ORLANDO | The Diocese of Orlando continues its multi-faceted commitment to protecting and healing the Church and holding ourselves accountable. This year, it has added to its resources a new program, Healing Our Church, offered throughout parishes beginning this Lent.
The 6-week small group study is “led by lay people for lay people, to help them process their feelings, emotions and reactions to clergy abuse in the Church,” said Dan Boyd, Secretary of Laity, Family and Life. Pilots took place last year, and feedback implemented prior to facilitator training last summer. “We recognize that people are experiencing a range of emotions, from frustrated and upset to angry and considering leaving the Church,” Boyd expressed. “We want to give them an opportunity to share those feelings with people and be validated in their anger over the bad things that happened and offer them help and support – showing them how they can be a part of solution, making the Church more like what it is supposed to be, an opportunity to encounter God. And while we do that, keeping vulnerable populations safe.”
The response has been positive. Pilot participant, Kimmy Zeiler, program director at San Pedro Spiritual Development Center in Winter Park noted, “Healing Our Church provides a wonderful way to better understand the state of the Church. It provides a real look at the problems, while bringing a message of truth and hope.”
Boyd explained Lent was selected as a launching date because it is the season of purification and renewal. “(Lent) includes an opportunity for people to be freed of these burdens and able to enter the Easter season with more peace,” said Boyd. “God asks us to care for each person with His enduring love,” added Bishop John Noonan. “Healing Our Church is an opportunity for prayerful conversation to grow in our love of God and find His Peace.” More than a dozen parishes sent parishioners to facilitator training through Renew International, authors of the program – the same company that wrote the Why Catholic? series.
At St. John the Evangelist in Viera, pastor Father John Britto said, “As soon as I heard of it, we wanted to be a part of it. I know how painful it is for people who have gone through things personally, or in their family, so we wanted to be of help in healing their wounds.” He said he wanted to be prepared, should anyone need assistance.
Among the five couples trained at the parish was diaconate candidate Tom Buddington and his wife, Valorie. “People are needing a way to come to grips with what has happened and work through it to remain healthy Catholics and rebuild the Church,” said Buddington. A former seminarian and social worker by profession, Buddington said he “sincerely saw this as an opportunity to be of service to the Church through the diocese and parish.” He added, “I was impressed with the diocese being courageous in this way… The diocese’s effort to seek out those alienated and hurting is, to me, a real example of the Church being functional and healthy.”
As preparation, facilitators were provided with a history of clergy abuse and its consequences. Buddington said, “It noted that this has left numerous victims both unable to function and grieving and has led to loss of confidence in the Church, her hierarchy, and her clergy.” The program seeks to amend that trend and prepares facilitators to lead fruitful and often difficult conversations that can lead to healing, or at least initiate those steps.
Confidentiality is a key component. Some parishes are taking registrations by first name only to protect privacy and build trust. Groups will remain small to foster sharing and offer plenty of opportunity for conversation. Of his own struggles, Buddington said, “They energize and compel me to be willing to become involved in the suffering others have experienced and patiently and sincerely hear the pain and disappointment that the faithful feel over this.”
He said he looks forward to engaging people in healing conversations that remove them from isolation and loss of faith. He added, “The stakes are never higher than when they occur in the Church, because people’s eternity is in play. And I am privileged to be any instrument the Lord will let me be in helping others to come back to the Church and to not let anything separate others from her.”
For more information about how the Diocese of Orlando is protecting the vulnerable and addressing this grave issue, or to report abuse, go to https://www.orlandodiocese.org/holding-ourselves-accountable/.
Diocese of Orlando Victim Assistance Coordinator Randy Means: Randy Means, 407-246-7179. Statewide (DCF) Abuse Hotline: 1-800-96-ABUSE (1-800-962-2873)
By Glenda Meekins of the Florida Catholic February 12, 2020