When Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio celebrated a Mass of Hope and Healing for survivors of sexual abuse by the clergy, the mood was pensive. After all, this had not been done before in this diocese. It was difficult to judge what the reactions would be.
The liturgy was held on Wednesday evening, April 15, at St. James Cathedral-Basilica in Downtown Brooklyn with more than 100 people in the congregation.
The bishop was joined in the procession by Auxiliary Bishops Raymond Chappetto and Octavio Cisneros, 57 priests and 10 deacons.
“The traumatic experience of sexual abuse clearly destroys peace of mind and soul,” said Bishop DiMarzio in his homily.
“We come here tonight for the hope of healing. Healing of a wound that seems never to heal. A wound that is the result of the betrayal of trust especially from those who should have been the bearers of hope and trust, but rather were clergymen who instead for many reasons became purveyors of despair.”
This type of liturgy has been celebrated in several other dioceses and only recently Pope Francis had joined with victims of sexual abuse for Mass at the Vatican. The Holy Father refers to these sexual sins as “execrable acts of abuse that have left lifelong scars.”
Bishop DiMarzio picked up on that metaphor and said the sins of some clergy have caused wounds that eventually left scabs that eventually turn to scars.
But hope and healing are reasonable, beginning with the fact that a survivors group meets here in Brooklyn to support each other’s recovery. It was the members of that group who asked Bishop DiMarzio to offer the Eucharist with them.
Phil Franco, a survivor of abuse, said that “I was able to realize from an early time that the abuser is one person, and the overwhelming majority of priests and Catholics and parishioners have been extremely positive in my life. So, I was able to make that separation.”
As the bishop noted, everyone’s journey of recovery is different. Everyone is at a different stage of the grief process.
Instead of celebrating with the bishop, some activists chose to demonstrate outside the cathedral, asking the bishops of New York to support the lifting of the statute of limitations that prevents crimes committed before a certain date from being prosecuted.
There are reasons for a law like that and local politicians have supported a continuation of the statutes. Memories change over time. Witnesses disappear. Very little evidence may survive. It’s an issue over which emotions run high, only causing more grief as time moves on.
Sexual abuse is a terrible crime and sin. It must be confronted. People must be given a chance to heal. The Mass of Healing and Hope was another step in the long process of coming to grips with an ugly situation.
The Diocese and the Church – much more than other institutions – have taken steps that such incidents never occur again. Greater education is provided for church workers, volunteers and clergy as well as for potential victims. An action phone line has been established. Anyone who wishes to report an incident of abuse by a member of the clergy or diocesan personnel can call the diocese’s confidential toll-free line 1-888-634-4499. The diocese’s victim assistance coordinator will return your call.
Bishop DiMarzio also has pledged to meet with anyone who comes forward, if they so wish.