Archdiocese Apologizes to Victims
Archdiocese Apologizes to Priests' Victims
Promises to Safeguard Youth

By Elizabeth Fernandez
San Francisco Chronicle [San Francisco CA]
June 15, 2003

In a public act of contrition, amid a torrent of rage and grief, the San Francisco Archdiocese apologized Saturday for the first time to those wronged by priestly sexual misconduct.

The "circle of healing" service coincided with the first anniversary of the landmark "Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People" adopted by the U.S. Bishops' Conference last year in Dallas.

Against a backdrop of flute music, flowers and photographs of survivors in poignant still-frame as children, the ceremony was at once an admission of wrongdoing, a cleansing of conscience, and a conciliatory reaching out to the embittered and the estranged.

Stressing the archdiocese's commitment to the bishops' charter, to safeguarding the young and to cooperating with legal authorities, Archbishop William Levada noted his own shortcomings and offered abject remorse at pain inflicted by fellow members of the cloth.

"I stand here . . . to make an apology to you on behalf of the church, of all of us, your brothers and sisters, for the abuse you have suffered at the hands of priests," said Levada, spiritual leader of 425,000 Catholics in San Francisco, Marin and San Mateo counties.

". . . as I look back, I may have unconsciously been uneasy or afraid to look at the scars caused by sexual abuse so closely . . . my presence here . . . provides me the occasion to express my regret and my sorrow for these failings in myself."

For about three hours, survivors -- men and women -- one by one told their stories, profoundly painful accounts of innocence lost, faith shredded, power abused. They said they carried a lifetime of trauma instilled by their perpetrators and sharpened by church officials who ignored them or refused to believe them.

Sharan Falotico described being repeatedly raped by a priest, her Latin instructor, when she was 13 and living in a small town in Ohio. She said she later learned that church officials had knowingly transferred the assailant to her town after he'd raped another young girl. When she later confronted one of the officials, "he had the audacity and arrogance to (say) 'It's my understanding that you seduced him.'

"That was 53 years ago, and I'm still dealing with the fallout," said Falotico, who said she spent nine months in a psychiatric hospital and underwent years of therapy. ". . . God must weep as he watches what his representatives do in his name."

Many survivors demanded more accountability from the church, including public disclosure of the names of all priests suspected of sexually abusing minors. Carol Mateus, a Belmont resident who said she was abused by a priest when she was about 19, asked Levada to resign.

Other survivors expressed gratitude to local church representatives -- among them Auxiliary Bishop John C. Wester, evangelization director Sister Antonio Heaphy, and Barbara Elordi, a licensed therapist and former nun hired in January as pastoral assistance coordinator -- for their patience during tense and angry monthly meetings with No More Secrets, a survivors group.

The ceremony, attended by about 100 people including priests, nuns and members of Voice of the Faithful, a national organization of 30,000 lay Catholics, follows 13 months of meetings between the archdiocese and No More Secrets.

Some participants voiced misgivings about the service. In fact, SNAP, the Survivors Network of Those Abused by Priests, the nation's oldest and largest organization of clergy abuse survivors, initially considered boycotting the ceremony.

Instead, members launched a "lost sheep" campaign Saturday, calling upon Levada to visit every parish in the archdiocese where an abusive priest has served.

"When the archdiocese goes out to parishes, they ask people to call the church if they have any information about molesters," said Terrie Light, the Bay Area spokeswoman for SNAP. "The bishop needs to tell them they need to go to the law because this is a crime."

Levada, who serves on a U.S. bishops' committee studying how bishops can be made more accountable for their role in the sex abuse scandal, ruminated on his own evolution in understanding the nature of clergy sexual abuse.

In his first 20 years as a priest -- Levada was ordained in 1961 -- reports of priestly child abuse had not yet surfaced. After he was elevated to bishop in 1983, the first accounts of serial abusers began trickling out.

"The whole church has been shocked and scandalized by the abuse done by a few of her priests to children and young people," Levada said. "Thanks to you, victim survivors -- our teachers -- the church is slowly learning how deep this wound is, how slow to heal, and how diligent must be our efforts to ensure that it will not happen again."

Chronicle staff writer Tyche Hendricks contributed to this report. E-mail Elizabeth Fernandez at


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