A 'Sorry' Day in Church

By Stephen Scott
Pioneer Press [Burnsville MN]
Downloaded March 11, 2003

For survivors of clergy sexual abuse who will never hear their abusers apologize, this was their chance to let others help heal them.

Although some hadn't stepped into a church in 30 years, victims gathered in a Burnsville parish Sunday afternoon to hear priests, deacons, sisters, brothers and lay people say the Catholic Church had let them down.

"It's the first time ever that a priest or bishop or anybody has ever verbally apologized to me," said Jack Klein, who was abused by a priest in the late 1960s. "It's been a tough road. This is just another step for me."

The 17 "apologizers" who stood before the victim-survivors at Mary, Mother of the Church were not perpetrators, but spoke on behalf of those who abused.

"I just wanted to let them know we feel for them," said Brother James Voeller of the Franciscan Brothers of Peace in St. Paul. "I hope they know there are people who love them and care for them."

Some of the nearly 20 people who stepped forward to hear an individual apology were overwhelmed.

"The whole depth of emotion just erupted for them," said Carol Kane, a former nun who attended on behalf of her sister who was abused.

Risks were taken all around, including by the planners of the service, all of whom are lay Catholics. They held the service in a sparsely adorned social hall, where folding chairs were set out to welcome survivors who may have felt threatened by returning to the traditional setting of a sanctuary.

"It's easy to love your friends and those you like," said Inger Weik from Epiphany Catholic Church in Coon Rapids. "It's not easy to love those you don't know. But that's what we're called to do. I think if Christ were here today, he would be in this room, not just at Mass upstairs."

The service had the blessing of Archbishop Harry Flynn.

"I think it's wonderful," said Flynn, who was leading a retreat Sunday in Jacksonville, Fla. "I think anytime anyone reaches out to heal, it's a very positive expression of Christianity.

"That's precisely what this was: a group of people who came together wanting in some way to reach out to those injured. I think it's a very beautiful thing."

Flynn said he is planning an archdiocesan healing service for victims of all kinds of violence or abuse, although he is unsure when it may occur.

"I've wanted to give it a little distance from all that we've been through," he said. Flynn led such services when he was bishop of Lafayette, La., before coming to St. Paul in 1994.

Although healing services are not uncommon, Sunday's was notable because it was planned entirely by laity and because it included one-to-one offerings of apology. The half-hour service drew 75 people, several attending on behalf of victim-survivors.

"I think it was important I was apologized to because of what we went through with my mother, who was abused," said Theresa Wunderlich. "It affected her ability to have relationships, so it did affect me."

Margery English, a parishioner, read a statement of affirmation to the survivors, saying in part:

"Those of our church who let you down grieve us - those who failed to protect you and those who failed you again when you came to them for help. We are grieved that some of us were slow to believe you and slow to openly rectify wrongs which should have been dealt with immediately. We apologize for your suffering."

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