had a positive effect on my marriage, relationships and work.”
According to Anne Vargas-Leveriza, diocesan director of the Office of Child and Youth Protection, most victims that come forward report abuse 20 to 30 years later.
Fear and societal pressures are just two examples of why victims don’t tell anyone.
“It takes time. It’s a journey to even come forward,” Vargas-Leveriza said, “and that’s not even when the healing starts.”
In addition to her advocate work for victims, her office also coordinates a Healing Mass twice a year during Advent and Lent for victims of clergy or Church employee abuse.
Transparency, admittance and forgiveness are all components in the healing process for victims; brave souls who no longer need to fear the dark.