Clergy abuse survivor at Cathedral Holy Hour: ‘God has not abandoned us’

| September 17, 2018 | 0 Comments

Archbishop Bernard Hedba incenses the Eucharist in a monstrance at the beginning of the Holy Hour of Reparation and Prayers for Healing at the Cathedral of St. Paul in St. Paul Sept. 15 on the Feast of Our Lady of Sorrows. Next to him are, from left, seminarians Joseph Nguyen and Timothy Tran, and Father Tom Margevicius, director of the archdiocesan Office of Worship. Dave Hrbacek/ The Catholic Spirit

God has not abandoned the Church, and he joins his people in their deep sorrow over the abuse scandal that has rocked the U.S. Church, a local survivor of clergy sexual abuse said during a Holy Hour at the Cathedral of St. Paul Sept. 15.

“My fellow Catholics: During this abuse crisis, have any of you wondered where God is, and how he is feeling? I have,” he said. “I came to the conclusion that God has not abandoned us. In fact, I believe he is crying right along beside us.”

Introduced by Archbishop Bernard Hebda only as “a vibrant defender of our Church and of the faith,” and who wished not to be named publicly, the survivor stood at the Cathedral’s lectern Sept. 15 and delivered a 10-minute reflection on pain, sorrow and hope.

“Every one of us here today has somehow been affected by, is grieving over, and is on the journey toward healing and restoration,” he said of the abuse crisis. “I truly believe God is here today and joins us in our sadness. His tears are of a Father who loves us.”

The survivor spoke at the beginning of a Holy Hour of Reparation and Prayers for Healing held in response to the current sexual abuse crisis. More than 700 people, including many families with young children and dozens of priests of the Archdiocese of St. Paul and Minneapolis, attended the hour-long service. Archbishop Hebda presided over the liturgy, with Auxiliary Bishop Andrew Cozzens also present.

The 11 a.m. liturgy included exposition of the Eucharist and the praying of the seven “penitential psalms” for healing for abuse victims/survivors and healing in the Church.

The penitential psalms — Psalms 6, 32, 38, 51, 102, 130 and 143 — are those in which the psalmist acknowledges his sin and asks for God’s forgiveness and mercy. The psalms were sung by cantors and the congregation.

Praying the psalms was “a way of making reparation for the sins that have been committed,” Archbishop Hebda told the congregation. The arrangement for Psalm 51 was composed by Father Jan Michael Joncas, a priest of the archdiocese.

Archbishop Hebda called for the Holy Hour Aug. 31 in a wide-ranging statement about the current sexual abuse crisis. The prayer service coincided with the memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, a feast day that acknowledges Mary’s suffering during her son’s crucifixion and death.

“As sinners fortified by our mother’s love,” Archbishop Hebda said in a homily during the Holy Hour, “we have gathered this morning not only for prayers of healing, but also for prayers of reparation — reparation for all those times that representatives of the Church we love, the Church founded by Christ, have taken advantage of the young and the vulnerable by committing acts of abuse, or turned a blind eye to the suffering of those who were abused and their families, or failed to prevent abusers from continuing to offend, or stood silent in the face of abuse.”

From left, SinForina Mendoza and Patty Guerrero of Sts. Joachim and Anne in Shakopee pray during the Holy Hour of Reparation. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Archbishop Hebda expressed gratitude for people in the archdiocese who are working on restorative justice efforts and ensuring parishes and schools are safe, and for people in the broader community who assist the archdiocese’s efforts and provide accountability.

“In the presence of our eucharistic Lord, I recommit myself and our Church to the work of protecting from the scourge of abuse our children, our youth and our vulnerable sisters and brothers,” Archbishop Hebda said. “It is that work that will give the greatest honor to the stories of this morning’s speaker and all who have suffered abuse in our local Church.”

He asked for prayers for abuse survivors, “that through the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows, they might receive the healing that only Christ can bring, might recognize our sorrow and deep shame as sincere, and might contribute as they are able to the transformative change that we need as a local Church.”

Speaking earlier in the Holy Hour, the survivor thanked Archbishop Hebda.

“During the relatively short time you have been in our archdiocese, you have had to lead the flock during very difficult times,” he said. “We are a Church in need of a strong and compassionate shepherd. Your commitment to transparency and to a zero tolerance of abuse of any kind laid a firm foundation upon which to build.”

