Georgia Bulletin

The Newspaper of the Catholic Archdiocese of Atlanta


Prayer Service Offers Healing To Abuse Survivors

By ANDREW NELSON, Staff Writer | Published August 23, 2007

With a gentle touch of a hand and gesturing a sign of the cross, the Catholic spiritual leader of North Georgia offered blessings for healing to the slow moving line of abuse victims, family members of victims and their advocates who filled the aisle of Christ the King Cathedral.

Some 40 people attended the Monday night prayer service on Aug. 13, the first of what is expected to be an annual event in the archdiocese’s prime church and duplicated in parishes throughout North Georgia.

“I think we all need it. We all have this sorrow,” said college student Areli Sanchez, of Forest Park, who came to pray for her family.

Participants prayed for a string of heartbreaking reasons, from family members abused by spouses to people who suffered at the hands of church workers.

It was five years ago that the Catholic Church in the United States was rocked by the news of sexual abuse of young people by clergy, first in the Boston Archdiocese and then in other dioceses. The settlements for the abuse cases have cost the U.S. church some $2 billion.

The church “too often added to the burdens and weighed down the yokes of too many people” through the actions of its leaders, Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory told the group. “I am truly sorry for any pain that a church minister might have inflicted upon any person here or upon any relative or friend of anyone gathered here in prayer this evening.”

Worshippers asked for blessings for abuse survivors, families, and others. The service included a litany of healing, asking God to save, heal, and protect vulnerable people.

The evening service was organized by the archdiocesan Office of Child and Youth Protection as part of a greater effort to reach out to survivors and get parishes more involved in the healing process. Some 30 abuse survivors or family members have been helped by the archdiocesan office, according to its director, Sue Stubbs.

Archbishop Gregory, who guided the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops as its president through the sex abuse scandal and the drafting of canonical and pastoral responses, said he had spoken apologies in the past and is ready to offer them “again and again” to people hurt by abuse.

In words and dress, the archbishop showed his remorse for the scandal. He wore purple vestments, the color of penance.

He told the group that his mission is to ensure the church does everything it can to provide a safe environment and extend help to those in need.

Survivors of clergy sex abuse and their advocates applauded the service as a good start to reach people hurt by church ministers.

Dennis Horion was abused by a priest as a youngster in New Hampshire and took part in a cash settlement from the diocese there. He said church authorities and survivors must leave disputes in the past and work together to save abuse victims.

“It has to be a springboard to bigger things. As long as we are not talking, we are not doing,” said Horion, who started a therapy program in Covington called Adopt-A-Horse Inc. that uses horses and dogs as tools for healing survivors of child abuse.

“Last night may be the beginning of the end” of acrimony, he said.

John Dearie, chairperson of the local Voice of the Faithful chapter, called the prayer service essential to help victims heal. Voice of the Faithful was founded in 2002 in Massachusetts as a grass-roots Catholic lay movement in response to the clergy sex abuse crisis.

“The words of repentance, compassion and healing spoken so beautifully are essential for survivors if they are ever to even consider restoring their relationship to the church,” he said.

Bishops and priests need to better realize the depth of hurt caused by “their grave sins of omission” in the sex abuse scandal, he said.

Sanchez and her fiancée, Jose Hernandez, prayed for family members caught in abusive relationships. Sanchez, 22, said she was moved by the service, the archbishop’s words of healing, and the opportunity it gave to people to find comfort in the church.

Father Victor Galier, pastor of St. Matthew Church in Tyrone, said the service worked because it brought people together in prayer. There isn’t enough opportunity to pray for healing, Father Galier said.