A single chime rang out after each abuse victim’s statement was read over the speakers at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in downtown Kansas City, a solemn echo to enduring pain. It was a simple, symbolic gesture but one that had an almost inexpressible resonance for those who had been abused, and for many Catholics in a diocese so identified with clergy abuse that its last bishop was forced to resign. “The pain was so intense, I did not want to live,” said one person in testimony from victims that was read out during the special liturgy of penitence on Sunday (June 26). At the “Service of Lament” other readers voiced similar messages of pain, and also accusations at the church itself: “When I was brave enough to tell you the truth, you chose to side with my abuser.” And: “I had faith in my God, but you betrayed my faith.” Bishop James V. Johnston Jr., head of the Diocese of Kansas City-Saint Joseph since last November, was forthright in acknowledging those charges: “I am here to confess, apologize and repent for the sins of those who held the sacred trust of the church, and betrayed that trust,” Johnston said as dozens of priests from around the diocese, all wearing purple stoles symbolizing penance, stood around the altar and prayed for the healing of children sexually abused by priests. The bishop’s apology was directed toward not only survivors of abuse, but also their families, the community and innocent priests in the diocese who have been affected by the scandal. About 450 lay people attended the service.
The Kansas City Star describes concrete actions the bishop plans to take:
A “visible, permanent reminder” will be dedicated to the victims, a marker that will be decided upon by a remembrance committee, comprised partly of survivors of the abuse. A new team will assess best practices for reporting and dealing with suspected abuse. The diocese already has a set of strict protocols, but they will be measured for effectiveness and reassessed for any changes necessary to improve. Priests and lay staff will be trained how to better respond if someone discloses any inappropriate behavior that has occurred, or suspicions. This is more of a pastoral response and goes beyond the mandatory reporting requirements and other policies that are already emphasized in new procedures. Specifically, the training is to ensure that the disbelief suffered by so many victims will not happen again. Finally, a day of prayer will be dedicated every year in April, during National Child Abuse Prevention Month.
Photo: Shane Keyser / Kansas City Star