Abuse survivor brings message of hope to WAL breakfast

NORWOOD -- Nearly 300 people witnessed an example of Advent hope at the annual Women Affirming Life Breakfast at the Four Points Sheraton Norwood on Dec. 5.

Barbara Thorp, the day’s keynote speaker and the Archdiocese’s Director of Pastoral Support and Outreach, spoke about her work in counseling and assisting victims of clergy abuse.

Prior to accepting her current position, which she has held since 2002, she served as the first full-time director of the archdiocese’s Pro-Life Office and helped start Project Rachel, a ministry for women and men suffering in the aftermath of abortion.

The Mass to begin the gathering was celebrated by Central Region Bishop Robert Hennessey. Cardinal Seán P. O’Malley had been slated to offer the Mass but could not attend due to illness.

“It has been an unexpected and unmerited grace to recognize the hope of these young men and women,” Thorp said. “The telling of their stories is nothing short of a heroic act, opening a pathway to redemption for us all.”

She recounted some recent stories of victims contacting her office, including one of a man who called to speak about his abuse for the first time.

“Why now? Could it be that the water of the spirit, which brings new life, has released this man, on this day, from a prison of fear and shame?” she asked the audience.

In another instance, she received a call from a mother whose three sons had been abused. This caller spoke of the “joyous news” that one of her sons, who was missing and struggling with drugs and crime, had returned home.

“These stories and others like them will never make the front page of the (Boston) Globe, but they reflect an Advent hope of the day-to-day struggle to restore faith,” Thorp said.

At the conclusion of her remarks, Thorp introduced Faith Hakesley, a victim of clerical sexual abuse.

Hakesley had played the violin at the Mass preceeding the breakfast, including an “Ave Maria” solo following Communion.

When Thorp introduced Hakesley, the audience broke into a standing ovation.

Hakesley, now 25, was raped by then-Father Kelvin Iguabita at All Saints Parish in Haverhill when she was only 15 years old. Iguabita was defrocked in 2005 and is currently serving jail time for the crime.

“This is tough for me,” Hakesley began.

She went on to describe her meeting with Pope Benedict XVI during his apostolic visit to the United States.

Hakesley was one of five clergy abuse victims who met with the pope April 17, 2008 at the papal nunciature in Washington, D.C. The encounter had been arranged by Cardinal O’Malley.

Prior to the meeting, she said the pope was presented with a handcrafted book bearing the names of all the clergy abuse victims from the archdiocese.

“Nothing could express the pain and suffering we had been through,” she said.

“I thought of how this great man was here for me,” she said. “It symbolized a new beginning of a Church rocked to the core and brought to its knees by the scandal.”

She said she noticed that the pope “teared up” during the meeting.

“I could see the Holy Father suffered along with the rest of the Church,” Hakesley said.

The encounter was an emotional one for her, as well. She recalled bursting into tears while speaking with the pope.

“I didn’t memorize lines or read from a script,” Hakesley noted. “My tears spoke volumes. They spoke of the pain and suffering of every victim.”

Pope Benedict presented her with a set of rosary beads.

“All I could do was say thank you,” she said. “All I could do is return to my seat. I felt more hope than I had in any other time.”

The message of hope reached those in attendance.

“We truly see how the light can shine through the darkness,” said Marianne Luthin, the current director of the Pro-Life and Respect Life offices of the archdiocese.

Christen Varley, a parishioner at St. Mary Parish in Holliston, said “Despite how severe or how minor those challenges we face might be, we have to move forward in our lives. There’s always hope. There’s always an afterward.”