Bishop Asks for Forgiveness
Apology Given to Parishioners for Acts of Sexual Abuse at St. Bede's

By Justine DaCosta
Tri-Valley Herald [Hayward CA]
Downloaded March 3, 2004

HAYWARD -- "I apologize for the acts of clerical sexual abuse of minors that occurred here. I apologize for the betrayal of your trust," intoned Oakland Bishop Allen H.Vigneron to an audience of about 100 at St. Bede's Catholic Church.

Monday evening, Vigneron asked the community's forgiveness for the acts of sexual abuse that haven taken place in the Oakland diocese. During the apology service at St. Bede's on Patrick Avenue, Vigneron acknowledged the history of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church. "It's a very big burden -- a burden for all Catholics in the United States, a burden for the church in Oakland, and certainly this parish, which was so directly involved," he said.

Twenty-four priests in the Oakland area have been charged with sexual abuse over the past 50 years, and 72 victims have been confirmed.

The names of those victims from the Oakland diocese who made their abuse cases public were read aloud at the service, while those in attendance were given an opportunity to silently pray.

Jennifer Chapin, 31, was one of the victims.

"I was raped in that confessional right back there, that one," she said pointing to a windowless, wooden chamber in the back corner of the church. As she held her 2-year old son close, she said, "It's a blessing to have children sometimes because you can tune out and think about other things -- the grocery list, the laundry, the long ride home."

Chapin, who now lives in Oakdale, was abused as a child by the late Monsignor George Francis at St. Bede's Church and was recently awarded $3 million in connection with the abuse. She said the apology service was "very validating." Francis, who died in 1998, was accused of sexually abusing at least six minors over a span of 30 years during his tenure at St. Bede's.

Still, doubts and questions lingered for some.

*I have mixed feelings. Monsignor is not here to defend himself; I don't know the women who are victims personally. But some questions remain,* Yosun said.>

Sister Barbara Flannery, who heads the survivor outreach program in the Oakland Diocese, acknowledged that many parishioners are reluctant to believe Francis molested children.

"There's a lot of people here that loved Monsignor Francis and it's very hard for them to acknowledge that he did this terrible thing," Flannery said. "Not everybody here believes it. But that's too bad. He did."

The bishop said that, while he cannot erase past failures of the church, the community can look forward to a future free of sexual scandal. No known sex abusers are currently in the diocese, he said.

"We will ensure that our children and young people are safe," he said.

He recognized that the healing process is just beginning for many victims hurt by the diocese, and said forgiveness can be a difficult step. Vigneron will hold a total of 14 apology services in the Oakland diocese throughout March.

"I ask you to forgive, but not to forget ... and move toward healing," he said. Flannery said a safer, healthier parish will result from unveiling the secret.

Julissa McKinnon, staff writer at the Modesto Bee, contributed to this report.


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