Dioceses Offer Healing from Sex Abuse Scandal

By Jeff Cox
The Express-Times [Pennsylvania]
January 14, 2003

Area Catholics will get a chance to renew themselves in a different way this year, as churches hope the Lenten season will be a chance for parishioners to recover from the priest sex-abuse scandal.

The dioceses of Allentown and Metuchen both plan to launch a program called "Healing the Body of Christ" which will help Catholics cope with the taint the sex scandal has placed on the church.

The program will run over a six-week period during Lent and will address a number of themes related to the scandal.

Normally, many Catholic churches participate in the Renew program during the time leading up to Easter. Renew entails Scripture-based group discussion of themes central to the Catholic faith.

But as the church reeled through the sex scandal, area churches decided to take action. Designed by Renew International, "Healing the Body of Christ" is targeted at helping "people work through the impact of serious scandal and to invite Christ to heal us in the midst of suffering," according to a statement on Renew's Web site.

Diocese of Allentown parishioners learned of the program over the weekend as priests in some churches read them a letter from Bishop Edward P. Cullen.

"This program will be helpful in moving all of us, clergy and laity, to a renewed faith and an increased spiritual vitality," Cullen wrote. "'Healing the Body of Christ' is a process in which parishioners, organized into small Christian communities, open themselves to healing and spiritual renewal through prayer and faith sharing."

Cullen said the program will start March 2. He encouraged parishioners "to be a part of these faith-sharing small Christian communities in your parish."

But victims' rights advocates say the church's new effort falls well short in addressing the real problems of the scandal.

"They're still not saying what they're doing for victims," said Juliann Bortz of the Allentown area chapter of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. "They're going to heal the church -- well I still cry every day."

Bortz said the church should have included a victim on a panel recently created to investigate claims of sexual abuse by priests. She also said the latest effort does nothing to address the pain victims feel.

Diocesan spokesmen Matt Kerr of Allentown and Joanne Ward of Metuchen both said victims are welcome to attend the sessions but haven't been sought out specifically.

"It was not designed specifically to reach out to the victims, but it reaches out to everyone because everyone needs to have this healing," Ward said.

Kerr said the respective themes for the six weeks of "Healing the Body of Christ" are: The church in time of crisis; a church of saints and sinners; healing, repentance and forgiveness; relationships within the church and to the world; prayer and spiritual maturity; and God's gift of the Eucharist and other sacraments.

By the end of the program, Kerr said, "We hope that we will have helped heal whatever hurts may have been inflicted through the crisis."

But Bortz said the church would do better by targeting those victimized by the crisis.

"They still don't get it," she said. "They don't understand how much it hurts, it really hurts." Jeff Cox is assistant managing editor for The Express-Times. He can be reached at 610-258-7171 or by e-mail at


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