More than 250 individuals came to Our Lady Queen of Martyrs Church, Forest Hills, April 21, to pray for hope and healing for survivors of sexual abuse and all who have been impacted by sexual abuse, especially crimes committed by clergy and church workers.
“The Eucharist is the application of the most powerful medicine to the deepest of wounds,” said Deacon Phil Franco, a survivor of abuse who shared his testimony during the Mass. “It is a roadmap for the journey toward healing.”
This was the second annual Mass of Hope and Healing presided by Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio at the request of a group of survivors in the Diocese of Brooklyn. The bishop was joined by the diocese’s five active auxiliary bishops, 40 priests and 12 deacons.
In his homily, Bishop DiMarzio described the crime of sexual abuse as a deep wound that undergoes a healing process that may last a lifetime. The Church, as members of the body of Christ, are called to accompany survivors in their journey – especially through prayer, he said.
Bishop DiMarzio added that after the unraveling of the sexual abuse crisis in the United States, the Church has tried to admit “the error of not understanding and not responding well to the issue of sexual abuse” and put forth efforts to correct the situation.
“Understanding the missteps of the past, here in the Diocese of Brooklyn we have committed ourselves to a zero tolerance for any abuse of a minor,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
Since 2002, the bishops of the U.S. have redoubled their efforts in creating a safe environment for children within the Church. The pain of those abused is something that would never be forgotten and would drive the efforts to protect the most vulnerable.
Greater education is now provided for church workers, volunteers and clergy. Other resources to protect vulnerable children in the diocese include background checks, VIRTUS and safe environment training for those working with children in the diocese, including thousands of volunteers.
Among the resources to help survivors to heal are the Masses of Hope and Healing, which a group of survivors have requested to be an annual occurrence. Last year’s Mass took place at St. James Cathedral-Basilica in Downtown Brooklyn.
Auxiliary Bishop Paul Sanchez, pastor of Our Lady Queen of Martyrs, said the Church in Brooklyn and Queens wanted to answer these survivors’ petition to have a Mass to heal them spiritually.
“They and we believe that healing comes through prayer and our communal prayer, our standing with the survivors, our demonstration of solidarity is a way of standing with them and interceding before God,” Bishop Sanchez said.
The trajectory of healing is a different process for everyone, he added. That is why it is important to support each individual and continue offering resources like the Mass of Hope and Healing.
“It is like a roller coaster, you go up and you go down and sometimes you are on top of the world and others below the ground,” said Anthony Hughes, a member of the Survivor Advisory Committee of the diocese.
Hughes said that even when sometimes survivors would prefer to forget about what they went through, it is necessary to deal with it. The diocese’s support through different groups is a big help, he added.
The Office of Victims Assistance Ministry offers outreach, healing and pastoral care to those who had been sexually abused as minors by a priest, deacon, teacher, employee or volunteer. The committee has become a guiding voice in the diocese’s outreach to those impacted by sexual abuse committed by clergy and others.
Jasmine Salazar, coordinator of the diocesan Office of Victims Assistance, said the diocese offers several resources to help those affected by abuse, including counseling, referrals to therapy, spiritual guidance and a survivor support group for parents to address triggers of traumatic experiences. In the fall, there will be a group for spouses of survivors of abuse. The office can also arrange meetings between survivors and Bishop DiMarzio.
“The outreach has to continue because there are people who have not come forward,” Salazar said. “This is not something that we address once and then we are done.”
At the end of the Mass, members of the diocesan Healing Intervention Team – a combination of mental health professionals, lay faithful involved in the protection of children and clergy members – were available to talk to attendees. They also provided more information about the resources offered by organizations that assist all victims of abuse.
“We will walk with you, we will try to help you, we will try to assist your family members who also bear this burden with you,” Bishop DiMarzio said.
To report an incident of abuse involving diocesan personnel – priests, deacon, teachers, employees or volunteers at schools or parishes – call the diocese’s confidential reporting line 1-888-634-4499.
Helpful Websites For Survivors
Diocese of Brooklyn’s Office of Victims Assistance Ministry – dioceseofbrooklyn.org/protecting-children/office-of-victim-assistance/
NY State Alliance Against Sexual Abuse – svfreenyc.org/
Safe Horizon – safehorizon.org
Grief to Grace Retreat – grieftograce.org
Male Survivors Organization – malesurvivor.org
Teresa P. Green, Restoring Sanctuary – teresagreen.org