This article was originally published in October 2018. It was updated to be printed in a special edition accompanying the release of the list of names of clergy with substantiated accusations of sexual abuse of a minor.
Jane Guenther holds firm the belief that where sin exists, grace abounds even more.
The director of the archdiocesan Catholic Renewal Center has seen evidence of that recently in the number of people who have come to her in search of spiritual healing from abuse. Since the August 2018 release of Pennsylvania grand jury report detailing revelations of clergy abuse, Guenther has met with dozens of people who have contacted her with stories of their own past abuse. These are not cases of harm by clergy, she noted, but situations of being hurt by family, friends and aquaintances. They have been referred to her through priests, friends and even Internet searches.
All of them have described feeling called to break their silence. It’s what she described as a “ripple effect” of the clergy abuse scandal.
Guenther offers spiritual healing through a method developed by members of the Catholic Renewal Center, and used within the context of its Healing and Deliverance Ministry. The method compliments the sacramental life of the Church and helps the person reconnect in their relationship with Jesus, the source of all healing. There are more than 80 members who are trained to offer healing ministry in the archdiocese. Sessions are confidential, Guenther noted.
During a visit, Guenther listens to a person’s story and asks clarifying questions to determine more about the roots of their pain. “Then I say, ‘Do you want to hold on to that pain, or do you want to be free of it?’” she said. “And usually they’re like, ‘I’m so tired of living like this, I want to be free of it.’”
The method includes helping those who have been abused to understand that Jesus was fully present yesterday, as He is today and will be tomorrow. “The same Jesus who is with us right here as we are together today was actually present in the moment that you incurred the hurt,” she said. “I tell them, you just were not aware of Jesus being there.”
Naturally, those who have been abused might respond in anger — where was God when this was happening? And that is a good and rational question, Guenther said. Part of the healing process is working through the knowledge that it wasn’t God who was causing the hurt, nor was it that He wasn’t offering protection in that moment. God wasn’t controlling the person who caused the hurt, either, because of humans’ free will. Rather, Jesus always holds each one of His children, including in times of pain and sorrow.
“I always say let’s give it a chance, because what you weren’t aware of is actually going to be the element to bring you to heal,” she said.
Most of those who come to her have been seeing a professional counselor, sometimes for years. When spiritual healing takes place, Guenther said they often describe it as a “freeing” feeling. A woman she recently met with who was abused as a toddler described the feeling of Jesus holding her when she finally felt she was healed. “She just looked up … with tears streaming down her face,” Guenther recalled. “She said, ‘This is the God that I know. Not the God I made Him out to be. I was an innocent child, and I have felt that God abandoned me in my deepest need. Now I find that He has been holding me’” the entire time.
“I think it’s a deeper understanding of the gift of our faith and the sacraments that we receive and how they are received,” Guenther said. “What happens is a fuller embrace of what God has always wanted to give each and every one of us. Now there is a heart capacity to receive it.”
>> Catholic Renewal Center
The Catholic Renewal Center offers numerous ministries, including prayer, conferences, spiritual direction, a Healing and Deliverance Ministry, as well as other spiritual resources, including a regular schedule of healing Masses in the archdiocese. To learn more about the Renewal Center’s ministries, visit www.archstl.org/catholic-renewal-center; or contact director Jane Guenther at (314) 792-7734 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.