On June 14, 2017, the United States Conference for Catholic Bishops opened its Plenary Assembly in Indianapolis, Indiana, with a Mass of Prayer and Penance related to praying, also, for Healing of Survivors of Clergy Abuse. The homily was preached by Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta. What are your reflections on the Mass and homily which were live-streamed?
In September 2016, the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors proposed to Pope Francis a Universal Day of Prayer for survivors of childhood sexual abuse. I am so glad the Holy Father approved this idea. In June 2017, at a Mass on the opening day of the US Conference of Catholic Bishops Spring plenary meeting, the Bishops participated in a Day of Prayer and Penance for survivors of sexual abuse within the Church. I watched the video of Archbishop Wilton Gregory’s heartfelt homily to over 200 Bishops in attendance.
I felt calmed and comforted by the Archbishop’s words, his tone and the way he expressed himself. As a simple Catholic listening to a homily at Mass, this was really well written and very appropriate. As a survivor of sexual abuse by clergy, I attempt to reconcile the abuse that was imposed upon me when I was 12 to 16 years old with my Catholic faith and identity. So, hearing these words affected me very deeply.
From my own personal experiences in my life, I know healing and reconciling from childhood sexual abuse by a priest is possible. In my own life, I don’t want to miss any healing opportunity whether it is for me personally, or for my family, or for our larger church. I am involved in opportunities which may provide hope and healing to survivors of clergy abuse here within the Archdiocese of Chicago. I am so grateful over 200 Bishops took an opportunity which may provide hope and healing for many who need it.
As I read the beautiful statements at the bishops Mass of Prayer and Penance, my eyes swelled with tears. Tears of sadness and pain of remembering the horror of the abuse. And tears of relieve and joy, that priests, bishops and clergy around the world have become aware of the tragedy it has caused and the effects it has left on victims and their families. The power of prayer is a gift from God himself. And the fact that others are and continue to pray for the abuse that once happened is a healing moment in the Church and for those affected by such abuse.
As I still slowly continue to heal myself from this abuse, I often pray for courage and strength. As some days are still very difficult, I appreciate the fact that many others, people I do know and those I don’t are giving up prayers for our healing to find peace and joy for us in our world today.
Thank you for those prayers and for the service that was offered up for us.
Archbishop Wilton Gregory of the Archdiocese of Atlanta gave a heartfelt and deeply moving homily reminding the conference and all attendees both of the great pain we survivors continue to feel as a result of our abuse by priests and of the Church’s need to move forward in the healing process. I found his sincere and powerful admission and reminder painful but also profoundly healing. I am grateful for his honesty, but glad I brought a handkerchief.
In Bishop Gregory homily, there are two sentences that stand out the most for me. The first, “… for any decisions that we made or should have made that exacerbated the sorrow and heartache…” second being the profound statement by the Bishop, “We can never say we are sorry enough.” These statements say to me, this Bishop hears me and knows my pain and he acknowledge the role many church members took that prolonged this pain for us and our Church. Bishop Gregory’s words also ascertains that healing can be a long journey and the honest profession, “I am sorry” is food to the victims’ soul that needs to be attended to with care and served when necessary and with sincerity.
And, I wish to add on to Bishop Gregory’s wisdom, that true sorrow offered to a victim is, has its most value, when that apology is put into the following actions: in accepting us, including us, listening to us, and recognize the value of transformation in us has a purpose in God’s eyes and to His Church – Our Church. Thank you, Bishop Gregory, your words touch my mending heart and nourish my hungry soul.
My reaction? I heard a United States Catholic leadership whose understanding is evolving in terms of what survivors need from them. The pace of growth has been fast for a vast and complicated institution, yet undeniably painfully slow for survivors who grapple with mortal lifetimes hobbled by abuse inflicted by members of the Church.
Tension is part of this and every dialogue that leads to healing. Who said growth is supposed to be comfortable? My healing as an individual sure wasn’t. Why should healing in the Church be?
What I noticed during Mass was how the language of faith finally is being used to address the wounds of abuse with sensitivity. Understanding our pain as a spiritual wound–not merely a psychological wound– is critically important. It makes healing and reconciliation possible, because it makes pastoral dialogue possible. This is reason to hope.
Dialogue restores relationships. So, no matter how uneven progress may be—as long as children and survivors are safe within the walls of the Church—the dialogue, however uncomfortable, needs to continue so we can reknit torn connections. No other generation can do this work for us.
Much remains torn after abuse wounded the whole Church. Abuse has driven many away from the Eucharist and its healing. Abuse has created a moral dissonance that leaves others ambivalent toward promises of joy in a life surrendered to Christ. Abuse has left ordained and consecrated people grieving in private, uncomforted, and in public scorned, even marginalized.
Much reknitting remains to be done within the United States Catholic Church. Someone recounted a tenant of narrative in restorative justice to me recently: “We were wounded in relationships. In relationships we must heal.”
The United States Catholic Church responded to the child-abuse crisis by developing a blue-chip child protection program unrivaled by any other. I have complete faith that, over the long haul, a pastoral dialog sensitive to survivors’ issues will lead to nothing less in the realm of restorative justice. The leadership raised up for all to see during this Mass further confirmed my belief.