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Grief to Grace offers healing for victims of abuse in Church settings

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The scars of abuse run deep: The WA Grief to Grace team is releasing funds to assist those seeking healing from abuse to participate in the Grief to Grace program overseas. PHOTO: DAVE MORILLO

People who have been abused or harmed in Church or other environments and are seeking healing may be eligible for a new funding scheme available from 2023.

The Grief to Grace team in Perth, Western Australia, is making funds available to cover anyone in Australia who wants to attend the Grief to Grace retreat program overseas.
Grief to Grace is a healing retreat program piloted by Dr Theresa Burke in the US in 2005. Since then, the program has spread across the US and to other countries.

Grief to Grace has drawn retreat attendees from around the world eager for healing from abusive experiences.

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This includes many priests and religious who seek to grieve childhood and other wounds in a safe, confidential, and spiritually nurturing environment that respects their vocations.
The program has been offered in Australia three times: twice in Hobart (2017, 2018) and once in Perth (2019).

However, COVID-19 and other local issues have made it very difficult to continue offering the program locally.

This is why the Perth site has made the decision to release funds instead to help people living in Australia to attend the program at established Grief to Grace sites in the UK, US, and Europe. Catholic Weekly columnist Dr Philippa Martyr has attended the program (2017) and served on a Grief to Grace team (2019). She is now helping to arrange for payments for people travelling to Grief to Grace sites overseas.

“Grief to Grace is a Christ-centred residential healing program for anyone who has experienced abuse – clergy spiritual or sexual abuse, domestic abuse, abuse in Church employment, or other forms of abuse by those in positions of trust and spiritual authority,” she said.

“On the one retreat, you might find abused spouses, priests who have been victims of clergy sexual abuse, men who have been bullied in Church workplaces, and current or ex-sisters of dysfunctional religious orders.” The program is structured, confidential, and runs for five days, and uses large and small group work combined with somatic healing approaches.

Dr Martyr says that the program is best suited to people who are willing and able to work in a group setting.

“People are often a bit scared of the idea of group work, but it’s absolutely essential to the healing process,” she said. “The mix of men and women who have had different wounding experiences in the Church helps to overcome that sense of being alone and isolated – that you’re the only one who is living with this level of shame and pain.”

The program works closely with people who have been wounded by sexual abuse in the Church, whether as children or adults.

In some cases, the wounds have come from having to deal with repeated local Church scandals.

Sometimes they can come from the multi-generational suffering caused in a family by clergy sexual abuse in another era. But Martyr says that being hurt by the Church in any form is very painful for lifelong Catholics.

“Grief to Grace is a Christ-centred residential healing program for anyone who has experienced abuse – clergy spiritual or sexual abuse, domestic abuse, abuse in Church employment, or other forms of abuse by those in positions of trust and spiritual authority,”

“It’s like the ultimate betrayal – the place where you intimately connect with God has been poisoned by what’s been done to you and sometimes your family.”

“It could be that you’ve been discarded by an unfaithful husband – but he’s now leading the parish council and you’ve been ostracised.”

“Perhaps you worked for a diocesan agency but were bullied in the workplace until you left.” “Or maybe you had to make a complaint about your parish priest’s behaviour, and now you feel like you can’t go to Mass at that parish any more.”

Grief to Grace works with individuals to help gently uncover their wounds and present them to Jesus Christ, the divine Physician, for healing in a supportive and safe setting. Both men and women, lay, clergy, and religious are welcome to apply to attend a Grief to Grace program.

The retreat fee includes accommodation, all meals, retreat materials, after-care materials, and the presence of qualified specialist counsellors/ The program is structured, team-led and is guided throughout.

Each site undertakes a comprehensive intake process for each applicant to make sure that the program is right for them.

The Australian funding available in 2023 will cover the retreat fee up front and will reimburse participants for the value of an economy air fare to and from the site.

Interested people are invited to visit the funding website at https://grieftograceperth.com/ and read about the terms and conditions.

You can also visit the international Grief to Grace website to see what programs are available to attend at: http://grief-to-grace-lsi.squarespace.com/retreat-calendar

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