September 23, 2012
Looking for balance and healing after sexual abuse
Fr. Larry Dowling, Pastor of St. Agatha Church, holds a basket full of coins for the cardinal to bless that will be given out to new Vitus trainers as a momento of thanks towards the end of Mass. Cardinal George celebrated a Mass to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children & Youth on Sept. 15 at Holy Family Parish, 1080 West Roosevelt Road in Chicago. The Mass concluded with a blessing of the new volunteer Virtus facilitators and a procession and blessing to the Healing Garden. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Daniel McCarthy and Matt Byrne, students at St. Mary of the Woods, pass out windmills to priests and worshippers following a procession to the healing garden after Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Fr. Gary Graf, pastor of St. Gall Parish in Chicago, visits with guests in the healing garden along with the other priests concelebrating with the cardinal following the Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Michael Hoffman, Chairman of Healing Garden Comittee and victim-survivor and Mary Ellen Hoffman (his mother) pray during Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Donna Johnson Polencheck, Healing Comittee member and victim-survivor, says the Prayers of the Faithful during Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Mayra Flores, Coordinator of Safe Environment Office for the Protection of Children and Youth, passes out a gift to new virtus trainers who were just blessed by Cardinal George toward the end of Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Kenneth Roberts leads the congregation in song during the Mass. Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
Karen Callaway / Catholic New World
The Scripture readings used at a Sept. 15 Mass in honor of the 10th year of the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops Charter for the Protection of Children and Youth offered the despair and isolation felt by an exile in Lamentations and the comfort of God’s mercy in the Beatitudes.
Their juxtaposition shows the balance we all need, Cardinal George said in his homily at the Mass of Atonement and Hope celebrated at Holy Family Parish, site of the archdiocese’s Healing Garden.
The Mass was celebrated by the cardinal and five priests who are involved with the archdiocese’s response to clerical sexual abuse. It included prayers for victims and their families, for those who assist them and for the forgiveness of perpetrators. It ended with a blessing of facilitators of the Virtus program, which teaches archdiocesan staff and volunteers to prevent child abuse.
Cardinal George focused his homily on the need for both balance and integrity in every human life. Lamentations, he said, expresses the isolation of an individual who is completely at odds with himself and his own self-understanding. The Beatitudes offered in the Gospel of St. Matthew express the mercy and love God shares with the community of believers.
“This stark contrast in the words of holy Scripture reflects the experience of people in their journey of life which takes them and us through good times and bad,” Cardinal George said.
In speaking with victims of clerical sexual abuse, often years or decades after the abuse has occurred, they talk as though they have put that experience in a box and closed it off from the rest of their lives, the cardinal said. But they must open that box to live fully integrated lives, and to stop the abuse from causing further damage.
Priests who have abused children or young people also put that part of their lives in a box, Cardinal George said, and it seems to have little to do with the rest of their lives, which often include many good and generous acts. But without opening that box and acknowledging what they’ve done, they cannot overcome it.
The cardinal said he has often asked perpetrators to offer a real apology to their victims, going beyond “I regret what happened,” to a clear statement of “I’m truly sorry for what I did to you.”
“Again and again,” Cardinal George said, “they can’t quite bring themselves to do that.”
The cardinal went on to say that the way the U.S. Catholic Church has dealt with the sexual abuse of children by clergy since the implementation of the charter in 2002 was like opening that box.
“The box is open now, and it must remain open,” he said.
Only in that way can the church protect children and help promote healing for those who were hurt.
The cardinal spoke of the work done by the Victim Assistance Ministry, and the creation of the Healing Garden, a project undertaken by victims of clerical sexual abuse.
“It is here as a permanent apology,” the cardinal said, and “a place where balance can be achieved.”
After the Mass, those who attended walked out to the healing garden. The group included about two dozen facilitators of Virtus training, which has been provided to more than 120,000 adult staff members and volunteers who work in Catholic institutions, teaching them how to cut off opportunities for abuse and recognize signs of adults who are trying to take advantage of children.
More than 200,000 children also have received safe environment training, to help them recognize when something is wrong before abuse happens.
Both programs are targeted at all abuse of children, not just abuse perpetrated in the church.
The goal of the program is “to be sure that this epidemic of child abuse is stemmed and must never be repeated.”
That’s also the goal of Sandra Bustamante, who has facilitated Virtus training for two years. Bustamente is a nurse who has encountered abuse victims and their parents in her professional life. After talking to the parents, Bustamante said, she would inevitably hear, “If only I had this information before, this never would have happened.”
She learned about Virtus when she had to be trained as catechist at St. Stanislaus Bishop and Martyr in Posen, and decided to be trained as a facilitator. Now pregnant with her first child, Bustamante said it’s even more important to her to continue training people.
“A lot of families — especially with Hispanic backgrounds — don’t talk about this,:” she said. “But we have to talk about it.”