|October 21, 2013 • VOL. 51, NO. 18 • Oakland, CA|
| Together, pledging 'Never again'
Survivors of sexual assault by priests, along with family, friends, and those who minister to them, gathered Sept. 28 in the Healing Garden at the Cathedral of Christ the Light to renew the pledge engraved on plaques in the benches there: Never again.
Terrie Light, a survivor of clergy sexual abuse, recounted the history of the garden in which the people were gathered. She told of going to a gallery in San Francisco looking for a sculpture for the garden. Upon finding the piece that stands there today, she said. "This bolt of electricity went through me. This is it. This is what it is like to be ripped apart at the core."
The piece gained even more meaning when she learned from the sculptor that the rock had been one piece broken by a person.
"Broken, but wanting to come together," she said.
Sherrie Hammon was 18, and had recently moved from Los Angeles to attend college when she met a priest she called "Father Joe," who led the youth group at a parish in the Oakland diocese.
One Sunday, when she said she told him she had questions about the faith, he invited her to the parish house.
"He was all over me," she said. "I'm fighting him. I'm so upset because it's a priest," she said, her voice rising, "A priest!"
She ran from the rectory, and drove away.
"After that date, I just never went back to church," she said.
Many years later, she accepted a neighbor's invitation to the 4:30 p.m. Saturday Mass at St. Catherine of Siena.
"Because I hadn't been to church in so long, everything was different. The priest no longer faced the altar; he faced you. There were so many changes. I thought — I am out of touch with this church."
But she went back.
"How I dealt with it all those years, I played like it didn't happen, so I could just live," she said.
In entrusting her story to others, she was introduced to No More Secrets.
"It has made the biggest difference in my life," she said. "I am happy. I can talk about the things that happened to me."
The group helped her deal with the anger she felt. She has returned to the church, which she said she had hated so long. She has become a Eucharistic minister and visits the Catholics at the Veterans Administration hospital in Martinez.
Bishop Barber spoke last:
"My name is Mike Barber and I am the new bishop of Oakland. I'm here today to express my care and concern for those who have been victims of clergy sexual abuse. I care. The church cares. The church wants to be present to you. I want to be present to you. That's why I am here, and why we are here.
"That is why we built this healing garden to symbolize in an outward way that we care deeply for your healing on the inside. Gardens are a sign of new life, growth and hope. Gardens are also a place of peace.
"I pray daily for all the people of Oakland, but especially for those who suffer in silence. And I pray that God the father of mercies may pour out his love and healing mercies on all of us here today, especially those who have suffered at the hands of priests and other ministers of the Catholic Church who were supposed to be ministers of mercy but were not.
"We say in the Navy that the captain of the ship is responsible. As the bishop of the diocese I am responsible. I promise as long as I am on watch, I will do my utmost for vigilance, for protection of youth, for education and prevention so that these things never happen again. Thank you for being here."
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