Trauma and Setting Fires

A brief reflection on clergy abuse and race riots.

A brief reflection.

My family told me about boy from a local Catholic family who at one point set fire to an altar in a Catholic church. The kid was punished. They were shocked that he would senselessly destroy Church property, particularly the altar.

Years later, we found out that the boy had been sexually abused by a priest.

I think about that now, about how the destructive flames that he put into the world were the ones that the world had placed into him.

And the terrible thing wasn’t only the abuse. Trauma studies are now finding that a failure to believe or acknowledge a traumatic event, especially from someone in a position of trust, can cause even greater trauma than the original event. Betrayal can be a deeper violation of the human person. And so those who have been traumatized, harmed, and discriminated against can at times be hurt even more by their communities’ silence and disbelief, than by the original acts of malice.

If you receive someone’s trauma and you don’t believe or acknowledge, you become the traumatic event. The trauma deepens. Until something is set on fire.

Some resources, if you’re interested:

Other related writings:

Chris Damian is a writer, speaker, attorney, and business professional living in the Twin Cities. He received his B.A. in Philosophy from the University of Notre Dame and his J.D. and M.A. in Catholic Studies from the University of St. Thomas. He is the author of “I Desired You: Intellectual Journals on Faith and (Homo)sexuality” (volumes I and II). He is also the co-founder of YArespond, a group of Catholic young adults seeking informed and holistic responses to the clergy abuse crisis. In his free time, he enjoys hosting dinner parties and creative writing workshops. 

12 comments on “Trauma and Setting Fires

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