Commentary: I received restorative justice from the Catholic Church after surviving clergy abuse

Tribune Content Agency

I am a survivor of childhood sexual abuse by clergy in the Archdiocese of Chicago. Bringing justice to abuse survivors is a main goal of the attorney general’s efforts, and I certainly agree with that. I hope to add to that conversation by introducing a key element of justice for survivors that I think is missing in the conversation.

I am a beneficiary of my abuser’s name being listed on the website of the Archdiocese of Chicago, and there is justice and institutional accountability in that. I am also the beneficiary of restorative justice, which is the element that I feel is missing. Beyond the attorney general’s goal of justice and giving voice to survivors as an aid to healing to from the painful trauma of childhood abuse, efforts at restorative justice have helped me, and many others like me, to live a fuller and more complete life.

I am 58 years old. My wife and I have been married for 29 years, and we have two beautiful adult children. I remain an active Catholic, despite the abuse I endured when I was a little boy. My family has been active parishioners at St. Mary of the Woods Parish in Chicago for over 18 years. We have raised our children Catholic and we’ve sent our kids to Catholic schools. Given the nature of the sexual abuse imposed upon me from the ages of 12-16 by one of the Catholic priests at my family’s parish at the time, you might not understand my decisions.

My primary act of recovery was telling my wife, Kathy, my story of childhood sexual abuse in 2006. Up to that point, I had never told anyone my story of how I had been abused, and I finally had the courage to speak about it when I was in my 40s. We had been married over 12 years at that time.

Kathy responded with compassion, love and understanding. To be able to share my story, which I had kept secret for over 30 years, and still feel safe and loved, is a very a profound experience. Feeling believed, heard and respected by my wife has been critical to my healing process.

I became the beneficiary of restorative justice soon after that. Since we are active parishioners, I felt I should tell our pastor at the time, Father Greg Sakowicz. Back then, and now, Father Greg and I have a great relationship. Regardless of that, I was still very anxious to tell him.

Father Greg listened to me and he heard the depth of my sadness and sorrow. He believed me, and treated me with real empathy and compassion — restorative justice begins when the victim is believed. We continued to talk and because that conversation was so good and went so well, with Father Greg’s encouragement, I soon felt comfortable enough to reach out to the Archdiocese of Chicago, and I began the Independent Review Board process.

During this time, I was able to tell my story to officials of the archdiocese, who responded to me with professionalism, decency and compassion, not confrontation — there is justice in that. In short, they believed me, and with that, I was able to begin a therapeutic process of healing. An important part of my healing was participating in individual counseling for two and a half years, and a support group with other abuse survivors for another year.

Another important aspect of my healing process was a meeting with Cardinal Francis George. Cardinal George listened to me. He heard me, believed me and treated me with respect. He apologized to me for the abuse imposed upon me when I was a little boy. I appreciated that and I accepted his apology. Because of the time he spent with me, and because that conversation was so good, I feel comfortable continuing to practice my faith. I hold this personal experience up as a model of restorative justice.

A public memorial space, where there is a permanent public apology for the harm done, is also an example of restorative justice. The Healing Garden of the Archdiocese of Chicago, dedicated in 2011, is that space, located right in the middle of a vacated city street, open for all to see and visit, directly adjacent to Church of the Holy Family on Roosevelt Road. A permanent public space like this means survivors are heard and believed, and there is justice in that.

Annual Masses of Hope and Healing are another example of restorative justice. For 11 years in a row, survivors have been listened to, heard, believed and accompanied by fellow survivors, family members and others who support us at the liturgy. This helps survivors and our church as a whole to remember these painful stories and recommit to vigilance against anyone who would harm a child.

These are just some of the successful local efforts to provide restorative justice to victims, which I personally believe can and should be a model for other dioceses in Illinois and throughout the whole United States in their outreach to victims.

I am also involved at national and international restorative justice efforts. For example, there is growing survivor-driven support for a national public memorial space in Washington D.C., that would acknowledge and apologize for the abuse crisis on a national level. Additionally, the Global Collaborative is a survivor-driven initiative which helped to successfully bring about the recent United Nations World Day for Prevention and Healing from child sexual abuse and trauma across the world.

If you are a victim-survivor and you are reading this, wondering if there is help available to you, or if any of you know someone who needs help, I’d encourage you to contact the Victim Assistance Office at the Archdiocese of Chicago. They have worked with many victims-survivors, like myself and many others.

I also want to express gratitude to Cardinal Blase Cupich because here locally in Chicago, I have accepted virtually every outreach service offered by the Victim Assistance Office. Those efforts, sustained over all of this time, have enabled me, to live a fuller, and more complete life.


If you or a loved one has experienced sexual assault, help is available. Call the National Sexual Assault Telephone Hotline at 800-656-4673 or visit to be connected with resources.



Michael Hoffman is a clergy abuse survivor who lives in Chicago. He was formerly the president of Prevent Child Abuse Illinois.