Abuse survivor launches third support network

September 10, 2013

HOUSTON — In a bid to provide survivors of abuse a safe place to share their experiences and freedom to express their faith, the founder of a support network has started a chapter at the Cathedral Centre in Houston.

The Maria Goretti Network will meet monthly in closed sessions under the guidance of Celina Monks and Miguel Prats, who founded the group in 2004 in reaction to his own experiences of abuse and the support gap he saw within the Catholic Church. 

“I wanted a group like SNAP, where it’s OK to turn to the Lord and call on Jesus,” Prats said, referring to Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. “We needed a Catholic version.”

Prats initially turned to SNAP when his experiences of abuse resurfaced following the news of the 2002 sexual abuse scandal in the Boston Archdiocese. Prats said he was sexually abused as a 5 year-old by a mentally challenged neighbor, and as a young adult he was touched inappropriately by a priest who had befriended him. 

“It was all over the TV and radio, day and night, and after hearing repeatedly about the scandal in Boston, I started to remember the incident with the priest,” he said.

Now 61, Prats said at the time he felt the Church was not helpful, so he threw himself into fulfilling the mission of SNAP, starting five chapters across the state. However, he became disillusioned with the organization because of the pressure he felt to disavow his religion, he said.

“I’ve been Catholic all my life, and I never had a problem with the Church except for this one jerk,” he said. “I said, ‘I’m not going to throw away that entire experience of the Church because of one man.’ I can’t live by that logic.”

So, after hearing the story of Maria Goretti, patron of youth and victims of rape, Prats said he wanted to create a support network to help people like himself, “survivors” not “victims,” and that also acknowledges his faith. 

He emphasized the network is not counseling, but a peer support group for anyone who has suffered any kind of abuse, no matter what religion they are.

“We pray, but we’re not there to push Catholicism on anybody,” he said. “You are there to help yourself. It’s a safe place to tell your story and be believed.”

Like Prats, Monks, the women’s leader of the group, was propelled into helping other survivors because of personal experiences of abuse. She not only sought counseling to help her deal with the emotional abuse she suffered in her first marriage, but also the support group setting of the Maria Goretti Network, which she said helped her move forward. Now, she is in a position to help others. 

“I feel strongly that I know how to listen, and I empathized greatly with people and just want to be there and if appropriate, offer insight and let them know they are not alone,” Monks wrote in an e-mail. “It is one thing to talk one on one with a professional, but it is quite something else to experience the support of a group setting.”

The Cathedral Centre chapter is the third started locally by Prats. There is one at St. Martha Catholic Church, serving Kingwood, and one at St. Mary Catholic Church in Longview. 

“I encounter (abuse) frequently, both in counseling and the Sacrament of Reconciliation,” said Monsignor Chester Borski, pastor of St. Martha. “It’s one of the reasons I support the Maria Goretti Network.”

Borski said though he doesn’t sit in on the meetings, he understands most of those who attend the meetings are dealing with abuse within their family.

“A lot of people simply need a safe place to go and talk and share their experience with others who have been through it,” he said.