Archdiocese of San Francisco invites abuse victims to gathering for healing, advocacy

SAN FRANCISCO – The Archdiocese of San Francisco is inviting survivors of clergy abuse in San Francisco and the surrounding Bay Area to a fall gathering for healing and advocacy.

“The idea of this meeting has been in the planning stages for over a year,” said Barbara Elordi, the archdiocese’s victim assistance coordinator, who will moderate the session.

“The survivor community has wanted this time to come together, reacquaint with survivors they know, meet new survivors and give everyone an opportunity to ‘check in,’ ” she said. “It was important to the group that the meeting take place in a nonchurch setting and that no clergy be present as part of the program.”

The Sept. 18 meeting will be held south of San Francisco at a lodge in Belmont. Participants will share food and participate in a group discussion to exchange ideas and discuss individual needs and mutual concerns.

It will be facilitated by two non-Catholic psychotherapists, Marianne Gunther-Murphy and Steve Abrams.

Elordi said any survivor who wishes to do so may come with a support person “who has walked this journey with them, if they would find this helpful.”

The committee for the gathering consists of five clergy abuse survivors, two parishioners and the victim assistance coordinator.

There will be a follow-up meeting in October with San Francisco Archbishop George H. Niederauer and Auxiliary Bishop William J. Justice for any survivors who participate in the September meeting and want to continue the conversation with them.

The meetings are designed to broaden discussions that have previously taken place in survivors’ meetings with Archbishop Niederauer to give survivors a chance to share their concerns with a larger group and to suggest next steps in working with the church hierarchy to promote healing.

Survivor Carol Mateus said she has been encouraging such a gathering for more than a year. She said many victims continue to suffer not only from having been abused but also from having been ignored initially by the church.

“My goal in wanting to do this is not only for us to come together and draw strength but to come together and tell the church what we need from them in order for us to heal and get over this,” added Mateus, who said she was abused by a priest in the archdiocese in 1966 when she was a 20-year-old college student.

Mateus, who has returned to the church and belongs to a charismatic prayer group, is hopeful the bishops can begin to approach survivors’ healing as a responsibility under church principles of restorative justice. She looks toward diocesan policies that will lead to healing and include services such as “access to qualified therapists without any interference in the therapy by the diocese.”

Mateus said: “What heals people from this kind of trauma is love.”

Survivor Paul Fericano, who was abused when he was a 14-year-old seminarian in Southern California in 1965, said that trying to find common ground between survivors and the church has been a long and painful road.

“Most of the time people just want to be heard, and from there we find out what they really need,” he told Catholic San Francisco, the archdiocesan newspaper.

“Those who I have worked with run the gamut from those who are very angry and have not received any therapy at all to those who have been in therapy quite a few years and are doing deep work on themselves to determine what they really want. It’s all part of the healing process, even litigation for some,” said Fericano.

He said he hopes the gathering will help bring parishes into the support effort with survivors and bishops.

“Encouraging parishes to reach out to survivors in their parishes – I hate to say adopting a survivor, but there are many survivors who still are Catholic,” he said. “There are many in the pews who have not spoken up about their abuse. We have to be mindful of that reality. You find this in a lot of conservative parishes. They say, “We have had enough of this’ and they unconsciously start blaming the victim.”

Asked about his hopes for the October follow-up meeting with Archbishop Niederauer and Bishop Justice, survivor Wayne Presley said: “I’d like to see them do even more to find and help survivors.”

“There can never be enough outreach,” said Presley, who was abused at a Catholic elementary school and a seminary in the 1970s.

“It takes decades for most survivors to feel enough trust to come forward. Or, it takes ‘bottoming out’ and losing their family or job or getting arrested until most survivors will finally disclose their pain,” he said. “That’s why church leaders must be prodded, again and again, to keep reaching out.”

Catholic Review

The Catholic Review is the official publication of the Archdiocese of Baltimore.