Bishop Thomas J. Olmsted urged survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and others — both within and outside the Catholic Church — to trust the love of Jesus for their ultimate healing and their leading away from the path of pain and anguish.
Office of Child and Youth Protection
The Diocese of Phoenix encourages anyone who has been a victim of child sexual abuse or knows of any abuse by any employee or volunteer of the Roman Catholic Church to come forward by reporting to law enforcement, the Department of Child Safety and the Office of Child and Youth Protection.
“Jesus seeks out in a particular way those who have been abused by false shepherds or other members of society,” said Bishop Olmsted in his bilingual homily for the Diocese of Phoenix’s biannual Mass of Healing and Reconciliation April 16 at St. Joan of Arc Church. “His love is the foundation of all healing. He seeks out all those who have been harmed by others and through His mercy, restores their dignity.”
The bishop also urged prayer for abusers.
“God’s mercy cannot penetrate our hearts if we have not forgiven others,” he said. “Tonight, we pray for those who perpetrate abuse that they will repent and make amends.”
Inaugurated by the bishop in 2006, the Mass is offered twice a year, during the penitential seasons of Advent and Lent. It is offered at a different parish each time, including those in the northern portions of the diocese, and is organized by the diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection and Safe Environment Training.
“Initially, this was specifically for clergy abuse, but we now know our society has faced other types of abuse,” explained Dr. Anne Vargas-Leveriza, the office’s director. “So, this is really open to anyone who has been abused or families affected by it.”
Survivors as well as families and others touched indirectly were among those attending. Maxine Baskerville, a catechist at St. Joan of Arc said she knows an 11-year-old girl allegedly abused by a boy at a private residence not in any way connected with the Catholic Church. The alleged abuse was reported to law enforcement officials by the girl’s school, she said.
“I just found out about it (Palm) Sunday,” Baskerville said. “I was shattered. It was appropriate I be here for her. I was able to get the bishop to bless this rosary that I am going to give her. Hopefully, it will help her healing.”
Margaret Tucker, a parishioner, who said she was abused by her alcoholic parents in the late 1960s at their New Jersey residence, attended previous Masses and said being at this one and meeting Bishop Olmsted was spiritually soothing.
“In those days, if a priest or teachers responded” to allegations by a child against his or her parents, Tucker said, “they were told to mind their own business because it was a ‘family affair.’ I forgave them, but you don’t forget. You try, but sometimes you can’t. I wanted to receive more healing. My soul felt comforted. Today I felt like I was able to let go.”
Sharon, a member of a parish outside the Valley who requested her last name not be used, said she experienced two periods of abuse — both in other states. An early childhood experience at the hands of laypeople she described as very involved in the faith was some time later followed by an alleged incident by clergy in a diocese outside Arizona where she was seeking healing over the initial trauma. Tuesday’s Mass was the latest of several she has attended. She said Bishop Olmsted’s support and caring has touched her.
“It is comforting to know that our dear bishop realizes this happens, ‘even in the Church,’ and his heart grieves for all involved.”
Comments such as this encourage Leveriza and her staff.
“I think a lot of comfort comes out of this Mass. That is very rewarding. It’s a start for some.”
She also urged those struggling in silence to contact the diocese. The diocese also encourages anybody who knows of any abuse to contact law enforcement.
“It’s also an outreach for those who have not come forward yet. We just want people to know we are here and will listen.”