URBANA — Stunned and saddened by stories of sexual abuse by clergy members, a group of Catholic parishioners is turning to compassion, prayer and art in an effort to help victims and their families.
Calling themselves the “Hear Our Prayers, Heal Our Church” group, members of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Urbana have been meeting over the last year in the wake of numerous disturbing reports — both in Illinois and beyond.
EILEEN MATHY said the group, part of St. Patrick’s Peace and Justice Ministry, began its spiritual effort after the church hosted a town meeting on the sexual abuse issue.
“This isn’t just about the victims, but also about people who have been disillusioned by the church and its handling of the clergy abuse crisis,” Mathy said. “We wanted to write our own prayers so they could be more personal in terms of our own experiences with the sexual abuse crisis. From that, we created the idea of a written and visual arts project.”
“We learned there are people who want to see hope and recovery and rebuilding, and there are people who are very angry, want to deal with their emotions and have nowhere to go,” said parishioner LISA HERZOG. “The repercussions are rippling for anybody in the Catholic Church.”
“When I heard about some of this, I seriously considered leaving the church,” BRIDGET McGILL admitted. “If it wasn’t for the fact that I am a traditional Irish Catholic, that’s the only thing that kept my roots still here.”
The group produced a 28-page color booklet, which shares its name — “Hear Our Prayers, Heal Our Church.”
“The book informs people about the issue,” Herzog said. “At our town hall, there were people who either didn’t understand the issue completely or were misinformed about the issue or misunderstood different aspects of the issue.”
The book opens with a prayer written by St. Patrick’s former pastor — the REV. GEORGE REMM — asking God for purification of the church. It calls for fellow members of the St. Pat’s congregation to formulate their own prayers. It also includes powerful first-hand accounts from victims of sexual abuse by clergy members — some who are now members of the Urbana congregation, others from elsewhere.
“That night stayed with me forever,” writes one woman, who was molested by a priest at age 12. “With every Hail Mary. Every whispered confession. Every stage in my adult sexual development.”
“For a few minutes of pleasure for my perpetrator, I have endured a lifetime of pain,” writes another victim, who was abused at a summer camp at age 10.
“The book highlights the fact that our religious sisters have been victims and asks the question: What is a vulnerable adult?” Mathy said. “It talks about seminarians who have been abused. It talks about children, and it talks about parents of children.
“It talks about priests who are guilty of abuse and what is like for the priests who receive accounts of abuse.”
Said Herzog: “I have a different reaction based on whether that priest accepted responsibility or denied responsibility.”
The group will hold a retreat at St. Patrick’s — from 9 a.m. to noon Nov. 2 — to help guide people in creating art and written work. Participants will be invited to express their feelings in writing and to reflect their emotions in art. The work developed that day will be displayed at the church’s welcoming center during the weekend of Dec. 7-8.
The group also plans to present to the church a book of the prayers written by St. Patrick’s parishioners, with many of them incorporated into the Prayers of the Faithful offered during masses.
Mathy said people interested in participating in the project should call the church office at 217-367-2665.
“I want to rebuild the church,” Herzog said. “I want to have some kind of positive impact on having more transparency and a sense of unity.”