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The Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests

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Survivor writes liturgy for healing

January 30, 2003 South Bend (Indiana) Tribune

One lingering complaint about the Roman Catholic Church, survivors of
clergy sexual abuse say, is what they perceive as the institution's reluctance to move beyond its defensive stances and denials of liability and move toward comfort and reconciliation.

A survivor of sexual abuse who identifies himself as Stephen, and who says that Church officials compounded the horror of his abuse by refusing to acknowledge his pain or offer him support, hopes to change all that.

In March 2002, the musician and writer began work on "A Service for Victims." Though the liturgy has yet to be published, a church in Cleveland offered an adapted version of the service for survivors and their families on Oct. 14.

Sister Chris Schenk of FutureChurch in Cleveland, the Rev. Joseph Fortuna and Laurel Jurecki, a certified pastoral minister, both with Ascension Parish in Cleveland, partnered with Stephen to create the "Liturgy of Lament."

Nearly 200 people attended, including 22 survivors, Stephen says. And since then, roughly 100 people have downloaded the liturgy from the FutureChurch Web site:

Stephen first had the idea for a healing service for victims at a church service where friends and loved ones laid hands on and prayed over him.

"At that moment, a great weight was lifted off of my shoulders," Stephen, who says he has suffered for 20 years with the burdens of his abuse, he recalls.

What he also realized in that moment, he says, was that other victims, who also suffer depression, anxiety, guilt, even physical ailments as a result of their abuse, could benefit from a service that acknowledges and shares their pain.

So, he went to work.

"I felt the Holy Spirit moving in me," Stephen says. "The hymns and the readings and poetry just started flowing out of me."

For one of the hymns he created for the service, he wrote these lyrics:

When no one would listen, the Lord lent an ear;

When I was hurt, helpless, the Lord drew me near.

When justice was wanting, the angels came 'round

and lent me their shoulders, their wings and their crowns. ...

No longer a haven for wolves among sheep

Where victims were trampled, their sorrows to keep.

A welcoming church filled with mercy and love

No room for abusers, new hope from above.

After talking with other victims of clergy sexual abuse, Stephen incorporated their wishes, needs and struggles into a liturgy that includes the sharing of the Eucharist, the laying on of hands by family, counselors and clergy; foot-washing and the Veneration of the Cross, or the symbolic signing of the cross on the forehead.

"This kind of healing service says you matter to us, we care about 'You, (and) we want to help,' " Stephen says. "The way (the church) can help is through the gifts of the Holy Spirit."

The laying on of hands, he says, not only signifies the love and support of those who care for survivors, but also represents God's direct intervention in their healing.

Signing the cross, he explains, expresses the renewal of baptismal promises and reminds survivors that Christ, who died a cruel and humiliating death on the cross, identifies with their pain and suffering.

While the purpose of the service is to offer comfort to survivors and aid in their recovery, it also challenges the Catholic Church, Stephen says, to abandon its legalistic practices and focus instead on what the church is supposed to do best: help others heal.

"The focus should be on the good works that the Roman Catholic Church can do if they apply their energies toward reconciliation with victims, rather than rejection or reluctance," he says.



Survivors' Network of those Abused by Priests