FAIRFIELD—Perhaps it took a rainstorm and a powerful liturgy to wash away some of the deepest anguish over sexual abuse in the Diocese of Bridgeport.
It also took the authentic and soul-baring testimony of victims of sexual abuse and a direct and deeply truthful homily by Bishop Frank Caggiano.
It all came together in a memorable way at the recent Mass of Hope, Healing and Reconciliation held at St. Anthony of Padua Church in Fairfield.
“No healing can occur unless we stand in the truth,” said the Bishop, who condemned sexual abuse and its lifelong impact on victims.
“There are many with their hearts shattered because of the evil of predator clerics” he said. “The survivors have endured great suffering in the deepest part of their hearts.”
The Bishop said the evil of child sexual abuse robbed the innocence of victims and represented a betrayal of good priests, who also seek healing from the damage done by the crisis.
In a quiet and moving gesture, the Bishop left the altar during the Sign of Peace and embraced the survivors group seated in the front row.
He praised them for their strength and courage, and for the depth of their faith that has led to work with the Church in the process of reconciliation.
What began as a “tentative and shaky” outreach to survivors has grown into a friendship and relationship of trust that is taking significant steps toward healing, the Bishop said.
“What unites us is the common search to be able to go on in hope, to be healed from our suffering and drawn closer in reconciliation,” the Bishop said.
“Healing is as much a walk in in faith as being carried in faith by the love of Christ,” said the Bishop.
“To be honest, I don’t know the next step. I didn’t know we’d be here at St. Anthony’s a year ago. It is a God of surprises. Can we ask that we take the next step together, to follow wherever the Lord will lead us.”
Survivors group member Peter Philipp extended a gracious and hopeful welcome before Mass.
“Today we join our journeys together. Mine started 60 year ago when I was first abused. I never thought we’d be gathered here on a rainy afternoon to celebrate our lives,” said Philipp who added that continued prayer and reconciliation can lead to “freedom from what happened in the past.”
Group members Jim DiVasto and Barbara Oleynick delivered the First and Second Readings.
After Mass the Bishop asked all to be seated and Peggy Fry came forward to deliver a personal and unvarnished testimony of her struggles with the impact of abuse and her search for someone in the Church to listen and acknowledge her suffering.
Describing her family as deeply faithful and active in the Church, she said her abuse began at age 16 by a young and charismatic priest who was a friend of the family.
Peggy was too ashamed to tell her parents and didn’t think anyone would believe her. She never told anyone until she confided in her husband as they were about to marry. They remained active in the Church and raised their three children as Catholics. However, the Church’s denial of the crisis deeply troubled.
She wrote letters to local Church officials and to the Pope, but no one responded. “I felt so abandoned, so alone,” she said, “They stole my trust and innocence but not my faith.”
She began to move forward when her attorney and a reporter from the Connecticut Post told her story, but she never gave up on truth telling within the Church.
Healing began for her in a serious way when Fr. Skip Karcisnki, who served as St. Jude Parish in Monroe at the time, listened to her story and offered spiritual help. Then in January 2015 she was invited to a listening session with Bishop Caggiano held at Fairfield University.
“This was monumental. The Bishop listed and there’s no doubt he had heard us,” she says of those early listening sessions. The meetings also represented the beginning of the survivors group.
“I felt the remorse from my Bishop along with the incredible strength from my fellow survivors, and I began to regain my trust,” Fry said.
At the end of her talk, Fry, who is now a grandmother of nine, was joined by other members of the survivors groups that came forward and embraced one another in a moment of pride and joy.
“Christ desires us to be healed,” said Jim DiVasto. “This committee would never have been possible without the courage and support of Bishop Frank. We’ve all grown to be great friends and that’s a great source of healing for us.”
The beautiful music for the Mass was provided by St. Anthony Parish Choir and musicians. The Mass was followed by a reception in the St. Anthony Parish Hall.
Planning Group members include Joseph, Sr. and Fran Cann, Jim DiVasto, Peggy Fry, Fr. Jim McDevitt, Barbara Oleynick, and Peter Philipp; along with diocesan staff Erin, Neil, Michael Tintrup, and Patrick Turner
For information about the Survivor’s Group or for Victim’s Assistance, please call Erin Neil, L.C.S.W. at 203.650.3265 or firstname.lastname@example.org, or Michael Trintrup, L.C.S.W., at 203.241.0987 or email@example.com.