Rites Aim to Console Those Hurt by Clergy

By Sandi Dolbee
Union-Tribune [San Diego CA]
December 28, 2003

There were poinsettias on the altar area in the front of the church, along with three small lighted Christmas trees. But there was something else there too, something that suggested this was going to be no ordinary Saturday evening Mass.

Standing to one side was a white cross with photographs of children and young people on it faces of minors who had been sexually abused by priests.

"This wounds all of us," the Rev. Joseph Spieler told the 60 or so people last night at Christ the King Roman Catholic Church in the Logan Heights neighborhood of San Diego. "This burdens all of us. It disconcerts all of us. It distresses all of us."

The idea for focusing last night's regularly scheduled Mass on the ongoing sexual abuse scandal came from parishioners seeking to do something to help with the recovery, Spieler said.

The service was not about the legal issues or the social ramifications, he said. It was about spiritual solace for everyone hurting from "the profound betrayal of trust that we in the Church were not able to create child-safe zones, even in church."

In the pews were two victims Jaime Romo of Vista, the local coordinator for a national victims group called the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, and Sandra Graves of Oceanside. Romo said he was a teenager when a priest abused him. Graves said she was even younger.

Romo said the service, which he believes was the first of its kind in this area, was comforting.

"I think this was very important, very helpful," he said afterward, holding the picture-peppered "survivors cross" that represents just some of the victims. "More churches should do this."

Graves agreed. "Nothing's going to change until everybody is involved . . . and everybody can speak about it."

The scandal began in Boston two years ago with newspaper reports about decades of sexual abuse by priests and cover-up by hierarchy. Similar reports spread across the country. U.S. bishops and cardinals, apologizing for past mistakes, adopted a policy in which any clergy who molests a minor will be removed from ministry.

Along with the scandal have come waves of civil lawsuits and even some criminal prosecutions. The Roman Catholic Diocese of San Diego has been hit with dozens of lawsuits this year after a special state law lifted the legal time limit for bringing claims, as long as the civil suits are filed by Dec. 31.

During last night's service, five men and women stood in the center aisle with candles to represent those affected by this horror: Survivors of clergy abuse, hurting family and friends, disillusioned and angry Catholics, nonabuser priests and bishops. At the end of their line was an empty wooden chair to symbolize the abusers.

The congregation was invited to pray with them and they did, walking up silently, their hands outstretched to touch each representative, heads bowed in prayer.

Longtime Christ the King parishioner Jennie Hansbrough thought the service was "beautiful."

"We all need to be reminded of what has happened," Hansbrough said. "I think it was very touching. It really warmed my heart."


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