By Jorge I. Dominguez-Lopez
The Diocese of Brooklyn, in partnership with survivors of sexual abuse by members of the clergy, held the fourth annual Mass of Hope and Healing April 25 at St. Nicholas of Tolentine Church, Jamaica.
“This is important for the healing process – healing for survivors, for the victims, and healing for the Church,” said Luis A. Torres, Jr., a lawyer and member of the Diocesan Review Board.
The board on which Torres serves reviews all reports of alleged sexual abuse by clergy to evaluate whether they find them to be credible or not. It is part of the ongoing efforts of the diocese to seek justice and healing for victims and survivors and to prevent these horrible experiences from being repeated in the future.
Auxiliary Bishops Octavio Cisneros, Raymond Chappetto, James Massa, Paul Sanchez, and Witold Mroziewski, and almost 100 priests and deacons from Brooklyn and Queens accompanied Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio at the Mass, which was attended by about 120 victims, their families and friends.
The Eucharistic celebration was broadcast live on NET-TV and streamed on the internet to allow the participation of survivors who didn’t feel comfortable attending.
In June 2017 the Diocese announced the creation of Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program (IRCP) to allow survivors of sexual abuse by priests or deacons of the diocese to seek financial compensation. Bishop DiMarzio implemented “the voluntary program in Brooklyn and Queens to promote healing and to bring some element of closure.”
Petitioning the Divine Physician
In his homily, the bishop said: “We come tonight after finishing the first phase of the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program… Tonight we continue the process of coming together, of praying and asking the Lord for the precious gift of healing. Because He is the divine physician. He is the one who can heal the wounds that we have.”
And then, quoting Pope Francis, he added: “Everything possible should be done to get rid of the scourge of sexual abuse to minors, to open pathways of reconciliation and healing to those who were abused.”
Talking about the suffering of the victims, he added that sometimes it “seems that the sin and hatred takes the place of God’s love in their lives.”
Bishop DiMarzio asked for forgiveness for the abuse committed by the clergy of the diocese and announced a day of penance in reparation for the suffering caused by sexual abuse:
“I have asked the priests of the diocese to join me on the feast of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, June 8 this year, to do penance and to pray in reparation for the damage that has been done by members of the clergy of the Diocese of Brooklyn to the victims of sexual abuse. I express my own deep sorrow and pledge to continue working for the healing that comes only from the hope instilled in us to our dying and rising with Christ.”
He finished his homily with a promise to survivors: “As a diocese, we are committed to continue our zero tolerance policy for any member of the clergy who abuses a minor and harms their innocence.”
At the end of the Mass, Anthony Hughes, who was abused by a member of the clergy when he was 13 years old, gave a moving testimony about his suffering, but also about the changes his sees in the Church.
He said that when he came forward in his 20s, it was a very difficult thing to do and that he got “mixed reactions,” but he found two priests willing to listen to him and help him. He said that both of them were present at the Mass.
“I have met Bishop DiMarzio more than once,” said Hughes. “We know each other pretty well. Our meetings have been very interesting. We have definitely talked about difficult topics. But one thing is for sure – the bishop does not shy away from topics that I raise and always has been willing to fully discuss them with me and I appreciate that.
“I can’t stop telling others that things have changed in the Church, that things are changing and that I appreciate our bishop and priests for being there for me and other survivors.”
He concluded on a hopeful note.
“I have good days and I have bad days, sometimes several bad days back to back to back. But what is different is that I no longer have to rely just on myself during those bad days. I know I now have people that care, people who will support me, guardian angels, and I have a bishop and priests that will pray with me and for me,” he said.
“Here in the Diocese of Brooklyn we have learned that we are not alone, that we still have a place in our Church, that it is our Church.”
The Victims Assistance Ministry can be contacted at 718-623-5236 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.