He commended Archbishop Hebda and Bishop Cozzens for “tirelessly navigating the damaging effects” abuse has had on people and the Church.

“You have shown concern and love for the victims who have been deeply affected and are hurting,” he said. “It is through this loving and supportive attitude that we will be able to heal over time and begin to rebuild our relationship with the Church.”

To priests, deacons, religious brothers and sisters, and seminarians, the survivor said, “you are on the front lines daily” in helping people heal, and that he understands that, because of their vocation, they are sometimes looked at “in the same light as those who are actually guilty of committing the atrocities.”

“You may visit a grade school and hug a second grader having a bad day, and the adult present in the room will be looking to see where your hands are,” he said. “Or, you go to a hospital or home visit to offer your help or the sacraments, and you are viewed through the eyes of one who has been deceived or taken advantage of by clergy and, therefore, you are turned away.”

He said those who represent the Church should be prepared for negative reactions, but it “is imperative that you are open, listening and striving to learn and understand what a victim of abuse feels like and how their lives were affected.” Be willing to let victims express their anger and fear, he told them, and understand their difficulty in trusting others and sometimes God.

He encouraged all Catholics to show compassion and patience with clergy abuse victims, and to understand that it may take decades for them — and the Church — to heal. And to victims, he said, “words cannot begin to describe the feelings and effects of abuse that we have suffered.” 

While all abuse is evil, he said, “what is distinctive about clergy abuse is that it often affects one’s belief in God and our Church.” He said that abuse, however, “does not have to destroy” a person’s life, and that “there is help from a God who loves us and is with us.”

When he finished his remarks, he and Archbishop Hebda embraced.

Archbishop Bernard Hebda delivers a homily. Dave Hrbacek/The Catholic Spirit

Addressing and healing from the clergy sex abuse crisis is “something we all have to take seriously,” said Jeff Howe, 78, a Cathedral of St. Paul parishioner who attended the Holy Hour.

He said he didn’t mind sacrificing time on a Saturday morning to pray for survivors. “I didn’t see it as an optional thing,” he said.

Attendee Claudith Washington, 72, said it was her belief in the power of prayer that compelled her to attend the Holy Hour.

“When I realized that there was an opportunity for us to gather as a huge community, I just couldn’t miss it. It’s like, I’ve got to be there to beg for God’s mercy. I believe it will make a difference, I believe it will strengthen the archbishop, I believe it will clarify where we need to go to fix things. For me, it was a concrete action. We’ve been suffering so much, this is a concrete action. We can do something.”

The survivor’s question — where was God? — stuck with her. “My faith makes me know God is in everything we suffer every day,” said Washington, a parishioner of St. Richard in Richfield.

Hearing from an abuse survivor was “one of the best blessings” of the Holy Hour for Cathedral parishioner Dorothy Kenney, she said, because it made clergy sex abuse concrete, not abstract, for attendees. 

Overall, the Holy Hour was “very prayerful, very peaceful and the people there, their hearts were really in it, and really asking Our Lady of Sorrows to heal our Church,” said Kenney, 88. “I could just feel that.”

The liturgy included Prayers of the Faithful for victims/survivors of clergy sexual abuse, their families and “for those who have lost their faith or whose faith is being tested because of the moral failings of bishops who fail to shepherd compassionately and courageously from the heart of Christ.”

Text from Archbishop Hebda’s homily

In my almost three decades of priestly ministry and six decades of life experience, there have been many times when the grief and emotion have been so great, so raw, that words have seemed meaningless, when presence has seemed more important than eloquence, when the old familiar prayers and symbols of our faith have spoken to the heart, penetrated the heart, in a way that logic could not. 

My fallback, indeed the Church’s fallback, has always been Mary. There’s something primordial, instinctive, in turning to our mother for protection, for a little TLC, in those moments of pain. Having stood at the foot of her son’s cross, there’s nothing that she cannot bear, no pain too great to share. She’s right at home in the trenches, or as the hurricane comes barreling in, or in a cathedral filled with sons and daughters who are angry, devastated, confused and ashamed. 

 As a toddler, I had what was probably an unhealthy interest in the scars on the cheek of the image of Our Lady of Czestochowa, hung in my immigrant grandmother’s home and in every Polish home on Pittsburgh’s South Side. The scars were reminders, I was told, that the Blessed Mother never turns away from even the greatest of horrors, that her faith, her trust, is far greater than her fear.

