By Christopher Vitale
PEERS, The Catholic Project, and Spirit Fire put together an exhibit in the Pryzbyla Center on display from April 23 to May 1. This story gallery centered upon the sexual abuse crisis that has plagued the Catholic Church since the shocking revelations of the summer of 2018. Entitled the Hope & Healing Story Gallery, the exhibit features panels providing stories and images of eight victims of sexual assault at the hands of members of the clergy.
Seven Catholic University undergraduate students interviewed the victims individually and recorded their experiences. A common theme amongst the featured individuals is that none of their stories focus on or detail the actual accounts of abuse. Rather, they mostly highlight the the effects of the abuse and detail the survivors’ journeys of healing in the years since the crimes were committed.
One quote from the panel describing interviewee Michael’s story reads: “I consider the acts of abuse themselves, not really my story. My story is what I’ve done since that time.”
The installation was headed by Catholic University spokesperson Karna Lozoya and Assistant Dean of Students Amy Love. Lozoya represented the Office of the President as well as the Catholic Project and oversaw the execution of the exhibit.
When asked what she hopes people will take away from their experience at the installation, Lozoya stated that she hopes this effort will help to humanize the sexual abuse crisis. She feels that, rather than just hearing about this issue from afar, it is important to make the crisis real, understandable, and relatable to people.
“I would like people to be able to put a face on the sexual abuse crisis,” said Lozoya. “I think it helps to know the names of those who have experienced sexual clergy abuse, and to hear their stories.”
Love, whose position was as a support person for the student writers of the featured stories, indicated that she believes that the process of creating the display has helped some of the students who were involved to better listen to, understand, and respond to victims of sexual trauma.
“Our hope is that people see survivors of clergy sexual abuse as our brothers and sisters,” said Love.
She also hopes that the sharing of these stories will help people to learn from and become educated about the nature of clergy sexual abuse and to then grow and heal from that place of darkness.
Fitting for the religious atmosphere at Catholic U, after moving through all of the story panels the exhibit concludes with a prayer for the victims and survivors of sexual abuse. This reminds readers that one of the most beneficial and loving ways to respond to suffering in the Church is to pray for those who have been afflicted by abuse and for the perpetrators who have betrayed the role and the seal of trust intended for members of the clergy.
The goal is that this gallery will resonate with members of the Catholic University community. As the only religious educational institution founded by the U.S. Catholic Bishops, we have a responsibility to represent the Catholic Church and to promote only the best of Christian and humanitarian values, and hopefully this installation will help us to do so.