Diocese Launches New Outreach Effort to Victims of Abuse

By Robert P. Lockwood
Pittsburgh Catholic
November 3, 2006

With the assistance of a victim, the Diocese of Pittsburgh has launched a new outreach effort to those harmed by clergy sexual abuse.

Citing the mandate of the U.S. bishops' "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" that "the first obligation of the church with regard to the victims is for healing and reconciliation," Father Frank Almade, diocesan secretary for ministerial leadership, has mailed to every parish "new materials that will reach out to those who have been harmed."

The diocese has provided and advertised a toll-free line for abuse victims (1-888-808-1235) since 2002, but this additional material was developed with a victim of clergy abuse to extend a spiritual outreach, as well as counseling and support.

The new outreach material sent to every parish in the diocese includes a poster, a card and a brochure written by an abuse victim. A new page for victims and their families has also been posted on the diocesan Web site (

Under the title of "To Renew What is Broken," the material provides spiritual outreach and contact information for the diocesan assistance coordinator to victims of abuse.

According to Father Almade, plans for the program were initiated at the urging of a victim who had met with then-Bishop Donald Wuerl.

"The victim was very clear on the need for the diocese to offer not only psychological counseling, but spiritual healing as well, believing that without such spiritual healing and reconciliation an abuse victim faces a far more difficult path to recovery," Father Almade said.

Though the victim was not originally from the diocese and the abuse had taken place elsewhere, the victim "approached Bishop Wuerl because of his national reputation on the issue," Father Almade said.

Bishop Wuerl arranged for the victim, who now lives in the diocese and is an active parishioner, to work with diocesan staff in the development of "To Renew What is Broken," and Aux. Bishop Paul Bradley, diocesan administrator since Archbishop Wuerl's appointment to Washington, has approved and encouraged this additional outreach.

The brochure included with the poster and information card is written by the victim and aimed at reaching out to other abuse victims to call them back to a life of faith.

"When a trusted member of the church has hurt you or a loved one, it can shake the foundation of your whole belief system. ... An important part of healing was discovering that my spiritual being was also injured and needed care," the victim writes in the brochure.

"As a baptized Catholic, you will always be a member of this spiritual family and have a place at this eucharistic table, a source of healing grace.

"Your faith family needs you here, as the church is also hurt when we are hurt," the victim writes. "One of the gifts of grace is the ability to see God's presence in this church community and its sacraments, even though some of its members have sinned terribly against us."

The brochure also includes excerpts from the "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" and quotes from two local pastors.

Father Charles Bober, pastor of St. Kilian in Adams and Cranberry townships, writes that the church must "always have at the center of our ministry the heart of the Good Shepherd."

"The church always needs to step forward to offer the true love, compassion and healing of Christ for those who suffer that they may find restoration of their lives and regain their trust and hope in the Lord," wrote Father Robert Guay, pastor of Our Lady of Peace in Conway.

In a cover letter providing the outreach material to pastors, Father Almade wrote that "there may be victims sitting in the pews of your parish waiting for an opportunity to talk about their abuse with someone. Others may come to church during the upcoming holidays after years away or perhaps under obligation to attend Mass with their extended family.

"For these people," Father Almade wrote to pastors, "an invitation to welcome them back may make a huge difference in their return. If we can reach even one person, your promotion of these instruments of outreach will be well worth the effort."


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