Special Mass for abuse victims seen as one step on journey of healing

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When Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio of Brooklyn 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 celebrated the evening of 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," DiMarzio said 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 pope refers to these sexual sins as "execrable acts of abuse that have left lifelong scars."

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 in Brooklyn to support each other's recovery. It was the members of that group who asked DiMarzio to offer the Eucharist with them.

Phil Franco, a survivor of abuse, said, "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 DiMarzio 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 Catholic bishops of New York to support the lifting of the statute of limitations that prevents crimes committed before a certain date from being prosecuted.

Local politicians say they support a continuation of the statutes because memories change over time, witnesses disappear and little evidence may survive.

The Brooklyn diocese, like other dioceses, provides an educational awareness program about abuse for church workers, volunteers and clergy as well as for potential victims. It also has a confidential toll-free action phone line for anyone who wishes to report an incident of abuse by a member of the clergy or diocesan personnel: (888) 634-4499. Calls are returned by the diocesan victim's assistance coordinator.

DiMarzio also has pledged to meet with anyone who comes forward, if they so wish.

[Ed Wilkinson is editor of The Tablet, newspaper of the Brooklyn diocese.]

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