A Heart Encircled with Thorns: A Clergy Abuse Victim Receives a Mysterious Message of Compassion and Healing from the Mother of Jesus

A Heart Encircled with Thorns: A Clergy Abuse Victim Receives a Mysterious Message of Compassion and Healing from the Mother of Jesus


By Kevin Burke, LSW

Author Rod Dreher shares about a deceased friend named Michael.  In the 1960’s, at age 11, Michael was raped by a monsignor who was principal of his Catholic school. 

The boy told his mother what had happened.  Did she respond with love and concern?  Tragically, a toxic manifestation of clericalism led to a different response:

[Michael] told his working-class Irish Catholic mother what happened. She slapped him hard and told him never to speak ill of a priest. That was it.

He became the sex slave of a priest who went on to become a bishop. Michael became a chronic alcoholic who compulsively sought out sex with men, often priests. Eventually, as an older man, he found sobriety.

He told me about how back in 2002, I think it was, a priest from somewhere in the Balkans came through New York to say some masses. This priest was purported to have some sort of mystical gifts of healing. The priest said mass at a big parish in Queens. Michael went to the mass, though the priest spoke no English. 

He was hoping for a miracle. Michael said he waited in line to get the priest’s blessing, and made sure that he was one of the last ones. He didn’t want to be greedy.  He knelt to receive the blessing, then began making his way toward the exit.

Before he got to the door, an English-speaking assistant of the Balkan priest ran to him, took him by the arm, and said, “Father wants me to tell you that the Holy Virgin saw your suffering there, at the hands of that priest. She was there with you, and suffered too.”

When Michael told me that, he was crying. Those words had been so healing to him. My unspoken thought was, But why didn’t she strike down the evil monsignor? Michael, he was just grateful that he had been seen, and that the Mother of God shared his suffering. That was enough for him.

As I read this passage, I thought of the familiar image of the Immaculate Heart of Mary, encircled with thorns.

On May 13th we celebrated the 105th anniversary of the apparitions at Fatima Portugal.   During the apparition of June 13 the visionary Lucia said that the Blessed Mother opened her hands and shared a great mystery with the 3 children:

“[In this light] we felt we were submerged in God… In front of the palm of Our Lady’s right hand was a heart encircled with thorns which appeared to pierce it. We understood it was the Immaculate Heart of Mary offended by the sins of mankind, craving reparation.”

The Fatima message was an urgent call from God, entrusted to the Mother of Jesus, for the world to recognize that the human family was at a crossroads.  Mary not only predicted a second world war if men did not repent and convert, but also of coming persecution of the Church and all Christians under nazi and communist regimes. 

But surely the Blessed Mother also saw coming betrayals, and attacks that would damage the Church – from within. 

The same clericalism that led Michael’s mother to abandon her son to continued abuse, led many clergy, bishops, chancery officials and laity to, in various ways, enable the abuse of the innocent. 

Michael’s story reveals how intimately Mary understands the abuse of her precious children by clergy consecrated to her Son. As Dreher points out, the great mystery is that such suffering is allowed to occur.  Why is there is no direct intervention by God? 

But as Dreher wrote; “Michael, he was just grateful that he had been seen, and that the Mother of God shared his suffering. That was enough for him.”

Consider as well another mystery manifest in this story.

A priest, perhaps himself a past victim of abuse as a minor, was instrumental in the destruction of Michael’s innocence. 

Yet, mysteriously, a priest was also instrumental in Michael’s encounter with the consolation and love of his spiritual mother, Mary.

It brings to mind Jesus, his body covered in the wounds of a vicious scourging, his face bruised and swollen from repeated beatings, his wrists and feet nailed to a cross as he hangs naked, mocked by ignorant, sinful men – men just like us – just like that priest who abused Michael.

What a great consolation it must have been for Jesus to have his mother present as he endured this great suffering. Mary’s tears and anguish were united with those of her son, offered in sacrifice to the Father, an offering of love for your salvation.

  • Learn more about Fatima, and most importantly, be renewed and inspired to live out the messages in your daily life, within your family, and in your faith community.
  • Learn more here about Grief to Grace, a beautiful and powerful journey of emotional and spiritual healing for abuse victims by Theresa Burke, Ph.D., who developed the Rachel’s Vineyard abortion healing program.

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