Program seeks healing in Philadelphia

PHILADELPHIA - Church action following the clergy sexual abuse scandal is most importantly about justice for the victims. But it's also about healing - not only for the victims, but for the entire church community.

With that in mind the Archdiocese of Philadelphia has begun a new initiative, "Honesty, Healing and Hope in Christ: Confronting Sexual Violence in Our Archdiocese." The plan, which consists of four phases implemented over six months, is designed to address the feelings and responses experienced when final resolutions about clergy are announced and going forward.

Coordinating the initiative is Mary Achilles, who served as victims advocate for the commonwealth of Pennsylvania for a decade, and who is the victims advocate for the Archdiocese of Philadelphia.

"This is all about the parishioners, people who have been impacted," Achilles said at a May 4 news conference. "As Catholics, we have been battered by this experience, and our sense of the integrity of the process has been robbed.

"This is an opportunity, a leaping off point, letting people get their arms around the sex abuse scandal, look at it honestly and in a way that people can have an opportunity to voice their concerns, look at remedies and actions that can begin the healing process," she added. "Nothing ends today; today is the beginning."

Achilles and her committee have put together a binder that was given to the clergy that covers a multitude of scenarios and suggestions, including how the news should be broken that a former priest of the parish has either been restored to ministry or permanently removed.

It covers meetings with parish staff, pastoral and financial councils and communicating with parishioners, complete with sample announcements and even sample homilies prepared by St. Charles Seminary faculty as well as suggestions such as informal gatherings for coffee and donuts after Masses where people can exchange their views.

"We have communities of faith that need support and assistance in processing this," she said. "This is certainly not the most positive era in the church, but we have to honor the victims by responding to them appropriately and by doing the best that we can to prevent this from happening to someone else and the best we can to respond better the next time."

Achilles cited statistics that show 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys will be sexually assaulted before age 18.

"We have a moral imperative to reach out to everyone, and it is not just clergy sexual abuse," she said. "A quarter of the people in our pews' lives have been directly touched by sexual violence as a child.

"We cannot return men to ministry without realizing that these individuals will view these men through their lens of victimization, their lens of experience of sexual abuse," she added.

© Arlington Catholic Herald 1970