For devout Catholics such as JoAnne Hopkins, hope always exists.
After learning that some of the 21 priests placed on administrative leave by the Archdiocese of Philadelphia because of allegations of sexual abuse or inappropriate behavior with minors came from her church, she felt sorrow. Yet, the faith she has in the voice of the people in her church makes her hopeful, she said.
On Tuesday night, she joined about 50 others at a service of “healing prayer” held at St. Vincent de Paul Roman Catholic Church in Germantown, where attendees were able to express their feelings.
Even though St. Vincent’s is not Hopkins’ church, she was there to participate in the prayer and to support her brother, who was a big part of that night’s service.
At the end of each pew were slips of paper that asked how people felt, where they felt despair about the structure and system that has caused injustice and pain, and what they needed in order to feel hopeful again. People broke up into groups and discussed their answers.
In Hopkins’ group, some participants were disappointed that children were put in harm’s way to cover up what happened. They also spoke about the unrealistic perception of priests, who can sometimes be thought of as not exactly human.
The slips of paper were later placed in a bowl at the front of the church, and each attendee was invited to take another person’s slip at the end of the night so that they could pray for each other.
The Rev. Richard Rock addressed the crowd, but he didn’t lead the service.
“We know their hurt will never ever go away,” he said of the victims. “Hopefully, through prayer they’ll be healed.”
Instead, a speaker, who asked not to be identified because of the sensitive nature of the topic and fears that some details could interfere with his work as a teacher, shared his story.
Growing up, he thought of priests as God-like. He was an altar server and took great pride in that position. It wasn’t until years later that he was able to piece together that the priest who was mentoring him had also been abusing him.
“As a child, I lost my innocence, my ability to trust,” he said.
He also distanced himself from the Catholic Church. As a gay man, he struggled with some church teachings, which labelled him as sick and sinful, he said.
About 20 years ago, he found St. Vincent’s Church, which he described as a welcoming church where he was embraced, loved and accepted. With more cases of sexual abuse having come to light, he finds it difficult to stay with Catholicism. He’s filled with anger and sadness about the lack of justice.
But the people of St. Vincent’s are the reason he was still there, he said. He believes that people don’t have to be complacent or leave the church over this situation. Instead, they can work to reform it with help from groups like Voice of the Faithful and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, he said.
“We are all hurting, and we all need one another,” he said. “We must take a stand and remember we are the church.”
His story brought tears to many at the St. Vincent’s prayer service. At the end of the night, people lined up to embrace the speaker and thank him for his words.
Brian Fagan said the healing prayer was necessary. Although healing is not an overnight process, Fagan said, more Catholic churches need to come together to provide a place that allows people to pray and lift the burden that some are carrying.
Fagan particularly liked how Rev. Rock played a limited role.
“Many Catholics are just so disillusioned,” he said. “It’s the laity that’s hurting. It’s us that doesn’t understand.”
Click this link for more information about the Voice of the Faithful and Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.