It had been advertised for months, even before the new bishop was named for the Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph. A “Service of Lament” on Sunday, June 26, 2016 at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Missouri. The bishop would preside.
Those facts alone communicated, “This is going to be a big deal.”
The Office of Child and Youth Protection of the diocese, with the blessing of the bishop, organized it, as well as several healing services in parishes in the months leading up to it: “HOPE: Healing Our Parishes through Empathy”. The healing services were strategically planned to be held in parishes where known predators abused victims in the past. Each service was different, but there was a common theme of the Church’s humility and sorrow for sins of the past, music, readings and litanies that ministered to broken hearts; priests lying prostrate before the altar, then offering genuine words of sorrow; asking for God’s healing; tangible ways for those affected by abuse to express their pain (putting prayer intentions in a box, dropping a small bit of incense in a smoldering pile of incense offering smells wafting through the church – and to the heavens – things of this nature.) These healing services were truly moving experiences and no doubt healing for many.
I attended the first service and left as quickly as I could. I was very sad and didn’t want to speak to anyone. In retrospect, I see that I was focusing on my pain and abuse rather than entering into the healing components of the service. At the second service, when I found myself leaning towards the same sadness, I was able to turn my thoughts to the present moment, the healing moment.
By this time, the new bishop had arrived. This was his first service. It was quickly evident that he was keenly aware of the deep wounds that had been inflicted by members of the clergy and Church officials, and in Kansas City in particular.
As the months of periodic healing services progressed, I kept my sights focused on the June 26th Service of Lament. Being held at the “Diocesan Parish,” the Cathedral, gave it a particular significance. Instead of a priest-presider, the bishop would be the presider. Another indication of its importance.
And this was not a healing service where the focus was asking God’s healing on the brokenness of the victims and others affected by abuse. This was a Service of Lament. where the focus was asking God’s forgiveness for the sins of the Church’s officials and clergy, which in and of itself is a healing thing.
I anticipated the service with great hope, yet some questions. How would Bishop Johnston handle it? The ultimate question in my mind: Does he get it when it comes to clergy sex abuse? As the service unfolded, it was quickly evident that he does.
|Bishop Johnston delivers homily at Service of Lament.
Photo by Sally Murrow.
The service began with a Litany of Voices, short statements of actual victims read by different individuals followed by a response from a priest.
“I was only mad at him, but now I am mad at God, and at you too.”….“I do not merit forgiveness, but I hope you are able to grant it in your time.”
“I cannot trust.”….“I am sorry for robbing you of your trust.”
“The pain was so intense that I didn’t want to live.”….“Your life matters to me.”
“When I came to you, vulnerable and abused, you turned me away.”….”I receive and hear you now….Please forgive me.”
Bishop Johnston’s homily was very good. I thought he struck the right tone, said the right words, showed that he understood and that his heart was with the victims and always would be.
Quite naturally, as the homily progressed, Bishop Johnston talked a great deal about
* child sexual abuse by clergy in the
* Diocese of Kansas City – St. Joseph.
My situation did not apply to either. I was not a child when my abuse began. I was 18 years old, an adult by legal standards. However, I can assure you that I was very much a teen emotionally.
In addition, my abuse did not take place in that diocese.
Suddenly, I began to feel very alone and out of place. As I listened to the bishop, I found myself being so grateful for the advances in the Church when it comes to protection of children, accountability of priests and diocesan officials, and support for the victims.
But at the same time, I thought about the women (and men) in the Church who are abused by priests, who have this man of God in a position of power push himself on her sexually. There are many variations of abuse and misconduct with the priest as the perpetrator and a woman as a victim.
There are no official Church-wide policies to deal with this. So it remains shrouded in secrecy. If it happens, there usually is no crime. There rarely are lawsuits. And the priests predominantly remain in ministry, maybe to offend again.
In the mean time, what about her?
I’ll tell you “what about her?” Take a look at this blog. You can see the effect it had on me. The outreach of the Church amounted to a spiritual director who walked me through it when I reached out to him. He recommended me to a good Catholic therapist. The Provincial Minister said “I’m sorry.” Actually, many priests and a couple of bishops have apologized as well. The abuser died, so there was no justice (in this world.)
The Church has made great strides with children. Now she needs to turn her attention to adults.
Although the service was beautiful and needed, I left it feeling very alone and sad.
There was a very good article about it in The Kansas City Star and a YouTube video they posted of clergy in the entrance processional. As you read the Star article, be mindful of the fact that this newspaper has had an anti-Catholic bias in the past. It was refreshing to read an unbiased article about the Catholic Church in The Kansas City Star.
Our Church and her clergy have hurt so many people, most egregiously children. What happens in childhood becomes a footprint for life. What happens in adulthood can be very traumatizing as well. We have come a long way since 2002. We have a long way to go. I think this Service of Lament in Kansas City was an exceptional step in the right direction.