Catholic Standard [Archdiocese of Washington DC]
April 21, 2021
By Richard Szczepanowski
Victims of child sexual abuse are deeply wounded by such abuse and the Catholic Church needs to be “more compassionate and caring” toward those victims, Washington Cardinal Wilton Gregory said at an April 21 Mass in observance of National Child Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention Awareness Month.
“Many who are victims (of sexual abuse) are people who carry a great wound, and we as their brothers and sisters in Christ need to be reminded that we need to be part of the compassion that Christ wishes to extend to them and their families and loved ones,” Cardinal Gregory said.
Cardinal Gregory celebrated the noon Mass in the Archdiocese of Washington’s Pastoral Center’s St. Ursula Chapel. Due to COVID-19 restrictions, attendance was limited and the Mass was livestreamed.
Sexual abuse and assault victims “carry a wound that is serious and has been life changing for them,” Cardinal Gregory said. “Let us recommit ourselves to the healing processes that the Church must endure and society must follow.”
“This is a pain that has touched the lives of too many people, and needs ongoing comfort and healing and reconciliation,” the cardinal said. “We commit ourselves to embracing those who have suffered and stand with the families who have endured so much.”
Each April, the Archdiocese of Washington observes National Child Sexual Abuse and Sexual Assault Prevention Awareness Month.
“We do some things annually because of their importance and their significance,” Cardinal Gregory said. “We set aside this month to remind ourselves of the presence of our brothers and sisters who have endured great suffering… it is also at time to say we will be as part of their healing, we will walk with them, and we will embrace them.”
The annual observance, he added, is a reminder of “jobs that still need to be done, of tasks that are still unfulfilled and need to be called to mind. Certainly, this month is dedicated to survivors of child sexual abuse and our commitment to make sure we have policies and procedures that protect young people and vulnerable people.”
During the Mass, special prayers were offered for victims of sexual abuse and sexual assault, the professionals who work with victims and survivors, and those who have taken their own lives because of the pain of sexual assault. The cardinal said such prayers were offered “to let them know the gentle compassion of Christ and His healing ministry.”
Cardinal Gregory also offered a special prayer for the Archdiocese of Washington’s own child sexual abuse prevention efforts and for the “vigilance in making sure these events do not occur again.”
The Archdiocese of Washington has an Office of Child Protection & Safe Environment that offers training in the prevention of sexual abuse and outreach to those who are victims of such abuse.
Also, for 35 years, the archdiocese has had a written Child Protection Policy. When it was instituted the policy in 1986, it was one of the first dioceses in the United States to do so.
The policy was updated in 1993, 1999, 2003, 2007, 2013 and 2019 to incorporate enhancements in child protection and oversight. The 2019 update reflected an expanded scope, and was renamed the archdiocese’s Child Protection and Safe Environment Policy, to emphasize the importance of ensuring safe environments for people of all ages, protecting children from sexual abuse and adults from sexual harassment or abuses of power.
In addition to that policy, the archdiocese has an independent Child Protection Advisory Board comprised of lay experts and a clergy member that advises on and monitors compliance with child protection efforts.
Asking God to “be present to your family,” Cardinal Gregory prayed at the Mass for “an end to this plague in our society.”
Earlier this month, Cardinal Gregory, in a letter to all priests of the archdiocese, encouraged the clergy to “bring to light the importance of eradicating these egregious actions” and “pray together to honor victims, survivors and their families” during this month.
He suggested that parishes remember in their Mass’s prayer of the faithful the victims and survivors of sexual abuse and sexual assault; anyone affected by sexual abuse and sexual assault; and for the members of the community to have the courage to fight against child sexual abuse and sexual assault.
“As we work together to bring this darkness in our community to light, let us continue to embrace those who are suffering with such pain and respond in a way that supports healing, comfort, and peace,” Cardinal Gregory said in his letter.
The following prayer was provided by the Archdiocese of Washington to be prayed during this month:
“God of endless love, ever caring, ever strong, always present, always just: You gave your only Son to save us by the blood of his cross.
“Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace, join to your own suffering the pain of all who have been hurt in body, mind, and spirit by those who betrayed the trust placed in them.
“Hear the cries of our brothers and sisters who have been gravely harmed, and the cries of those who love them. Soothe their restless hearts with hope, steady their shaken spirits with faith. Grant them justice for their cause, enlightened by your truth.
“Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, heal your people’s wounds and transform brokenness into wholeness. Grant us the courage and wisdom, humility and grace, to act with justice. Breathe wisdom into our prayers and labors. Grant that all harmed by abuse may find peace in justice. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.”
(The phone number for the Archdiocese of Washington’s Office of Child Protection & Safe Environment is 301-853-5328. Also, the Archdiocese of Washington makes resources and information about protecting children available online www.adw.org/childprotection. There, parents will find information on the archdiocese’s child protection efforts, safety tips, how to recognize Internet and cyber bullying and other information.)