by Joe Bollig
BASEHOR — How many survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and other church representatives were in the pews that evening?
Only God knows for sure.
But it is certain that some were there.
The Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas hosted the second annual Day of Prayer in Atonement for Sexual Abuse in the Church on the evening of April 26 at Holy Angels Parish in Basehor.
“We will never know how many victims or survivors were at the Mass as many people hold this personal harm private,” said Amy Stork, victim care advocate with the archdiocesan office for protection and care. “With that being said, yes, we were aware of many survivors and family members of survivors in attendance.”
Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann was the main celebrant and homilist. Archdiocesan chancellor Father John Riley and Holy Angels pastor Father Richard McDonald concelebrated. Cathedral of St. Peter rector Father Anthony Saiki was master of ceremonies.
The office for protection and care and the archdiocesan office of liturgy and sacramental life planned the Mass and reception that followed. All parishes in the archdiocese were urged to observe April 26 as a day to atone for the harm caused by sexual abuse in the church and to pray for the healing of those who had been affected.
“This Mass was a commemoration of the sad reality that representatives of the church have been responsible for harming children and others by sexual abuse,” said Michael Podrebarac, archdiocesan consultant for liturgy and sacramental life.
“The church is keenly aware of the pain and destructiveness of sexual abuse and desires to offer atonement for the sins of her own people who have caused great harm, and to remember all those who have suffered any form of physical and mental abuse,” he added.
Offering atonement means not only asking God’s forgiveness, but also showing public remorse in the most meaningful way possible and prayer for healing of those hurt and victimized, he said.
In his homily, Archbishop Naumann said that it is a cause for great shame for those bishops, priests and other representatives of the church who harmed children, robbed them of their innocence and stole their trust. They will have to stand before God and explain the harm they’ve done.
“It is important that we gather tonight to acknowledge the sins and failures of the church,” said Archbishop Naumann. “It is important that we pray for God to break through the barriers that sin has created to bring healing and peace to victims.
“We offer this Mass for [the survivors] and your intentions. We hope that one of the fruits of our prayer tonight is to experience God’s healing love. The Mass is a sacrifice. In the Mass, we touch Calvary and the great injustice that Jesus suffered because of our sins. Jesus, the totally innocent one, immersed himself in our humanity, becoming a victim of human cruelty and gross miscarriage of justice, uniting himself by a special bond with all victims. Jesus knows what it is like to be a victim of religious authorities.”
At least one survivor believed the day of prayer in atonement was beneficial.
“Knowing that people in my community are willing to recognize the darkness of abuse,” said the survivor, “and are willing to support victims and survivors through prayer of atonement and for healing is, in itself, healing.
“I feel when one person in the body of Christ is suffering, it affects the entire church. When the church comes together — to pray for the hurting and wounded — in the same way, the healing effect is felt throughout the entire church.”
Other survivors at the Mass appreciated the positive effects of the day in atonement and the archbishop’s message.
“Feedback from those in attendance was very positive,” said Stork. “The survivors shared that they appreciated the archbishop’s homily. It was a powerful message of acknowledging the church’s failings and apologizing for the harm that this has caused so many people.
“Some survivors shared that it was harder than they expected at times, but were grateful for the support of all those in attendance. Many [non-survivors] present expressed gratitude that they were a part of something so meaningful and important to the survivors.”