Dawn Eden Goldstein
Dawn Eden Goldstein

Dawn Eden Goldstein writes under the pen name Dawn Eden and is the author of several books, including My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints; Remembering God’s Mercy: Redeem the Past and Free Yourself from Painful Memories, and The Thrill of the Chaste published by Ave Maria Press. Born into a Jewish family in New York City, she lost her faith as a teen-ager and became agnostic. During her twenties, she worked as a rock journalist and for several New York City newspapers. At 31, she converted to Christianity and later became Catholic. Goldstein became the first woman to receive a doctorate of sacred theology degree from the University of St. Mary of the Lake in Mundelein, Illinois, and currently is an assistant professor of dogmatic theology in the online division at Holy Apostles College and Seminary in Cromwell, Connecticut. She is a member of St. Joseph Parish on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C.

In an interview with the Catholic Standard, author Dawn Eden Goldstein reflected on how Catholics can find healing in the wake of the abuse crisis in the Church. As a child, she experienced sexual abuse and has written about her own journey of healing.

Goldstein recalled that the first time she suffered abuse was at the age of five,

 perpetrated by a trusted employee of the temple her family attended. "Like many if not most child victims, the experience left me with misplaced guilt and shame," she said, "especially since the rabbi did not believe me."

Her mistaken belief that she had brought the abuse upon herself – a feeling reinforced by the refusal of adults to penalize the abuser or bring him to justice – left her vulnerable to further mistreatment later in her childhood, Goldstein said. "Predators can tell when a child has low self-esteem," she added.

With adolescence, she developed post-traumatic stress disorder. "It was misdiagnosed for 20 years," she said. "I have discovered that is common for abuse victims; doctors attribute their mental pain to other conditions or causes.”

Later as a young adult she experienced cycles of suicidal depression, which she described as going “through periods of relative stability and periods where I was suicidal. From my late teens to my conversion (to Christianity) at 31, there were very few days when I wouldn’t have preferred to be dead.”

Her post-traumatic stress disorder also led her to experience bouts of anxiety and hyper-sensitivity, she said, adding, “I responded to situations with a disproportional emotional response.”

“My healing began with the grace of conversion to faith in Christ, which I received at the age of 31,” she said. “At that time, I became a nondenominational Protestant. I was certain by God’s grace that God cared about me, and I could no longer think about suicide. I had to think about living and being happy.”

Goldstein said, “As a Christian, I wanted healing. For a long time, I simply projected that the love of a man would heal me from these things.” Then her Christian faith helped her develop the habit of chastity, and she later wrote a book, The Thrill of the Chaste.

She entered the Catholic Church in 2006 at the age of 37. Initially she was drawn by the Church's teachings on the meaning of human sexuality and by its strong pro-life stance.

What convinced her of the truth of the Catholic faith was a powerful feeling of consolation that she experienced during a time of crisis after asking for the intercession of St. Maximilian Kolbe, who died in the Auschwitz death camp during World War II after volunteering to take the place of a fellow prisoner who was condemned to death.

 “That made me feel my home was in the Church that could never alter its teachings on life and the dignity of the human person. I just wanted to be part of the Communion of Saints, and I realized the Communion of Saints was in the Church,” she said.

In an interview with the Catholic News Service, Goldstein noted that St. Maria Goretti – an 11-year-old Italian girl stabbed in 1902 while resisting a sexual assault – demonstrated the importance of both mercy and justice. On her deathbed, the future saint forgave the man who attacked her, but she also gave a detailed description of the assault to police. Goldstein told CNS that St. Maria Goretti, who was canonized in 1950, offers a “model we need to follow,” showing those who suffer “that to forgive is in no way to excuse the abuser.”

When asked about the impact of her faith on her healing, Goldstein told the Catholic Standard, “My Catholic faith has helped me to understand that there is grace in slow healing, that God is not apart from me in the times of darkness and the times when I’m impatient… We know as Catholics we can have perfect faith and yet not have all the healing we desire, because God in a mysterious way is working through our infirmities to give us a greater level of healing than if we were instantly but superficially healed.”

