Diocese of Helena, MT Healing Service Homily of Bishop Leo Thomas

In the wake of the settlements with victims of clerical sex abuse in the Diocese of Helena, MT, Bishop George Leo Thomas has begun Healing Services in the various deaneries of the diocese.  Below is the text of his homily, reprinted here with his permission…..Reyanna

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Diocese of Helena

A Healing Journey
Bishop George Leo Thomas
Bishop of Helena
Homily at Vespers Sep. 30 – Oct 8, 2015

On May 31, 2012, I was invited by a group
called Concerned Catholics of Missoula to
engage in a listening session regarding
important issues affecting the life of the Church.
The topics of the evening were many and
varied, the content substantial, salient, and
sensitive. Fifteen people made brief and
moving presentations, and the tone of their
testimony was respectful, prayerful, and
sincere.

During that evening, over three years ago, a
diminutive and courageous woman rose to the
microphone. With a tremulous voice, she
spoke directly from the heart on the topic of
clerical sexual abuse. Her words were difficult
and carefully thought out. This is, in part, what
she said:

“It is with trepidation and respect for your
office along with my personal respect for
you as a human being that I share my
thoughts and experiences.”

She then proceeded to describe the life of a
particular person she knew who had been
abused at the hands of a priest. She described
in detail this woman’s downward spiral of
shame and blame, of continued betrayal, with
subsequent hospitalization and financial ruin.

“This victim,” she said, “left the church, her
faith in God skewed, her trust in humankind
shredded, and left with an inability to share
or respond to any type of human intimacy.
She finally returned to the church some 35
years later because of an overwhelming
desire to receive the Eucharist. From the
time of the abuse by the priest she
remained silent for nearly 45 years.”

Then this woman spoke the four unforgettable
words that remain deeply etched in my
memory:

“I am that survivor.”

During the remaining portion of her
presentation, she described the damage
inflicted upon the Church and community by the
years of denial and obfuscation by bishops and
Church officials. She decried the culture of
clericalism that inflicted enormous harm on the
survivors of abuse through its secrecy, coverups,
locked files, and destroyed documents.
She concluded her remarks with these words:

“Bishop, I ask that you hear my words in
your heart and conscience and meditate on
them. Choose where and how you can most
honestly address my pleas with your fellow
bishops. As a survivor of clerical abuse, I
sincerely hope that you will listen and that I
will not conclude, once again, that I am
simply beating my head against the stone
wall of clericalism. I am joined by many
more worldwide, including clergy. Therein I
find hope in solidarity as I hear pebbles
falling from this stone wall.”

It was that night, May 31, 2012, that helped
place the Diocese of Helena upon “the road
less traveled.” It was a courageous woman’s
words that helped to galvanize a profoundly
important reality—that human suffering has a
face and a heart.

When talking about sexual abuse, we are not
talking about statistics, or cases, or claims. We
are talking about real people, real lives, broken
trust, wounded hearts, and wounded individuals
longing for healing and hope.

That night I publicly pledged that in the Diocese
of Helena, victim survivors will be respected,
beloved, and believed. In the Diocese of
Helena, we will reject years of acrimonious
litigation, and seek a path of mediation,
conciliation, and pastoral care of our people.

Tonight we embark on a healing journey
together, a journey marked by solidarity with
one another, and especially with victim
survivors. We are walking in the company of
the Lord Jesus, who mends shattered lives, and
sets hearts free through his own amazing
grace.

I must tell you, in the weeks leading up to these
healing liturgies, I have experienced a deep
sense of inadequacy as I searched to find
words to express the sadness and sorrow I feel
toward those who have suffered, so often in
silence, for years if not decades.

In the name of the Church, I say, “I’m sorry, we
are sorry, for all you have experienced because
of the criminal behavior of those you trusted. It
was not your fault.”

In a word, sexual abuse must be recognized for
what it is—not only a soul-searing betrayal of
the innocent, but also a crime, where
perpetrators must and will face consequences
imposed by civil society and the rule of law.

In recent months, I have heard time and again
survivors express righteous anger and
frustration toward bishops and church officials
for decisions that were sometimes ill-advised
and self-serving, decisions which favored
church image over pastoral care, and protection
of resources over the safety of children.

For that I too am profoundly sorry, and am
encouraged by the recent pledge of Pope
Francis to hold officials accountable when their
failed leadership re-victimized victims anew,
and placed others in harm’s way.

