Arlington Bishop Paul S. Loverde celebrated a healing Mass last night for victims of sexual abuse, marking the Roman Catholic diocese's first formal public outreach to such victims since the church's sex abuse scandal broke in 2002.
Before about 70 people at St. Thomas More Cathedral, Loverde apologized to abuse victims and their families. He also asked their forgiveness, particularly those who had been molested by "a priest or deacon or someone representing the church."
"I am sorry, and I apologize with all my heart for the pain inflicted on you because of their abuse," Loverde said. "I ask you to forgive us . . . for not seeing more deeply and fully the horrendous evil" of such abuse.
Flanked by more than a dozen diocesan priests at the altar, Loverde pledged during his homily to continue to implement the policies adopted in 2002 by the U.S. Catholic bishops to deal with the abuse crisis.
The Mass was praised by some Catholics who have criticized the diocese's outreach to victims in the past.
"It was a great start. . . . Bishop Loverde seems sincere and very apologetic," said Evelyn Mercantini, co-leader of the Northern Virginia chapter of Voice of the Faithful, an organization of lay Catholics formed in the wake of the scandal to reach out to victims and effect structural change in the church. Mercantini attended the Mass.
The Mass was not advertised as being specifically for victims of clergy abuse, and organizations representing them were not contacted by the diocese to help publicize the service.
"Based on the church's history . . . how about including us in the planning for a Mass like that?" asked Mark Serrano, regional representative for Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests. Serrano was interviewed earlier in the week.
At a reception after the Mass, Loverde said he had not invited outside assistance because "we had wonderful people right in-house" to do that. "That's part of our responsibility."
Loverde added that he hoped to hold a similar service again.
Diocesan spokesman Soren Johnson said that a newly formed diocesan pastoral council, whose 26 members are mostly lay Catholics, recommended to Loverde in April that the diocese sponsor a healing Mass.
The diocese, which includes 21 counties and seven cities in Northern Virginia, is the first jurisdiction of the church in the Washington area to do so.
The Archdiocese of Washington has not held such a Mass, but "different parishes have had Masses depending on requests from within their communities," spokeswoman Susan Gibbs said.
In March, Cardinal William Keeler, head of the Archdiocese of Baltimore, attended a service initiated by Healing Voices, a Frederick-based group of lay Catholics that assists and advocates for people sexually abused by clergy.
A year ago, the Voice of the Faithful chapter organized the first parish-sponsored healing Mass for abuse victims in the Arlington Diocese. That service was at Our Lady Queen of Peace Catholic Church in Arlington. Loverde, who has kept Voice of the Faithful at arm's length, did not attempt to block that Mass.
In January, a report by the national Office of Child and Youth Protection of U.S. bishops found that Arlington had failed to implement two key portions of the child protection policy adopted in 2002 by the bishops.
The diocese was faulted for not having a "safe environment" program for children to raise their awareness of inappropriate conduct by adults. It also had not been conducting proper criminal background checks on diocesan personnel who have contact with children, relying instead on a "self-reporting method" to obtain information, according to the report.
The diocese is working to repair both defects, officials have said. But those efforts have been set back by the resignation of two officials responsible for implementing child protection policies in the diocese.
Catherine M. Nolan, director of child protection and safety, quit in February, halfway through what was to have been a year-long assignment. Her successor, Jennifer Alvaro, also resigned. Both women were said to have been disappointed with the level of diocesan commitment to implement the safe environment program.