Editor Emeritus - Ed Wilkinson

Sexual Abuse Survivors Hope, Pray for Healing

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.

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One thought on “Sexual Abuse Survivors Hope, Pray for Healing

  1. This is bracing step. A recognition of past missteps, of inattention and a sordid dismissiveness in which the church sought first to avoid scandal, and failed to confront a palpable evil, but we have learned from that mistake.

    Those who seek to extend statutes of limitation ad infinitum believe they are righting a wrong. What they are in fact doing is indiscriminately injuring the church of today and those it helps today.

    Statutes of limitation are already tolled during a person’s minority. To toll them indefinitely is to create a torture venue where the accused may have no practical means of defense. Witnesses die. They grow old. Their memories fail by mere lapse of time and the workings of age. This is especially true where the charge is that a supervisor failed to act. In such a case, the question is always: What did he or she know, and when is that person alleged to have known it. This is a difficult question, but twenty years out, it is, I submit, next to impossible.
    There was a major case, not involving the Church, where so-called recovered memories of alleged abuse, have
    been proven false.

    This is not to deny the reality of abuse; it is to say that not all such claims are true, and unless we do not care for the truth, there must come a time, when any institution should know that the time for making a claim is past.
    I find it especially troubling that persons who wish to extend statutes of limitation indefinitely against religious institutions will at the same time exempt public ones.
    If the playing field be altered or “fixed” for one set of defendants let be done for all.
    To set this uniform standard, will likely put an end to the effort. Because, those who care about some alleged past wrongs, are strangely indifferent to others.
    In recent years, we have imposed new standards or restored old ones. There is alas a need for rules of behavior and strict guidelines that we must adhere to “religiously.”
    Too often, in recent decades “rules” have been given a bad name. I say they are necessary lest one misstep occasion harm to the innocent, and damage the perception of the love we are called to bestow on the whole world.