• Smaller Small Medium Big Bigger
  • Default Helvetica Segoe Georgia Times

Victim-survivor of sexual abuse shares powerful story of healing at Grief to Grace retreat

By John Andrews

In the serene foothills of a Southern California Benedictine monastery last summer, Greg Montigny wrestled with the memories of a decade of horrific childhood sexual abuse.
He went through his own Stations of the Cross, wore the shroud of a corpse, and experienced a symbolic burial – and then a rising.

Montigny says that his experience of attending a Grief to Grace Retreat for victim-survivors of sexual abuse was a deep and profound milestone on his journey of healing.
“That retreat literally changed my life in a every possible way,” says Montigny.

Two years ago, the Diocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection (OCYP), in its ministry to victim-survivors, began promoting the week-long Grief to Grace Retreats in California, working in collaboration with the non-profit organization All Things New. They focus specifically on healing the wounds of abuse in a retreat format to help survivors unite their suffering with the agony, betrayals, abandonment, and suffering of Christ. Grief to Grace is led by a team of trained facilitators that usually includes two mental health professionals and two priests, to cover both the psychological and spiritual needs of the retreatants’ healing process. Grief to Grace utilizes pyschodrama techniques to connect retreatants’ abuse experiences with the passion and death of Jesus. It also takes a holistic approach, identifying and healing parts of the retreatant’s body that continue to carry the stress and trauma of their abuse.

“Most of the Catholic stuff I had done was fluffy,” Montigny said. “This was intense…we were exhausted.”

Diocesan OCYP Director Elder Samaniego coordinated the retreat attended last year by Montigny. Of the 15 retreatants, seven were from the Diocese of San Bernardino.

Growing up in Canada in the 1970s and 80s, Montigny describes the severity of his abuse as being “at the deep end of the pool.” He says it began at age three and lasted more than a decade. He was trafficked, with the consent of his father, and at the age of seven contracted the HPV virus and Condylomata as a result of his abuse. By the age of 14 he was living on the streets of Ottawa.

But while many of his peers in that environment descended into drug and alcohol abuse, Montigny began an extended period of spiritual seeking that led him from Buddhist monasteries in Asia to Jewish temples in Southern California and finally back to the Catholic faith into which he was born. Though he had yet to confront his experience of abuse, Montigny says he thinks his interest in different spiritual disciplines was a gift from God to help him begin to cope with it.

“I was looking for existential relief,” he says.” “God was reaching down to me, and He was giving me a super strong spiritual inclination at an early age.”

Like many victim-survivors, Montigny suppressed the memories of his abuse for decades. At the end of 2016 they began flooding back to him, sending the life he knew spiraling downward. Relationships, including his marriage, and his general sense of self simply “disintegrated” under the weight of the trauma, he said.

He returned to Canada to confront his abusers, resulting in criminal charges against one. He demanded his childhood medical records to confirm a painful surgery that resulted from his abuse.
The recovery of his memories of being abused also spurred his return to the Catholic Church. Facing what had happened to him forced him to acknowledge the presence of true evil in the world, he said, but that also made God more real and the suffering and sacrifice of Jesus on the Cross an “ontological reality,” to him.

“Christ started to make sense,” he said. “It was the only thing that explained what had happened to me.”

Confirmed in 2021 Montigny calls his journey in the Catholic faith “a slow crawl.” He continued to struggle with the pain, anger and anxiety brought by memories of his abuse until his Grief to Grace experience last year gave him hope. Inspired by Samaniego and others from the Diocese whom he met at the retreat; Montigny made the decision to relocate from Santa Clarita to Redlands.
“The Diocese of San Bernardino is a place that understands the importance of having ministry to survivors of sexual abuse,” he says.

Montigny says he would like to minister to other survivors of sexual abuse and help guide them in the tenants of the retreat experience he had. He’s currently enrolled in a Pastoral Certificate program through Loyola Marymount University to deepen his understanding of the Catholic faith and develop skills in order to be of better assistance to other survivors of trauma.

While the clergy sexual abuse crisis has increased awareness among Catholics of the issue of child sexual abuse, Montigny compares victim-survivors to “lepers” in the Church, saying he thinks most do not want to hear the stories of abuse that he and others have to tell. He says his ministry will be about helping victim-survivors feel more comfortable in parish life, and helping parishioners better understand the issues they face.

“I want to help facilitate better interaction between people and those of us who have been through deep end of the pool abuse,” he says. “There’s fertile ground here for me to do the work that I want to do.”

Montigny’s journey in healing will be lifelong, he says, adding that he does not think he has recovered all the memories of his abuse experience, but “I know enough now that I don’t need to go any deeper.” He says he’s grateful for the sense of possibility that his Grief to Grace experience gave him.

“I feel like I can see that God has a plan,” he says. “The question is, can I live up to it?”

His own story is already familiar to many, thanks to his presence on X (formerly known as Twitter) and lengthy interviews he has given on podcasts like “Catholic Re.Con.” Speaking publicly about what happened to him has been an important part of his healing, Montigny says.

“Not talking about it destroyed decades of my life,” he says. “Sunlight is the best disinfectant.”

John Andrews is the Editor of the Inland Catholic BYTE and El Compás Católico.