By PATTI MENGERS, Times Herald News
Officials in the Archdiocese of Philadelphia say it is another step in the healing process for Roman Catholics who were abused by priests when they were children. Advocates for survivors of abuse say it is just adds insult to injury.
Touted by the archdiocese as "the Mass for healing for victims of clergy sex abuse," the service will be conducted by Philadelphia Archbishop Charles Chaput at the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul in Philadelphia Saturday evening.
"All are welcome to attend as we continue to pray for the survivors of clergy sexual abuse, for the healing of the Church and for all who have been affected by clergy sexual abuse," said the press release issued by the archdiocese 10 days before the Mass.
That would translate to dozens of victims of more than 60 priests since the 1940s in the five-county area that comprises the Archdiocese of Philadelphia, according to two Philadelphia Grand Jury reports issued in 2005 and 2011. "Holding the Mass is just one way in which the archdiocese reaches out to victims in an effort to assist them on the path to healing," said Kenneth A. Gavin, Director of Communications for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.
The last place most people who have been abused by priests want to be is in a Roman Catholic Church maintains Tammy Lerner, Vice President of the Foundation to Abolish Child Sex Abuse, an advocacy organization started in 2006 by foundation president John Salveson of Radnor, himself a survivor of clerical sex abuse.
"It just shows a complete lack of understanding of the trauma (the Catholic Church) has caused individual victims," noted Lerner.
Gavin said the archdiocese's Office for Child and Youth Protection "had received requests from multiple victims for a Mass of this type to be celebrated by the archbishop."
"As the office oversees the Victim Assistance Program in addition to ongoing efforts aimed at preventing child abuse through education and training, it was logical for it to spearhead this effort. Through it, outreach was made to all the victims with whom it has had contact and who expressed a willingness to receive ongoing information," said Gavin.
Last week Lerner said she had heard from several clerical sex abuse victims who had received letters from the archdiocese about the March 22 Mass and they "are refusing to go and are outraged."
"It just seems to me it is more about public relations for the Church than healing for victims. If it were about healing for victims, they would not ask victims to enter a church setting where the abuse occurred," said Lerner who added that some of those victims were also recently informed that their psychological therapy would no longer be covered by the archdiocese.
Gavin said last week to accommodate victims who might not wish to physically attend the Mass, it was going to be live-streamed on the archdiocesan website with care "to not have cameras focus on any individuals in the congregation."
"We cannot imagine the enduring pain which victims and their loved ones suffer. We take our role in assisting them on their path to healing seriously. Praying with and for victims is only part of the process but it is an important one," said Gavin.
Lerner has lobbied state legislators to remove the civil statute of limitations so that victims of child sex abuse can file lawsuits against abusers who have escaped prosecution because of the previous criminal statute of limitations that was expanded to age 50 in 2006. She maintains it is the only way they can expose their predators who are still at large. Representatives for the Roman Catholic Church lobbied against expansion of the criminal statute and are now doing so against the civil one, she noted.
"If it were more about helping victims, they would publicly identify abusers they know about, but they are not that transparent," said Lerner.
None of the priests accused of abuse in the first grand jury investigation were prosecuted because their superiors had failed to turn them over to civil authorities before the old Pennsylvania statute of limitations for child sexual abuse had expired. In 2002, after the molestation conviction of a Boston priest triggered accusations of clerical sexual abuse nationwide, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops ordered that church hierarchy turn all reported abuse cases over to civil authorities.
Three priests and a male lay teacher named in the second grand jury investigation were able to be prosecuted because of the expanded criminal statute. Former parochial school teacher Bernard Shero, the Rev. James Engelhardt and Edward Avery, a defrocked priest and former Haverford resident, are now serving jail sentences for abuse of the same altar boy at a northeast Philadelphia parish between 1998 and 2000. The Rev. James J. Brennan, who taught at Cardinal O'Hara High School in Marple from 1991 to 1996, is awaiting a June 16 re-trial for allegedly attempting to rape a 14-year-old boy in his apartment in 1996.
As a result of the second grand jury investigation, archdiocesan officials suspended more than 20 priests alleged to have behaved inappropriately with minors, turned their cases over to law enforcement officials, then had them reviewed by an archdiocesan panel of law enforcement and child abuse experts. Some have been restored to public ministry by Chaput while others have been permanently removed because of credible allegations of abuse. They may be defrocked by the Vatican. On March 12 a mistrial was declared in the case of one suspended priest, the Rev. Andrew McCormick, who is accused of abusing a 10-year-old altar boy in 1997 at a parish in the Bridesburg section of Philadelphia.Read more...