Archdiocese creates Healing Garden for victims of clergy abuse
September 2, 2011
A bronze sculpture in the garden’s center represents the holy family, Jesus,Mary, and Joseph. (Photos by David V. Kamba)

By Gabija Steponenaite

Where do you start the process of forgiving clergy who preached about high morals, love, and compassion, but behind closed church doors committed shameful crimes against the most vulnerable members of society — children?

How do you restrain your anger toward those who turned a blind eye and covered up sexual abuse crimes?

How do you regain trust in those who chose to represent God but ignored the pain of a wounded and destroyed human being?

The Archdiocese of Chicago, as part of its efforts to recognize the pain that some clergy have caused and to reach out to victims of clergy sexual abuse, has constructed the Healing Garden of the Archdiocese of Chicago adjacent to Holy Family Church at 1080 W. Roosevelt Rd.

The garden was created as a place of prayer, meditation, and healing for the victims and survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families. Cardinal Francis George, OMI, archbishop of Chicago, recently presided at a prayer service and official dedication for the garden.

“There is no question the church has a long road to go in order to regain the trust and confidence of people,” said Rev. Jeremiah J. Boland, Holy Family Church parish administrator and member of the Healing Garden planning committee. “Creation of the Healing Garden is just one tiny step.”

The idea for the garden came from victims and survivors determined to help others who suffered similar traumatic experiences. The garden’s planning committee created a vision statement noting the project “is an attempt by us, clergy abuse survivors of the Archdiocese of Chicago, to heal, learn, and grow from the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual harm done to us. We wish to reach out to you who may have suffered from any tragic event that has left your hearts broken, just like ours. Together in this healing space, may we find within ourselves a place to feel free: free from fear, free from shame, and free from judgment.”

The planning committee was composed of four victim-survivors, two diocesan priests, and staff members from the Archdiocese Office for the Protection of Children and Youth. Construction began in November 2010 and concluded in June.

Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth and Cardinal Francis George in the Healing Garden with The Circle of Love.
In the center of the garden, surrounded by 25 different kinds of plants, stands a bronze sculpture, The Circle of Love. Created by George Michael Myers of Prescott, AZ, and donated by the Sisters of the Holy Family of Nazareth, it represents Jesus, Mary, and Joseph joyfully dancing in a circle. “The holy family could be an inspiration to the wounded families, showing that healing is possible,” said Fr. Boland. It is no coincidence the garden was planted next to the second oldest church in Chicago. Holy Family Church symbolizes endurance and survival, having escaped the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, a second fire in 2003, and demolition due to lack of funds in the 1990s.

Disturbing as sexual abuse of children and youth is, it is even more appalling when these crimes are committed by those called to serve as exemplary role models of moral values and faith.

“Apastor is like a parent who has to protect his children,” Fr. Boland said. “When this relationship is broken, the trust gets deeply wounded. I think we are still in very early stages trying to understand the ramifications of these crimes. It may take awhole generation for the church to recover its name and trust. Undoubtedly, there is a lot more pain to be faced.

“In terms of what happened in the past, justice demands the church face the consequences of the actions of our priests, sisters, and others involved,” Fr. Boland continued. “We try to review, reflect, and evaluate what we can do in the future to make our churches, our schools, and our activities safe for the children. The church provides numerous training and educational programs. As an organization, for the future we are better than we were in the past.”

The Healing Garden also helps people currently dealing with abuse in their lives by including receptacles for brochures and other information about where to seek assistance and reminders to stay vigilant to prevent possible child abuse. Also, members of Holy Family parish provide information for those seeking help, counseling, and support. The church plans to hold events for those concerned about sexually abused children and will invite speakers, organize training sessions, and provide special time for prayer and spiritual contemplation.

“As an adult survivor of childhood sexual abuse, I am trying now to understand and reconcile in my life the traumatic loss that I experienced at the hands of my abuser and how those painful memories affect me today,” said Michael Hoffman, who initiated the garden project in 2009. “To me, the Healing Garden represents a good, decent attempt to create a beautiful space for reconciliation and contemplation. We can learn from mistakes that were made which caused real pain for too many children and their families so that we can grow together to be better people, filled with compassion, love, and understanding.”

The Healing Garden provides hope for the possibility of healing, reconciliation, and eventual freedom from shame and pain not only for the victims but for the Catholic Church. “I just hope with all my heart that it will help to make a difference,” said Fr. Boland.

To contact the Archdiocese Office of Assistance Ministry, call (312) 534-8267. To learn more about workshops for victim survivors, call (312) 534-5268. To report child abuse to the Illinois Department of Children and Family Services, call (800) 252-2873.

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