Abuse victims remembered at memorial Mass

NEWTON -- Deceased victims of sexual abuse by clergy were remembered at a Mass sponsored by the Archdiocese of Boston’s Office of Pastoral Support and Outreach at Our Lady Help of Christians Church Nov. 28.

“It is good for us to be here,” said Bishop John A. Dooher, in his homily. “I am humbled to be here and pray with you.”

The bishop concelebrated the Mass with Msgr. Dennis F. Sheehan, Father John Curry and Father John J. Connolly.

“It is a gift and a duty to remember those who came before us,” Bishop Dooher continued.

The Mass was dedicated to all victims of abuse, known and unknown, he said. “On this night, we remember those who endured the pain and punishment of the betrayal of trust.”

After the bishop’s homily, Paul Kline, a professor at Boston College and a volunteer in the pastoral support office, asked the congregants to find the prayer cards included with the service’s program. After writing the names of their loved ones, Kline invited them to place the card in the wire basket in front of the altar. In addition to being remembered at the Mass, the basket of prayer cards would be kept in the office for when the employees have their daily prayer together, he said.

In addition to the prayer cards, Kline invited congregants to light a votive candle to be placed next to the basket.

As Kline spoke, the lights dimmed. Then, individually or in small groups, the participants filled the basket and lit 54 candles. But, not everyone took part, preferring to observe or remain in their own thoughts.

In her remarks, Barbara Thorp, the office’s director, said she was grateful for those who could attend and participate, but she sympathized with those who could not.

Thorp said that very afternoon she spoke to a man whose late brother had been abused. The man told her he was not ready to attend, but he wanted those there to know that his prayers and good wishes were with them.

“In 2002, we were shocked and saddened by the flood of reports of sexual abuse of children by priests. The impact of this terrible betrayal of childhood trust and innocence is devastating. Many still carry a heavy burden of sorrow and suffering and wonder if their Church still cares about them and their families,” Thorp said.

“Together, let us remember these beloved children of God. Let us pray for an outpouring of God’s mercy, love and peace for all who grieve. And, as we remember, let us pray as one for the continued healing of all survivors, their families, and for our Church,” she said.

Before the final blessing, Bishop Dooher encouraged family members to accept crosses, which he had blessed during the Mass. The crosses were replicas of the iconic San Damiano cross, which St. Francis was praying before when he said he received his call from God to rebuild the Church.

Thorp said the choice of the cross was deliberate.

“Cardinal Seán has called on all of us to rebuild the Church.”

This was the first Mass for the deceased victims of clergy sexual abuse, but it is expected to become an annual event, said Father Connolly, who is the rector of the Cathedral of the Holy Cross.

Father Connolly said a series of Sunday afternoon Masses had previously been held at the cathedral chapel for abuse victims and their loved ones and that this service was an attempt to make that outreach more accessible.

The Mass may be held at other churches, but it was important to have the Mass in Newton because Paul R. Shanley, the former priest central to the scandal, was stationed in the city for so long, he said.