In the midst of unspeakable grief, we turn to her again this morning, on this feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, to remind us of her comforting presence and the unfailing love of her Son, here present in the Blessed Sacrament. As we are reminded each time we pray the Hail Mary, she’s the one who prays for us sinners, now and at the hour of our death.

As sinners fortified by our mother’s love, we have gathered this morning not only for prayers of healing, but also for prayers of reparation, reparation for all those times that representatives of the Church we love, the Church founded by Christ, have taken advantage of the young and the vulnerable by committing acts of abuse; or turned a blind eye to the suffering of those who were abused and their families; or failed to prevent abusers from continuing to offend; or stood silent in the face of abuse. As painful as it is to read the atrocities compiled in the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report or the allegations made against far-off cardinals or bishops, it’s even more gut-wrenching when we acknowledge that many of those horrors happened here as well. I will be forever ever grateful to our speaker this morning, and for all the survivors who have shared their stories with me.

It is only in confronting that reality that we can have any hope for healing — healing for those who suffered abuse, healing for the Church, and even healing for those who abused, or covered up, or stood silent. 

Just earlier this week, daily Massgoers would have heard the passage from St. Luke’s Gospel detailing the healing in the synagogue of the man with the withered hand. In the presence of all gathered that morning for prayer, Jesus bids the man to come forward and to stretch out his shriveled limb, a badge of imperfection in any society, that hand that had probably been the source of embarrassment and shame since childhood, the hand that he would have probably hidden from sight — but it’s only when he stretches out the hand to the Lord that it is healed.

This morning, we as the Catholic Church of St. Paul and Minneapolis hold out our “withered hand” to Jesus — a painful history of abuse, of insensitivity, of misguided or callous institutional self-protection — and we ask the Lord, Mary’s son truly present in the Eucharist, for forgiveness and healing. We’re ashamed, embarrassed, mortified by our withered hand, but it’s only by exposing it that the Lord will restore us to health in a way that both gives glory to his Father and enables us to engage more fully in the important work before us, entrusted to us by our God.

We know that we will need that hand, strong and healthy, not only to welcome and heal but also to bring stability once the bankruptcy is behind us and we have the opportunity to set our sights in a more intense and focused way on the work of healing and restoring unity in our local Church. I am very grateful to the parishes who have already been working with survivors and other experts in this field to pilot restorative justice initiatives at the local level. I am confident that they are already bearing fruit, but am equally confident that the work is only beginning. We’ve begun a restructuring of the Office of the Protection of Children and Youth to provide greater support for initiatives of that sort as they expand.

I’m also grateful for the support that we have received in the broader community to assist us in our efforts. Our ongoing work with the Ramsey County Attorney’s Office and outside auditor, our periodic reports to the court, and our experience with survivors in the bankruptcy process, have all helped us to know what a healthy hand needs to look like. Realizing that the credibility of bishops is minimal in many sectors these days, I’m grateful that these outside monitors can assure the survivor community and our faithful that meaningful change is taking place.

I thank God daily for the extraordinary women and men on our Ministerial Review Board who keep us on task, as well as for the staff of our well-respected Office of Ministerial Standards. Along with those serving on our corporate board and finance council, they remind me, and our pastors and principals, that actions speak much more loudly than words in the work of rebuilding trust. 

In the presence of our Eucharistic Lord, I recommit myself and our Church to the work of protecting from the scourge of abuse our children, our youth and our vulnerable sisters and brothers. It is that work that will give the greatest honor to the stories of this morning’s speaker and all who have suffered abuse in our local Church.

I feel privileged to be part of that work and ask your prayers not only for me and Bishop Cozzens and our collaborators at the Archdiocesan Catholic Center, but also for the priests, deacons and lay ecclesial ministers who day-in and day-out strive to make Christ the Healer present in our parishes, schools and communities. Join me in beseeching the Harvest Master to send many more virtuous and committed workers into this vineyard.

Finally, let us lift up in prayer the many men and women who have suffered abuse in our community, that through the intercession of Our Lady of Sorrows, they might receive the healing that only Christ can bring, might recognize our sorrow and deep shame as sincere, and might contribute as they are able to the transformative change that we need as a local Church.

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