Kudos for ‘apologetic’ column
Re: “‘I’m sorry’: Apologies and abuse” column by Carol Penner, Nov. 5, page 11.
Thanks for some very good thoughts about how apologies can make things worse for victims of abuse.
I especially like Penner’s fourth point: “We like things clean and tidy.” Perhaps this is because abuse in a church setting isn’t just about the perpetrator and the victim. It often involves an unhealthy, enmeshed and closed system. An abuse disclosure disrupts this disordered system, and people want to return to “normal” as quickly as possible. That’s why it is so important for victims to get competent, outside, professional help. Equally important is outside professional intervention with abusers, which sometimes means involving the criminal justice system.
Penner is right that healing for victims can take years, and part of the difficulty is the long and arduous task of rebuilding the shattered self, rebuilding violated boundaries and re-establishing confident agency. This is often impossible to do in the context of a church setting, especially a Mennonite one in which people have multitudinous dual relationships and where the families of abusers are often power brokers or power holders at the congregational, denominational or other institutional levels.
Add to this a culture of valuing community over individualism, and reconciliation over individual autonomy, and you get a system that continues to see victims and offenders as a circle of healing rather than two individuals who need to follow very different and unrelated paths: accountability for perpetrators and recovery for victims, a recovery that often involves exiting churches in order to build healthy relationships in other settings.
—Kathy Shantz (online comment)