This column is part of a series about the sexual abuse crisis in the Church.
It’s not easy to step forward and accuse a member of the clergy of sexual abuse – especially when that clergyman is a close friend of the family.
That was the personal experience of two survivors of clergy sexual abuse who spoke about their experiences on In the Arena, the WOR radio show hosted by Msgr. Kieran Harrington and shown on NET-TV.
The two men also were promoting a Mass for Hope and Healing, which Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio will celebrate with them and other survivors of sexual abuse at St. James Cathedral-Basilica, Downtown Brooklyn, on Wednesday, April 15, at 7 p.m.
Dr. Philip Franco, principal of St. Margaret’s School, Middle Village, said he decided to be frank about what had happened to him when his wife became pregnant and he didn’t want the same things to happen to his own children.
Franco explained that he was nine years old when he was taken advantage of by a deacon who later became a priest and was a close friend of the family.
“It was a long and difficult process to admit it to myself and come forward,” he says. It wasn’t until years after the incidents that he told the diocese about it.
Anthony of Middle Village, said his experiences were similar to Franco’s and yet different. The priest-abuser also was close to his family, so it also took him a long time to admit what had happened.
“It’s been very difficult to deal with right up until today,” said Anthony.
“I was 14 years old at the time and I blurred it out for 10 to 12 years. I thought no one was listening.”
When he first went to a rectory to seek help, he said he had doors slammed in his face. Some people did not want to listen to him.
He did gain the sympathetic ear of Jasmine Salazar, the diocese’s Victims’ Assistance Coordinator, by calling the diocesan hotline.
But recovery wasn’t easy.
“First, I cried,” said Anthony. “You don’t want to go over it. Sometimes you have to go through pain to get through it.”
Both men see the upcoming Mass as a way to heal by trusting the Church again and being surrounded by people who care.
Salazar, a trained social worker, explained that the local experiences are not uncommon.
She says that the idea for the Mass of Hope and Healing came from the survivors themselves with whom she meets on a regular basis to provide support and to seek ways in which the Church can help the healing process.
“In the beginning, it did shake my faith,” says Salazar about the experience of dealing with the sex abuse crisis. “But seeing the accountability that the Church takes, seeing the different programs in place to make sure it doesn’t happen again balances it out for me.”
The Mass is not limited to survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy. Anyone who has suffered through or been affected by such behavior are welcome to attend. Also family members and people who want to lend support are welcome. No one will be asked to explain their presence.
The liturgy will be broadcast live on NET-TV. The radio show on WOR will air on Sunday, April 12 at 8 a.m. and can be seen that evening on NET-TV, Ch. 97 on Time Warner and Ch. 30 on Cablevision.