Page last updated at 16:39 GMT, Friday, 21 May 2010 17:39 UK

Catholic church prays for abuse victims and abusers

By Thelma Etim
BBC News, Hampshire

While the victims of abuse at the hands of Roman Catholic clergy continue their fight for justice and reparation, bishops in the Church have invited parishioners in England and Wales to make the four Fridays in the month special days of prayer for children abused by priests.

Priest gives out Communion
Victims have fought for years to get the church to admit to abuse by clergy

The move to introduce a "prayer for reparation and atonement" was announced at Easter following the Catholic Bishops' Conference.

A statement from them read: "We pray for all who have suffered abuse; for those who mishandled these matters and added to the suffering of those affected."

And the Church also asked for prayers to be said for the abusers themselves, adding: "From this prayer we do not exclude those who have committed these sins of abuse.

"They have a journey of repentance and atonement to make."

On 25 April, Monsignor Vincent Harvey and assistant priest Father Paul Leonard, from St Edmund's Church in Rockstone Place, Southampton, addressed the crimes of the church with their congregation.

The Church can draw a line under this by accepting liability, meeting the survivors and settling their claims.
Anne Lawrence
Victims' support group

"We needed to do something practical as a church," said Fr Leonard.

Anne Lawrence, chairwoman of the Minister and Clergy Sexual Abuse Survivors (MACSAS) support group, welcomed the St Edmund's prayers but said a "practical response to the victims" was vital for the "intolerable situation to be resolved".

She told BBC News: "Many victims cannot go into a church because they feel betrayed, many were actually abused inside a church and some are on 'suicide watch'.

"Many are still bitter and very traumatised by the response from the Church when they first brought the allegations - the horrendous attempt to silence people.

"But fair play to St Edmund's in having such an open and public display of reconciliation."

Ms Lawrence added: "Rather than just saying we acknowledge all the past mistakes, the Church can draw a line under this by accepting liability, meeting the survivors and settling their claims.

"It is not about becoming rich, it is about restorative justice."

Worldwide abuse

Up to 100 people have attended the prayer events in the Southampton church, according to the parish secretary.

But the fight for justice continues for the victims.

"In one sense, we should never underestimate the power of prayer, [however] I think there needs to be practical, concrete actions," added Fr Leonard, originally from Reading in Berkshire.

Pope Benedict XVI, 21 April 2010
Pope Benedict XVI will visit England and Scotland in September

The Church has been forced to admit incidents of child abuse dating back decades in the UK, the United States, Germany, Italy, Netherlands, Austria, Switzerland, Belgium, Austria.

Two major reports last year into allegations of paedophilia among Irish clergy revealed the extent of abuse, cover-ups and hierarchical failings involving thousands of victims, and stretching back decades.

Then in March, it emerged the head of the Irish Catholic Church, Cardinal Sean Brady, was present at meetings in 1975 where children signed vows of silence over complaints against a paedophile priest, Fr Brendan Smyth.

A few days later Pope Benedict XVI apologised to victims of child sex abuse by Catholic priests in Ireland, but would not apologise for abuses in other countries.

Fr Leonard, 37, who was ordained nine months ago, said: "I recognise that [the abuse] has huge repercussions and could colour the rest of a person's life.

"I acknowledge there were mishandlings and I suspect cover-ups. It makes me feel angry and let down.

"The reputation of the Church and the ministers has been damaged.

"Justice is necessary as well as forgiveness."

The Bishop of Arundel and Brighton, the Rt Rev Kieran Conry, believes the Church will be "tainted" forever.

"In the public's perception, the memory [of the child abuse that took place] will always be there."

But he added: "The congregations have not diminished. Generally, people still have faith in their parish priests."



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