BY JUDY L. THOMAS
The Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph is apologizing to victims of priest sexual abuse and inviting them to a series of prayer and healing services that starts Wednesday.
The move drew mixed reviews from those abused by clergy, some saying it was too little, too late.
In 2008, they noted, then-Bishop Robert Finn issued a public apology to victims as part of a $10 million settlement. But last year, they said, when victims asked for a similar apology to be part of a $9.95 million settlement in another case, the diocese refused.
Last week, the diocese sent letters from Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann and placed ads in local media to let those “directly or indirectly affected by any form of sexual abuse” know they were welcome to attend the services. Naumann, of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas, has been the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese’s apostolic administrator since Finn resigned in April.
The first service, to be led by Naumann, is at 7 p.m. Wednesday at St. Thomas More Catholic Church, 11822 Holmes Road. Several other services will follow over the next 10 months at parishes in the diocese, leading up to a lamentation service on June 26, 2016, at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception.
The HOPE services — Healing Our Parishes through Empathy — are being held in connection with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, announced by Pope Francis in April. In a document proclaiming the jubilee, the pontiff said the church’s “very credibility is seen in how she shows merciful and compassionate love.”
Rebecca Randles, who has represented dozens of plaintiffs in lawsuits alleging sexual abuse by priests, said the actions appeared to be “a positive move on their part.”
“Some of my clients see it as the first major breakthrough since before the cases began,” she said. “Others are much more cynical about it.”
Randles described Naumann’s letter as “very kind.”
“All of these survivors are Catholics,” she said. “And so having the head of their church reach out to them in a pastoral manner is wonderfully healing, and it should have happened a long time ago.”
She added, however, that “the proof is in the pudding.”
“What are they going to do to actually make sure that children are safe?”
Diocesan spokesman Jack Smith said Naumann sent the letters to dozens of plaintiffs in the sexual abuse lawsuits that resulted in the multimillion-dollar settlements in 2008 and 2014.
In his letter, Naumann apologized to the victims.
“I am so sorry for what happened to you, and I realize that no words are likely to heal your wounds,” Naumann wrote. “As a small step towards reconciliation, I apologize on behalf of all the priests of this Diocese and all the members of our Catholic Church for the terrible hurt you have suffered at the hands of someone entrusted with your spiritual care. I truly regret how deeply this has impacted your life and the lives of your family members and friends, as well as your relationship with the Church.”
Naumann thanked the victims “for having the courage to come forward and share your story.”
“Your actions have led to permanent changes in the way that our Diocese handles matters related to abuse,” he said, adding that the diocese was working hard to prevent sexual abuse by screening, educating and supervising all priests and others who have contact with children and youth.
“We immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and remove any person credibly accused from public ministry,” he said.
Naumann said the diocese offered counseling and other resources to sexual abuse victims and provided contact information for those who wanted assistance. He said an independent counselor would be available during and after each HOPE session, along with staff from the diocese’s Office of Child and Youth Protection.
Some sexual abuse survivors had strong opinions of the letter and the effort.
“This apology is an admission,” said Michael Sandridge, one of the 32 plaintiffs involved in the 2014 settlement. “After they put everybody through hell, their attorneys asked the most degrading deposition questions, and they knew they were wrong — now, I’m not a liar. All of us, we’re not liars.”
Sandridge said that while he was happy with the apology, “it’s not enough.”
“It’s a bit too late,” he said. “They say, ‘Oh, yeah, we’re sorry, after we’ve damaged you.’ And then, ‘Come for counseling.’ Would you trust their counselors?”
Sandridge said he hadn’t decided whether to attend any of the services, but “I think we should all go to one service out of curiosity.”
Sandridge said, however, that it was insensitive for the diocese to hold some of the sessions at parishes — including St. Elizabeth and Nativity — whose former priests had been known perpetrators of sexual abuse.
“Are they serious?” he said. “What are they even thinking?”
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