Published in the Gallup Independent, Gallup, N.M., Nov. 21, 2016
Healing prayers offered
By Elizabeth Hardin-Burrola
GALLUP – About three dozen people attended the Diocese of Gallup’s first healing service for survivors of clergy sexual abuse Saturday evening.
After the 35-minute service at Sacred Heart Cathedral, Bishop James S. Wall met privately with several abuse survivors and some of their family members.
The service was the first in a series of 36 healing services that will be held across the diocese over the next 15 months. As part of the Gallup Diocese’s Chapter 11 reorganization, Wall agreed to visit each operating Catholic parish or school in which sexual abuse occurred or where identified abusers served.
“I’d like to publicly apologize to you,” Wall told survivors attending the service. He added, “There was no excuse for what was done” to them as children.
“In the name of the church, I say to you this evening, I am sorry for all you have experienced,” Wall said. “Because of the criminal behavior of those you trusted, it was not your fault. It was not your fault.”
Wall also apologized on behalf of the church “for failing to minister to you in ways that were respectful of your human dignity.”
Wall spoke for about 10 minutes, with his homily centered on Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount and the Beatitudes found in the Gospel of Matthew. Wall reminded his listeners, “You are not alone in suffering. But Christ is there for you: to comfort you, to console you and to give you his peace.”
Wall concluded his remarks by saying he prayed that abuse survivors would find peace and healing. “Thank you for your courage to be with us tonight,” he said.
Concern for victims
Prudence Jones, an abuse survivor who lives in Gallup, attended the service with family members. Jones, who agreed to speak publicly, served on the Official Committee of Unsecured Creditors in the Diocese of Gallup’s bankruptcy case. The committee represented the interests of individuals who filed sexual abuse claims against the diocese. Jones had both positive and negative reactions to the evening.
“It was very much a healing service in all aspects,” Jones said in a telephone interview after the service. “It was very meaningful.”
Jones said Wall met with her and her family members after the service and prayed with them, which she appreciated.
“I genuinely can see that Bishop Wall is concerned for the victims,” Jones said; however, she added, the actions of the diocese are sometimes contradictory. Specifically, she said, diocesan officials are not very open and transparent with the public.
Jones had mixed feelings about abuse survivors being directed to the Sacred Heart Family Center to meet with the bishop after the service. In one way, it was “singling us out in almost an isolation format,” she said, and in another way she felt her privacy was compromised by the number of people participating in other activities in the building.
Jones also expressed disappointment that Wall is not providing a forum open to the public for questions and comments during his visits to churches and schools in the diocese. That was part of her understanding, she said, of the non-monetary provisions in the diocese’s plan of reorganization.
Jones noted that when the church starts doing what it said it would do, “that builds trust.” Jones added she had hoped diocesan officials would have worked more with her and other committee members regarding the bishop’s visits.
An open door
Another abuse survivor, who asked that her name be withheld, had only positive responses to the healing service.
“It was actually quite powerful,” she said in a telephone interview Sunday. She said that during the service she suddenly had a deep understanding that many of the problems in her life were rooted in the sexual abuse she experienced. “I re-opened that door — that door that I shut as a victim,” she said. “I opened the door again because I had support from the bishop.”
The woman said because of the abuse, she had turned her back on the Catholic Church and didn’t raise her children with the experience of religion and spirituality. She said after attending Saturday’s service, she thinks she might be able to “heal enough to return to church.” Although she hadn’t expected to speak to the bishop after the service, the woman said she made the decision to talk with him.
“I respect that he’s trying to right a wrong,” she said. “He was definitely supportive.”
Prior to attending the healing service, the woman said she had a “me against them” attitude toward the church because she felt “they did this to me.” Now, she said, she has a different perspective toward Wall and his staff. “They have to clean up somebody else’s mess, and that must not be an easy job,” she said.
The next three healing services will be offered in Arizona parishes: Our Lady of the Blessed Sacrament in Fort Defiance Nov. 29, Our Lady of Guadalupe in Holbrook Dec. 2 and St. Rita in Show Low Dec. 9.
Abuse survivors who would prefer to meet with the bishop in a different setting should contact Elizabeth Terrill, the victims’ assistance coordinator pro tem, at 505-906-7357.