ATLANTA—With a gentle touch of a hand and gesturing a sign of thecross, the Catholic spiritual leader of North Georgia offered blessingsfor healing to the slow moving line of abuse victims, family members ofvictims and their advocates who filled the aisle of Christ the KingCathedral.
Some 40 people attended the Monday night prayer service on Aug. 13,the first of what is expected to be an annual event in thearchdiocese’s prime church and duplicated in parishes throughout NorthGeorgia.
“I think we all need it. We all have this sorrow,” said collegestudent Areli Sanchez, of Forest Park, who came to pray for her family.
Participants prayed for a string of heartbreaking reasons, fromfamily members abused by spouses to people who suffered at the hands ofchurch workers.
It was five years ago that the Catholic Church in the United Stateswas rocked by the news of sexual abuse of young people by clergy, firstin the Boston Archdiocese and then in other dioceses. The settlementsfor the abuse cases have cost the U.S. church some $2 billion.
The church “too often added to the burdens and weighed down theyokes of too many people” through the actions of its leaders,Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told the group. “I am truly sorry for anypain that a church minister might have inflicted upon any person hereor upon any relative or friend of anyone gathered here in prayer thisevening.”
Worshippers asked for blessings for abuse survivors, families, andothers. The service included a litany of healing, asking God to save,heal, and protect vulnerable people.
The evening service was organized by the archdiocesan Office ofChild and Youth Protection as part of a greater effort to reach out tosurvivors and get parishes more involved in the healing process. Some30 abuse survivors or family members have been helped by thearchdiocesan office, according to its director, Sue Stubbs.
Archbishop Gregory, who guided the U.S. Conference of CatholicBishops as its president through the sex abuse scandal and the draftingof canonical and pastoral responses, said he had spoken apologies inthe past and is ready to offer them “again and again” to people hurt byabuse.
In words and dress, the archbishop showed his remorse for the scandal. He wore purple vestments, the color of penance.
He told the group that his mission is to ensure the church doeseverything it can to provide a safe environment and extend help tothose in need.
Survivors of clergy sex abuse and their advocates applauded theservice as a good start to reach people hurt by church ministers.
Dennis Horion was abused by a priest as a youngster in New Hampshireand took part in a cash settlement from the diocese there. He saidchurch authorities and survivors must leave disputes in the past andwork together to save abuse victims.
“It has to be a springboard to bigger things. As long as we are nottalking, we are not doing,” said Horion, who started a therapy programin Covington called Adopt-A-Horse Inc. that uses horses and dogs astools for healing survivors of child abuse.
“Last night may be the beginning of the end” of acrimony, he said.
John Dearie, chairperson of the local Voice of the Faithful chapter,called the prayer service essential to help victims heal. Voice of theFaithful was founded in 2002 in Massachusetts as a grass-roots Catholiclay movement in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis.
“The words of repentance, compassion and healing spoken sobeautifully are essential for survivors if they are ever to evenconsider restoring their relationship to the church,” he said.
Bishops and priests need to better realize the depth of hurt causedby “their grave sins of omission” in the sex abuse scandal, he said.
Sanchez and her fiancée, Jose Hernandez, prayed for family memberscaught in abusive relationships. Sanchez, 22, said she was moved by theservice, the archbishop’s words of healing, and the opportunity it gaveto people to find comfort in the church.
Father Victor Galier, pastor of St. Matthew Church in Tyrone, saidthe service worked because it brought people together in prayer. Thereisn’t enough opportunity to pray for healing, Father Galier said.
for a listing of alternate locations.