KC diocese offers healing services to victims of sex abuse

by Elizabeth A. Elliott

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The Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., currently without a sitting bishop since the April resignation of Bishop Robert Finn, is reaching out with healing services to those sexually abused by priests.

The services, Healing Our Parishes through Empathy (HOPE), are the first of their kind in this diocese, according to Carrie Cooper, director of the Department of Child and Youth Protection.

The services, which are not Masses, are being held at various times and locations over the next 10 months, culminating with a Service of Lament June 26, 2016, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.

Archbishop Joseph Naumann of the neighboring Kansas City, Kan., archdiocese, who is the temporary administrator of the Missouri diocese, will be at two of the healing services and the lamentation service.*

The first service was held at St. Thomas More on Aug. 12. More than 100 people attended the service, according to Cooper. The second is scheduled for Sept. 9 at St. Elizabeth Parish.

Kenneth O'Renick*, of Kansas City, Mo., attended the service. He is a survivor of sexual abuse by a priest when he was six years old at St. Ann's Church in Fairmount, Mo. O'Renick said he understands that the church is trying to make a difference and thought the service was heartfelt.

"The archbishop did a good job of expressing his personal sorrow and his concern. He was there as a guest, and I think he did a really good job of presenting examples of what it means to heal. I think everybody was pleased at his demeanor and his words and his sincerity."

O'Renick said he talked with priests after the service in the south Kansas City parish and had a one-on-one conversation with the archbishop.

"I told him I appreciated him coming here, but in my opinion a repeated apology does not help the victims," said O'Renick. "We had dinner with Fr. [Donald] Farnan [pastor of St. Thomas More Parish] and one of the other victims who was abused by a KC priest who has never been convicted. [I have] never been that close to someone that was a true ongoing victim who was also abused and just overwhelmed that this 55-year-old man was struggling to stay alive.

"Apologies are basically lip service to an insidious policy of the clergy protecting the clergy in cover up," he said.

O'Renick polled about 20 people after the service to get their response to the evening's service. Some said they were uncomfortable speaking with Naumann while he was dressed in liturgical robes. "If the archbishop would have come in his black suit without his regalia and spoke as a person not as an archbishop, it would have been more credible and touched us more deeply," O'Renick said others told him.

Cooper said that to invite people to the services, the diocese sent 79* letters of invitation from Naumann in early August to people who had been plaintiffs in sexual abuse lawsuits against the diocese from 2008 and 2014.

The staff of the Child and Youth Protection office offered personal invitations to survivors they have worked with, she said. Parish priests have been asked to promote the services. Flyers have been inserted in parish bulletins and posted to parish websites. Ads were also placed in the Kansas City Star and the diocesan newspaper.

Cooper said the services are part of the diocese's preparation for the Year of Mercy, which begins Dec. 8.

"Our goal is to reach out to those who have been hurt by the church and let them know we're there for them and we care about their healing journey."

In September 2012, Finn, then-bishop of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, Mo., was convicted of a misdemeanor count of failing to report suspected child abuse in the case of Shawn Ratigan, a now-former diocesan priest who was convicted of child pornography charges. Finn served a two-year suspended sentence in Jackson County, Mo., and struck a deal later that year with a Clay County, Mo., judge to avoid a similar charge by entering a diversion compliance agreement that included regular meetings with the county prosecutor for five years.

Fallout from the Ratigan case came in 2014, when an arbiter and judge ruled that the diocese had violated five of 19 child safety measures it agreed to as part of a 2008 settlement with abuse victims, and the diocese had to pay $1.1 million for breaching the terms.

Last September, the Vatican sent Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa, Ontario, to the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese to investigate the leadership of Finn. Some seven months later, Finn resigned. His replacement has not yet been named.

According to Cooper, the archbishop and eight priests attended the Aug. 12 service. Independent counselors were available before, during and after the service in the back of church, in case anyone wanted to talk. Cooper said the counselors talked to several survivors interested in more information.

The archbishop noted during his talk, a copy of which was provided to NCR, that clergy sexual abuse creates a deeper, complicated wound.

"It is a spiritual wound resulting, not only by having been hurt by someone you had a right to trust, but from someone who represented to you the Church and in some measure even symbolized God," he said. "The unique and insidious nature of these wounds is that they can impede those victimized from being able to approach the very place one should be able to come for healing and comfort -- the Church and even more devastatingly it can block out ability to reach out to Our Lord -- Divine Physician, the ultimate healer."

The archbishop also offered an apology to those who felt they were not treated with respect when they came forward to make the diocese aware of the abuse.

"As the Administrator for the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph, as the leader for the moment of the Catholic Church in Northwest Missouri, I offer my heartfelt apology on the part of the priests, deacons, religious and laity of the Diocese," he said. "I am ashamed and saddened that this terrible injustice was done to you by a member, a representative of our Church. I apologize that we failed to protect you."

He went on to say, "I also apologize to the priests, religious and laity for the pain you have suffered because of our failure as bishops to protect the innocent, to provide compassionate care to the victims, and to respond swiftly, transparently, and effectively to the misconduct of the clergy or other representatives of the Church."

David Clohessy, executive director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), said the services were a textbook public relations plan by the diocese.

"Wounded adults can heal themselves, with or without action by bishops," he said. "Innocent kids and vulnerable adults, however, cannot protect themselves from predators without action by bishops."

Services are to be held in parishes where there were known abusive priests, St. Elizabeth on Sept. 9, and Nativity of Mary on Nov. 11. Cooper said they are choosing these places on purpose.

*An earlier version of this story misspelled O'Renick's last name and stated that the services were being led by Archbishop Joseph Naumann; Naumann will be at two of the healing services and the lamentation service, but not all of the services. The total number of letters sent has been updated to the correct total.

[Elizabeth A. Elliott is an NCR Bertelsen intern. Her email address is eelliott@ncronline.org.]

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