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California diocese holds [healing service] for abuse victims


Amid numerous apologies from Catholic church officials around the world, the Oakland, Calif., diocese held what was believed to be an unprecedented [healing service] for victims of clergy sexual abuse.

About 130 people attended the March 25 [healing service] led by Bishop John S. Cummins. The diocese offered regret for the “grave evil” of sexual abuse and committed to compassionate care for the victims and to never repeat the sins of the past.

During the service, clergy and survivors read an exchange of prayers and lamentations depicting the wrongs done to victims and the remorse of the clergy.

“These evils may continue in some places in the church today,” Cummins said, asking for the forgiveness of survivors of sexual abuse. “The failure of many of the leaders of the Catholic church to confront this abuse head-on, to remove priest abusers and other employees from active ministry or to take the side of the victims has been one of the more distressing aspects of the church’s recent history.”

Sr. Barbara Flannery, diocesan chancellor, said the [service] was “only a beginning, a step down a very long path that we hope will lead to forgiveness from those we have offended.”

The [service] was held in a “neutral” setting at a lodge in Oakland, because many survivors are unable to enter church grounds. Survivors who attended the service described losing the ability to trust and being victimized by church officials who refused to believe them. Some said they’d been molested as small children, while some were abused as adults. Most were Catholic, but some were from other denominations.

“Victorious, that’s what I feel, victorious,” said Sonia Rubino of San Francisco. Rubino said she was sexually abused by a priest when she was a child in El Salvador. “It was a breakthrough for me, breaking the ice and speaking the truth. It’s my truth, and I will continue speaking.” She added that she hopes the [service] “sends a message to other dioceses.”

Other survivors echoed the hope that the Oakland [service] would inspire similar services elsewhere. “This is one of 188 [U.S.] dioceses. In 187 dioceses, this has not happened,” said Terrie Light, West Coast representative for the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP).

National Catholic Reporter, April 7, 2000 [corrected 04/28/2000]