APPLETON — Beads of perspiration form on Bishop David Ricken’s forehead as he holds steady before Barb Bayer’s unwavering eyes a monstrance carrying the Blessed Sacrament.
“I believe you. I believe you,” Bishop Ricken, moments before, told 150 people gathered at St. Thomas More Church April 10 for a unique prayer service, “Healing through Christ,” focusing on survivors of clergy abuse, but open to all victims of abuse.
Now, absent his traditional vestments, miter and crosier in favor of a simple white alb and purple stole, Bishop Ricken patiently holds the Blessed Sacrament for veneration by Bayer, a victim of clergy abuse.
Finally, Bishop Ricken carries the monstrance to another person in the pew.
For nearly 30 minutes, Bishop Ricken holds the Blessed Sacrament aloft for individual veneration by all attending the prayer service, intended not only to help heal sexual abuse survivors, but the church.
“This should have been done long ago,” Bishop Ricken told The Compass following the intense and emotional service.
The St. Thomas More service, and a similar gathering at St. Joseph/Holy Family Parish in Phlox April 8, attracted together more than 200 people for a victim outreach initiated by Bishop Ricken.
“For our diocese it was the right time. We really need to reach out more,” Bishop Ricken said. “Right now is a special time of grace that the Holy Spirit has poured down on our diocese. The more we can extend that grace to hurting people, especially those hurt by us, the more important it is for us to ask for forgiveness, to repent, to do reparations and to beg for healing for the people.”
For Bayer, a victim of clergy abuse “many, many years ago,” the prayer service “was all about validation; validation from the church.”
“For the words to come from Bishop Ricken, that he believes us and is sorry, is a huge part of the healing process,” Bayer said.
Bayer said she, with her husband by her side, told Bishop Ricken a few years ago about the abuse suffered by her and other family members.
“It was an opportunity to tell my story,” Bayer said. “I believe he listened, but at the time I didn’t think he got it. After tonight, and after the other night at Phlox, they get it. They totally get it. There is so much of the healing process the diocese has helped me with personally.”
During the Phlox meeting, Bayer said she “witnessed a visual for myself of the Holy Spirit looking down on us.”
“My faith has been renewed for sure. The Holy Spirit is always on my shoulder,” Bayer said. “I feel very much at peace and feel empowered now to the point where if I can help some other survivors tell their story I will. There are so many people hurting yet.”
Bishop Ricken said that often people have suffered through abuse “and no one believes them, especially if they were children and they (adults) said, ‘You’re making that up,’ or, ‘Be quiet. You’re talking about the priest. You shouldn’t do that.’
“When I hear stories I know they are true. I believe these people, every one of them,” Bishop Ricken said.
During a reflection period at the prayer service, Bishop Ricken said some of the most privileged times in his ministry as bishop “have been when I was able to meet with victims of clergy abuse” and hear their stories.
“The things that have happened to you, some of you as children, are unbelievable and unbearable. But I believe you,” Bishop Ricken said. “I understand a little bit about what you are saying, although I only understand a tiny little bit of what you are saying.”
“I also understand that because you or a member of your family have been abused by clergy that this has been a terrible, terrible disturbance to your image of God,” Bishop Ricken said. “The sacred has almost been abolished in some cases because you have trusted someone in authority over you, especially someone who has been a member of the priesthood or clergy. That is the exact opposite of what we are supposed to be.”
Bishop Ricken said he knows the great harm caused to families of loved ones victimized by abuse “who perhaps for years didn’t understand and the church and families often didn’t understand you because (the abuse allegations) seemed so outrageous and outlandish.”
“But we know now that it happened and we believe you,” Bishop Ricken said.
Bishop Ricken said he has asked all parish priests over the past nine months to offer Masses, public or private, of reparation to the Sacred Heart for healing “all victims in our diocese, particularly of clergy abuse, but also the healing of all in our diocese who have been abused by others as well.”
“To make reparations means to repair the damage, spiritually, caused to the love of God and the Sacred Heart of Jesus by this terrible event,” Bishop Ricken said.
The prayer service was also intended to make reparations, spiritually, for the damage caused to victims by a member of the clergy or by someone else, he said.
“I want to say, on behalf of the church, for those of us in authority who maybe didn’t listen, didn’t believe or maybe tried to deny, we ask your forgiveness,” Bishop Ricken said. “I hope this (prayer service) can be part of your healing process, just the fact someone is here, especially the bishop, to ask for your forgiveness and to express our deep sorrow for what happened to you.”
Bishop Ricken urged victims to embrace God’s healing grace and power “and when those memories come back to just give them to the Lord. Surrender them to him in whom you can trust.”
“We fail. We fall. We are subject to sin like everyone else, but Christ is not,” Bishop Ricken said. “You deserve healing. You deserve to feel God’s love. You deserve to be restored if your lost innocence was taken from you through no fault of your own.”
“Hopefully, use this opportunity to renew your relationship with Christ and, eventually, with the church,” Bishop Ricken said.