"A Day of Healing" Abuse Victims Journey to Vatican

By Tom Weber
The Post-Bulletin
October 20, 2010

Healing from sexual abuse is a long journey. For Shelly Winemiller of Rochester, that journey will take her all the way to Rome for Reformation Day on Oct. 31 at the Vatican.

"The day is for victims to come and help be a part of the solution," Winemiller said. "It's certainly not a day of protest. It's a day of healing."

Winemiller, who says she was abused as a child by her parish priest, also intends to conduct research in Rome. She is working on a master's degree in psychology and wants to study how abuse by clergy affects the spiritual beliefs of the victims. Winemiller is the founder and director of the Bella Voce girls choir in Rochester.

Reformation Day is sponsored by Survivor's Voice, an organization for victims of sexual abuse founded by two Boston men who were abused by their parish priests. By gathering at the Vatican in Rome, they hope to call attention not only to abuse within the Roman Catholic Church, but also issues of sexual abuse of children worldwide.

Victims and families will be able to leave letters for the church's hierarchy in the pews at St. Peter's Basilica. There also will be a candlelight vigil promoting healing and restoration for all.

For Winemiller, healing is the ultimate goal, including for priests, some of whom were victims of abuse themselves as boys.

"Some people feel you can't be for victims and perpetrators," she said. "I stand for both people. I want healing and reconciliation for all victims, including priests."

But healing won't happen as long as there is denial and stonewalling, Winemiller said. "That's another form of victimizing, and it has to stop," she said.

On a recent visit to England, Pope Benedict XVI acknowledged that the Catholic Church had failed to act decisively or quickly enough to deal with priests who have abused children. He said the church's top priority now is to help victims.

Whether the pope will meet with those victims on Reformation Day is unknown. "My hope is that the pope would show his presence," Winemiller said. "That would speak loudly to the victims and their families."

Even without the pope's presence, Reformation Day offers an opportunity.

"There is healing in being together with other victims," Winemiller said. "We can draw together in our suffering and promote healing and reconciliation."

Winemiller said the priest who abused her when she was growing up in central Wisconsin was a family friend. He is now dead. But the emotional scars he left behind are still raw, judging by the tears that welled in Winemiller's eyes as she recounted the abuse.

Her journey of healing, which will continue in Rome, is not yet complete.


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