I am aware that all of you have carried a burden
of shame and embarrassment as revelations of
child abuse came to light. I am further pained
by the reality that faithful clergy have lived and
labored under a cloud of suspicion and harsh
judgment due to the criminal actions of our
brothers. However, your integrity, your good
works and tender care of our people are the
best ways to give witness to the presence of
Jesus Christ in our midst, and this is the truth
that sets us free.

In preparing for tonight’s liturgy, I was prompted
in prayer to turn to victim survivors themselves,
to seek their counsel, and draw from their
experience, wisdom and prayerful support.

I want this time of prayer to be a way to raise up
their voices, draw from their experience,
validate their stories, and share their faith with
the whole faith community as a precious gift
from God.

Four victim survivors have stepped forward and
opened a window to their souls. Their words
are marked by candor and courage,
compassion and conviction. This is what they
have written:

The first victim survivor has written this:

“To those who are still struggling with
hopelessness brought on by sexual abuse, I
say this to you: “Healing is a process and a
journey. It cannot be ignored or coerced. I
had to choose to step out of hopelessness,
anger, and deep sorrow. I’ve not ever been
abandoned or orphaned by God, who loves
me deeply and walks each step of this
journey with me. It’s only been in facing who
I had allowed myself to become that I have
been able to regain hope. Bad things
happen to good people every second of the
day. I could allow the abuse to consuming
and poison me, or I could choose to rebuke
the darkness in my life with the light of
Christ. To start to heal from the past I had to
first accept that the past was over. No
matter how many times I revisited it,
analyzed, hated it, or agonized over it, it
was over. The past could not hurt me any
longer. Without my faith, without the
sacraments, and without my loving family
and friends, I’d truly be lost and hopeless.
I’m taking the antidote to the poison I’ve
lived with for so long, and I am healing.”

A second victim survivor has offered these
words to all of us.

“There is no storm that God will not carry
you through. No bridge that God will not
help to cross. No battle that God will not
help you win. No heartache that God will not
help you to let go of. He is so much bigger
than anything you are facing today or will
ever face in life. By faith, leave everything in
his hands and embrace this day confidently
knowing he will take care of you.
Remember our Father is listening and loves
us just the way we are….”

A third victim survivor has offered these
prayerful reflections drawn from the heart:

“The egregious act of sexual abuse by a
priest is so powerful that it can separate the
body and spirit, and thus torment the soul. I
have lived for so many years in my head.
Meditation has been a God-given gift for my
spirit. My body and spirit are still separated,
but through meditation with Scripture,
meditation and creation, and a Eucharistic
celebration, I have glimpses of wholeness
again”.

A fourth survivor has written powerful and
prophetic words:

“This is a scandal divided into two parts:
one, the criminal act of the predator, and the
second, the criminal and immoral strategy
of mishandling these situations by many
members of the hierarchy. This group
created more problems than they solved,
not only for the survivors, but for priest,
bishops, and laity who wanted to support
victims and families. The secrecy involved
led to an explosion of civil suits and some
false allegations against the innocent.
All members of the church, lay and
ordained, need to educate themselves,
weed out the alibis and denials, and
embrace the truth of this twofold scandal to
help heal the abused child now living as a
wounded adult. Our wounds are still open.
We need to believe we are valued human
beings and know that our lives are no
longer defined by the egregious acts
perpetrated so long ago. With our now
watery eyes and wrinkled skin, we say in
one voice, “Let justice come, but the truth
be heard.”

Please leave this house of prayer and carry
deep within yourselves these petitions for
healing and do God’s work to bring them to
fruition. May each and every person, reborn
in the waters of baptism, search within their
hearts where the responsibility lies for
bringing justice, peace, and healing to the
wounded in our own wounded church. May
survivors find this journey filled with light
from that support. May we survivors
reclaim the wonder, enthusiasm, courage,
and the light promised at our birth. And
most of all, may we recapture the love that
brought us into this world.”

As we embark on a healing journey together,
we do so in deep solidarity with those who have
suffered.

In the name of the Diocese of Helena, we thank
victim survivors for the courage they have
shown in stepping forward and assisting the
Church to remove this deadly cancer. You have
helped to shed light and truth on one of the
darkest chapters in the Church’s history.

Because we have chosen to walk in the
company of the Lord, in the words of Paul, “We
do not lose heart. Even though our outer nature
is wasting away, our inner nature is being
renewed day by day.”

Our victim survivors are living testimony to the
power of God’s amazing grace. We ask God to
bless them and their families, and to help us all
keep the eyes of our hearts fixed upon the
Divine Physician, who heals souls and imparts
inner peace.

Jesus, accompany us on each and every step
of this Healing Journey, the Journey which we
have begun today. To You be glory and praise,
forever and ever! Amen.

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