Abuse victims, others invited to healing prayer services

Archbishop Robert J. Carlson will preside at healing prayer services to mark the 10th anniversary of the U.S. bishops' Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People and to pray for healing and reconciliation and for the prevention of abuse. Bishop Edward M. Rice will attend the Dec. 20 service.

The charter is a set of procedures established by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops in June 2002 for addressing allegations of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy.

All who are victims/survivors of physical, sexual, emotional or verbal abuse by anyone -- clergy, family, friends, co-workers or strangers -- are invited to attend the prayer service. In addition, family members and friends of survivors are encouraged to participate, as well as those who are involved in helping abused people and those who work to prevent abuse.

The services will be held at 7 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 20, at St. Luke the Evangelist Church, 7230 Dale Ave. in Richmond Heights, and 7 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 23, at Queen of All Saints Church, 6603 Christopher Drive in Oakville.

The services are being held as Pope Benedict XVI has called Catholics to deeper conversion during the Year of Faith and a commitment to the new evangelization.

The archdiocese's Office of Child and Youth Protection in collaboration with the Safe Environment Program and the Office of Sacred Worship are organizing and sponsoring the healing prayer services.

Last year, in a letter on the report on the causes and context of sexual abuse of minors by Catholic clergy requested by the U.S. bishops, Archbishop Carlson called child abuse an unspeakable evil that must be addressed forthrightly in order to protect children.

On behalf of all the clergy, religious and faithful people of the Archdiocese of St. Louis, he apologized to "anyone who has been abused by a priest, deacon, religious, employee or volunteer associated with one of our parishes, schools, agencies or institutions in this archdiocese. No words of mine can ever heal wounds caused by abuse, but I do want to assure you of our unshakeable commitment to protect our children and to ensure that Church institutions and facilities are safe environments for minors."

Sexual abuse of minors by Catholic priests and deacons, or by any Church leader, "is a grave offense against the dignity of young persons," Archbishop Carlson wrote. "It is contrary to the mission of the Church and a violation of the sacred trust held by all ordained ministers and other Church personnel who have been commissioned to carry on the saving work of our Lord Jesus Christ."

Two agencies in the archdiocese work to ensure the safety and protection of children. The Office of Child and Youth Protection is responsible for local implementation of the charter adopted in 2002 and revised in 2005 for all dioceses in the United States. The office handles all reports of abuse and provides staff support for the Review Board and Child Safety Committee.

The second agency is the Archdiocesan Safe Environment Office. The staff educate, train and support the thousands of Church personnel -- including employees, volunteers, priests, deacons, religious working in the parishes, schools and agencies of the Archdiocese of St. Louis. All are required to learn and comply with the procedures that have been developed to create and maintain a safe environment for children.

The Safe Environment Program includes a mandatory background check for anyone working with or near children; required participation in the two-hour Protecting God's Children class; and reading and signing the Code of Ethical Conduct. A Safe Touch class is given annually to all Catholic school students and parish school of religion students to teach what is and is not appropriate behavior.

Archbishop Carlson has encouraged every member of the archdiocesan family "and all people of good will to help us do everything in our power to protect our young Church from the evil of sexual abuse wherever and whenever it is threatened."

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