Mona M. VILLARRUBIA, From Hurt to Healing: Childhood Sexual Abuse by a Catholic Priest. One Woman's Story. Baltimore: PublishAmerica, 2004. pp. 176. No Price Listed pb. ISBN 1-4137-2259-8.
Reviewed by Georgie Ann WEATHERBY, Gonzaga University, Spokane, WA 99258-0065

Villarrubia is a victim of sexual abuse by one Catholic priest and one sibling during her early years and by another Catholic priest in her teen years. She states that she writes the book not in an effort to vent, but to come to peace (post-therapy) and to give hope to other victims and their supporters as well. The author calls this a "narrative of healing" written in three distinct voices. We hear from the "reasonable adult," the "hurting, angry adolescent," and the "abused child who is still trying to give words to her nightmares" (pg. 12). We learn at the outset that Villarrubia is one of four separate victims of priest abuse in her own immediate family.

The book begins in earnest with a chapter on becoming a victim. Fear, shame, and power are addressed. The first two descriptors come about as a result of the third. There is a powerful section on the denial that stems from this discussion. There is a whole internal dialogue about how the term "molestation" better captures the meaning of "abuse," but without violent connotation. Exercises, poems, and feelings are finally given a voice.

Because Villarrubia was abused at the hands of her brother and a priest simultaneously, she saw herself as the common denominator (pg. 22). She blamed herself for what was happening, while never initiating a single instance. It is the criminological myth coming alive: "Good girls don't get raped." Women have been blaming themselves for centuries over the misconduct of males.

By the close of the first chapter, a tormented, fractured soul has taken voice via poetry and creative journaling. This is not science, it is art. And, as the book promises, you will want to put it down because it is HARD to read. But, you likely will not. It is insightful on a number of dimensions.

By the second chapter, we take a deep look at family structure and what can lead to the kind of neglect that overlooks abuse going on right under one's nose. Severe remarks and harsh punishment are gauged as preparation of children by these noncommunicative families for "the inevitable cruelties of life" (pg. 39). The book delves into how abuse is inter-generational. The author's father was abused by a Catholic priest himself, which was never revealed during her childhood. This experience was credited with breeding dysfunction on every level, throughout the many lives of a family.

As a result of finally reporting abuse, we learn how the victim must turn to yet another "man in black" (pg. 50). Victims were also sworn to silence with the threat of excommunication for departing from this vow. In the worst case scenario, victims were dismissed due to lack of credibility and/or reporting behavior not seen by the church to "warrant" the label of abuse. This has led victims to life-threatening circumstances, including self-harm and suicide.

By chapter three, the book takes a more scientific turn. It deals with child development issues, parental influence (good and bad), and the role of religious sisters and especially priests as icons of Christ and unquestionable representatives of God's love for us and the world.

The bulk of the remainder of the book is expressed in the form of journaling. While useful to the victim herself, the pain is her own. The account is entirely individual, and therefore different from similar abuse settings experienced by others. The author makes no claim that everyone will turn to drugs, alcohol, self-hatred, and self-mutilation, but it would be appropriate to actively point this out. Resiliency work reveals that a number of patients under similar circumstances have learned to cope, without shutting out their families and abusing themselves. This discussion is missing from the book. It is instead a highly emotionally-charged, personal account, which should be simply billed as such. When Villarrubia says "I need to stop whining and get on with my life" (pg. 109), her readers would tend to agree. The endless chatter back-and-forth between her inner voices is at times counter-productive and confusing. Yes, these are tough issues, but continual redundancy does not appear to crystallize them in any significant way.

Forgiveness is equated with healing, but the emphasis of this book is really only on the positive nature of forgiveness for the victim. This could be, and should be, extended to the abusers as well. Then finally we hear: "Such a reconciliation can come about only if we include priest-abusers. They too are part of our church, and they should not be abandoned" (pg. 163 and also an excerpt from America Magazine by the author in 2002). Compassion moves us closer to forgiveness.

In conclusion, the words "Do this in memory of me" are proposed as departing from the literal translation of the ritual of taking the bread and wine. They should instead be understood as "a challenge to live, and, if necessary, to die for God" (pg. 174).

The book, in sum, moves artfully from anger and self-absorption to empathic acceptance, a model of Christianity. While rough in spots, its message is vital to a church whose attention can no longer turn away from those once victimized and now forever scarred.

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