Bishop Asks Abuse Victims to Forgive

By Linh Tat
The Argus [Fremont CA]
May 11, 2005

FREMONT — Allegations that the late Monsignor Vincent Ignatius Breen molested children while at Holy Spirit Catholic Church were affirmed publicly for the first time Tuesday when the head of the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland asked for pardon among parishioners.

Bishop Allen Vigneron spoke before about 100 people at the church, begging forgiveness for failures of the parish and diocese to act on reports of misconduct. He also offered support to victims.

"In particular, I come to this church tonight to apologize for the betrayal of your trust by the parish priest, Vincent Breen," Vigneron said.

And to the victims, he said: "I affirm that the shame you feel belongs elsewhere — on the shoulders of the abuser."

A police investigation in 1981 found Breen molested at least eight girls, ages 7 to 14. The acts included fondling, French kissing and digital penetration. Breen, who was forced to retire and leave the area to avoid criminal charges, died in 1986.

While some believe Breen — who was assigned to Holy Spirit for 29 years — might have molested 100 or more girls, other members of the church maintain he is innocent.

Sister Barbara Flannery, chancellor of the diocese, ended Tuesday night'sservice with a prayer: "May we have the courage to pray for the victims and hear their stories. ... May their suffering be ever before us as we rededicate ourselves to the young people."

Among those who attended the service was a woman who claims she was victimized by Breen.

"For (the diocese) to acknowledge they're sorry is very well and good, but ... they should have asked if any (victims) wanted to share their stories. That would have shown that they were sincere, and I would have said, 'I forgive you,'" said former Holy Spirit parishioner and student Sally Kirchen, who no longer is Catholic.

A Foster City man who also claims to have been a victim of priest abuse expressed gratitude that the Oakland Diocese is making apologies and said he wished the Diocese of San Francisco would follow suit.

Also attending was Dan McNevin, one of three former altar boys who are suing the Oakland Diocese over claims that the late Rev. James Clark molested them at Corpus Christi Catholic Church in Niles.

Looking around Holy Spirit, McNevin said, "It looks like such a gentle, nice place.

"Reconciliation is a very complex thing, especially in a religious setting."

Vigneron's apology Tuesday marked the second time this year he has traveled to Fremont to beg forgiveness for the wrongdoings of priests. He apologized last month at Corpus Christi.

"It is possible to forgive," Vigneron said. "No, not to forget, but to forgive. And to move toward healing."