“The whole psychology of trauma confirms what the Catholic Church teaches about the unity of body and soul, because trauma is soul pain internalized in the body,” she said. “…The Good News for the Catholic is when we in faith unite our soul and body pain to Christ’s passion, then even if we continue to feel the physical effects of trauma, they no longer drag” us down.

Goldstein said she wrote the book My Peace I Give You: Healing Sexual Wounds with the Help of the Saints in 2011, “because it disturbed me the Catholic Church had not yet become proactive on the issue of spiritual healing from sexual abuse. I talked to victims and to priests. It was clear if a person was abused in childhood, the priest’s default response was, ‘Get thee to a therapist.’” She said abuse survivors come to a priest seeking spiritual healing. “I wrote the book to help priests and spiritual directors and victims,” she said. “…Healing doesn’t come from methods, it comes from accompaniment which Pope Francis is trying to bring us to… It really does take the whole Church to bring the healing of Christ to someone who’s wounded.”

After viewing diocesan websites, Goldstein said much of the information there seemed “geared toward clergy sexual abuse. Only a small percentage of sexual abuse against children is committed on church property or by a representative of the church. The overwhelming majority of childhood sexual abuse is committed by a family member or a family friend or neighbor.”

Regarding the current abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, she said, “My hope and prayer with this crisis is that people within the Church will step up. Any action has to be driven by lay people in cooperation with the hierarchy, but initiated by lay people.”

Asked how abuse survivors can find healing, Goldstein recommended that they seek spiritual direction and therapy, but she cautioned that they should try to find “a qualified therapist who respects your faith… It’s important to find a therapist who’s had experience helping people who have had sexual trauma and who doesn’t think their faith is part of the problem.” As for spiritual directors, she said it is important to find someone who’s qualified and experienced in assisting survivors of sexual trauma. She recommends that those seeking a spiritual director inquire of religious orders, as they are more likely to have a priest who is available for direction than are diocesan parishes.

Healing can also come for survivors from good spiritual reading, said Goldstein, who recommended daily Scripture reading and daily prayer, and books by writers like Archbishop Fulton Sheen, the noted Catholic evangelist from the early days of television. “Also daily Mass, praying the rosary, praying the Divine Mercy chaplet. They enable you to enter more deeply in the Paschal Mystery. I personally find praying for the holy souls in a cemetery is helpful for me,” she said.

Goldstein said people can also find healing by participating in charitable outreach, “finding people who are less fortunate than you to help. We find healing by going out of ourselves.”

Reflecting on the redemptive actions of Christ and his victory over sin and death by his dying on the cross on Good Friday and his resurrection at Easter also offers a path to healing and hope by those wounded by abuse, Goldstein said, adding, “Our own participation in Jesus’s Passion helps us to participate in his Resurrection as well.”

Asked how the Catholic community can find healing in the wake of the abuse crisis, Goldstein said, “The more time people spend on social media, the more angry they’re going to be. I recommend limiting time on social media. Whatever frustration one may feel on the slow pace of reform in the Church, one needs to channel that into personal holiness and personal action on the parish level and daily prayer for the Holy Father’s intentions.”

“I understand that people who weathered the 2002 scandals bristle at the claim that the enemies of the Church are instrumentalizing the abuse crisis” – using it as a means to an end, Goldstein said. She added, “Please understand that I am not denying that the crisis exists. It does exist, and the blame for it falls upon those in the Church who abused or who enabled or covered up abuse."

The problem, Goldstein asserted, is people on the left and the right in the Church

sometimes “like to use times of instability to set up a parallel magisterium” – that is, they promote themselves as the teaching authority in the Church. “We have to rather hold fast to the center, to Christ, and to prayers for his vicar,” the pope, she said.

As for how faithful priests can find healing, Goldstein recommends they participate in retreats, perhaps guided by the spiritual exercises of St. Ignatius. “It’s there that they’ll find what Christ is calling them to do in this battle. It is a spiritual battle,” she said, adding that it’s important to remember that in a spiritual battle, “God arms us with spiritual weapons…” In the face of evil, she said, “God gives us more grace.”