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by Abigail Van Buren

DEAR ABBY: It has been hard to read and listen to all of the news about priests and sexual abuse charges.

I am not Catholic, but I went to church every Thursday and Sunday. My parents were poor; we didn't have a car. Our minister used to pick us up in his car. It was all right when my brother and sister went with me -- but when they didn't, well, that was when the minister took advantage of me.

To be molested in the name of God -- or to be told, "If you tell your parents, God will make sure they die!" -- really does traumatically affect a 7-year-old girl.

I am in my mid-40s now and still haven't completely recovered. My parents, who are now deceased, never knew what happened to me. Even as an adult, the "little girl" in me couldn't take the chance and tell them.

Abby, I have tried to make a difference in the world. My husband and I have been foster parents for almost 15 years. I help children who have experienced the abuse I did. I have learned that love, patience and a lot of therapy go a long way to help -- but nothing can erase what happened.

I feel there should be zero tolerance for Catholic priests, and zero tolerance for sexual abuse of ANY CHILD -- BY ANYONE. -- STILL HEALING IN MISSOURI

DEAR STILL HEALING: I agree. That a clergyman should threaten a child with the loss of her parents if she speaks out about his abuse is truly an act of evil. I'm pleased to know you eventually revealed that you had been assaulted and have received professional counseling. I commend you for devoting your life to helping others. Read on:

DEAR ABBY: I am writing because your powerful words reach millions. This concerns your column about the child molestation scandal in the Catholic Church.

As an elderly person who has been a devout Catholic all my life, I feel I have lost my "holy mother the church." How should I feel about this crisis? Do you think as faithful people there is anything we can do to improve the situation? I pose these questions because my beliefs have been shattered, Abby. Please help. -- DISILLUSIONED LIFELONG MEMBER

DEAR DISILLUSIONED: Now more than ever, the religiously devout need to cling fast to their faith -- but look clear-eyed at those who are delivering the message. And that goes for members of all other faiths, too.

DEAR ABBY: I feel like my stepmom has lied to us kids. Our dad died almost three years ago, when I was 14. I just found out that two months before my father's passing, he was told by doctors that he had only six months to a year to live. He and our stepmother never told us. Well, two months later, Dad died. All us kids were shocked.

Months before his death, he started losing his hair and losing weight. Should I ask what was wrong with my father before he died? Or is it none of my business? -- DAUGHTER WHO NEEDS TO KNOW IN INDIANA

DEAR DAUGHTER: Speak up and ask. You have every right to know what took your father's life, and you are old enough to be told.

Please accept my sympathy for your loss. It must have been a terrible shock. While it may be difficult to understand, your father and stepmother, although misguided, were trying to protect you by not telling you.

Good advice for everyone -- teens to seniors -- is in "The Anger in All of Us and How to Deal With It." To order, send a business-size, self-addressed envelope, plus check or money order for $5 (U.S. funds only) to: Dear Abby -- Anger Booklet, P.O. Box 447, Mount Morris, IL 61054-0447. (Postage is included in the price.)

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