Diocesan News

Mass of Hope and Healing – Listening to the Survivors

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated a Mass of Hope and Healing, April 30 at St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst. (Photos Ed Wilkinson)

The first step in coping with the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Church is to listen to the stories of the victims/survivors.

That was the message delivered in the homily preached by Father Jeffry Dillon at the Diocese’s fifth annual Mass of Hope and Healing. In opening remarks, he introduced himself as “a survivor of priest sex abuse.”

“The only way we are going to heal from this scandal is to listen to the stories of the victims/survivors,” said Father Dillon during the liturgy held April 30 at St. Athanasius Church, Bensonhurst.

Addressing leaders of the Church, he suggested they “follow the model of Jesus who always first asked the people who came to him, ‘What is it that you would like me to do.’ What the survivors would like is to be listened to. Listen to your sons and daughters because if you don’t, you will lose them,” he said.

“For all too often, victims feel that they did something wrong which caused their horrific experience. This is not true. Victims were innocent. Victims did nothing wrong.

“The many in our church family who experienced abuse at the hands of others. Not just priest sexual abuse, but any abuse. They realize that in order for them to heal, they need to come back to the place where the brokenness occurred.”

During his talk, he debunked what he called several myths about sexual abuse victims/survivors. The first was that nobody knew what was going on. He explained that during his elementary school days, one nun would not allow him to become an altar boy because she knew the youngsters were being abused by the priest-moderator.

“It is not true that nobody knew,” claimed the pastor of Our Lady of Light parish, St. Albans. “People knew. Maybe they didn’t know how to address the issue.”

He also said it is not true that victims are only coming forth down to collect settlement money.

“Keep your money,” said Father Dillon. “Give me back my innocence.

“Keep your money. Give me back my vulnerability without the fear.”

He also said that the abuse crisis is not over as long as victims/survivors continue to struggle with the effects of what happened to them.

More than 400 people attended the annual Mass that is sponsored by the Office of Victim Assistance Ministry at the request of victim/survivors in Brooklyn and Queens.

Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio was the main celebrant. Among the concelebrants were seven other bishops and 40 priests. Joining the diocese’s auxiliary Bishops was Auxiliary Bishop Richard Henning of Rockville Centre.

The liturgy was preceded by the lighting of the Paschal Candle by a victim/survivor in memory of those who were victimized and are now deceased. The Mass was carried live by NET-TV, the diocesan cable television network.

For Deacon Philip Franco, another survivor, Father Dillon’s talk “was the highlight” of the evening. “He told it like it was,” said Franco. “He did a great job of saying that what has to happen is that victims have to be heard.”

Bishop DiMarzio said it was “very moving” to hear Father Dillon’s personal experience as a victim.

“It’s hard to understand unless you’re a victim,” said Bishop DiMarzio. “His basic message was that you have to listen. Listening is very important.”

Jasmine Salazar, Vice Chancellor and coordinator of the Victim Assistance Ministry, acknowledged that the event would not have taken been place without the ongoing support of Bishop DiMarzio. She pointed out that since he first came to the diocese in 2003, Bishop DiMarzio has held one-on-one meetings with victims as well as set up focus groups in which survivors support each other in their recovery.