Diocese of Oakland plans ministry for sex abuse survivors

Daily Planet Wire Services
Saturday May 04, 2002

OAKLAND (BCN) – With the banner of “No More Secrets,'' the Roman Catholic Diocese of Oakland is launching a ministry program to help those who have been sexually abused by priests. 

The Ministry for Survivors of Clergy Sexual Abuse will hold its first event Sunday in Lafayette at the Diocesan Youth Retreat Center. The retreat will bring together victims of sexual abuse by clergy, church leaders and sex abuse survivors to celebrate the founding of the ministry and to dedicate and bless a tree with a plaque that reads, “Rooted in the Truth, Growing Toward the Light.'' 

The ministry seeks to provide support for victims of sexual abuse, offering counseling and spiritual direction to the victims and their families.  

At the same time, the ministry will work with church officials to help change attitudes about sexual abuse and ensure that offenders are held accountable for their actions. 

The ministry will launch a hotline and an e-mail address through which victims who want support will be able to receive it. The phone number is (510) 267-8373, and the e-mail address is survivors@oakdiocese.org. 

Although the launching of the ministry comes as the Catholic Church finds itself mired in controversy due to several high-profile cases of alleged abuse by priests and accusations of cover-ups, the ministry is not a response to those events, says Sister Barbara Flannery. 

“We're very concerned that this not be portrayed as a spin response to the current crisis in the church,'' she said. Instead, it is the result of three years of planning, and of a growing dialogue between sexual abuse survivors and the diocese, the sister said. 

It is also a reinforcement of the goals that Bishop Joseph Cummings announced during a reconciliation service he held in March of 2000. In that service, the bishop and church leaders acknowledged that they had “preferred comfort rather than health, illusion rather than truth'' protecting priests and doing nothing to help the victims. 

Diocese leaders promised then to respond to all allegations of misconduct, and to put offending employees on administrative leave and comply with civil law. 

Even though the Oakland Diocese was one of the first to address sexual misconduct, Sister Flannery is wary of terms like “innovative'' or “ahead of the time'' being used to describe the ministry program. 

“We are not ahead. We are 10 years behind, maybe 20,” Sister Flannery said. “For some reason we are where we are today.'' Terrie Light, who was abused by a priest and is one of the volunteers who will help counsel victims at the ministry, agrees. 

“The Oakland Diocese is not doing something special,'' Light said. “They’re doing what every church should be doing.’’