“They’re concerned about the Church. They’re concerned about the future. They’re angry. They’re confused...and it all comes from a place of love.”

That comment from Rev. Robert Longobucco may sum up how Catholics in the Albany Diocese are feeling about the latest spate of news around clergy sexual abuse in the Catholic Church.

Father Longobucco, pastor of St. Kateri Tekakwitha parish in Schenectady and diocesan vicar for Catholic faith formation and education, is one of several parish leaders in the Diocese offering listening sessions for parishioners on the abuse crisis.

Since Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger is “anxious to have” feedback from Catholics of the Diocese on moving through the crisis, Father Longobucco said, the goal for the session at St. Kateri’s is “to have people voice their feelings and give input to the Bishop.”

The listening session is being held Sept. 13, 6:30 p.m., at St. Kateri’s Rosa Road worship site.

Albany conversation

On the same date and time, St. Vincent de Paul parish in Albany is hosting its own conversation on the abuse crisis, facilitated by Dr. Melissa Martinez, a clinical psychologist who has focused her work on mental wellness. Two previous sessions were held Sept. 8 and 9.

“These conversations will offer a safe place in which to express your feelings, hear some of what other people may know or have experienced and possibly learn something of the behaviors that have contributed to this scandal,” the parish noted in an announcement.

Parish life director Elizabeth Simcoe said the idea came up at the first meeting of St. Vincent’s newly-formed pastoral council. Held in August, the council meeting coincided with the release of a Pennsylvania grand jury report documenting 1,000 cases of clergy sexual abuse there over a period of 70 years.

Pastoral council members were “very concerned about people’s feelings,” Mrs. Simcoe told The Evangelist. “There was a sense of hurt, betrayal, concern for the Church, concern for people leaving the Church because they feel it isn’t a safe place.”

Mrs. Simcoe knew of Dr. Martinez, a native of Puerto Rico who relocated to the Albany Diocese not long ago. The psychologist, a Catholic who now attends Albany’s Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception, has assisted South American bishops in dealing with the abuse crisis.

At St. Vincent’s listening session, “her role is to be an active listener,” Mrs. Simcoe said. “This is a conversation, not a presentation. People will have their space to speak.”

The session is beginning and ending with prayer.

Clifton Park sessions

St. Edward the Confessor parish in Clifton Park already had two listening sessions Aug. 28, one in the morning and one in the evening. Together, the sessions drew about 180 people. Rev. Patrick Butler, pastor, remarked on the large number in attendance: “People need to be heard.”

Although many pastors are are speaking about the abuse crisis in homilies, he said that priests can only say so much: “It’s tough to talk about this in church; there are too many kids” present.

Attendees at St. Edward’s listening sessions could say anything they wished, but they were also given four questions to reflect on: “What are you feeling? How does the current situation impact your identity as a Catholic? What would you like to say to the hierarchy (national or local) and what do you need to hear them say/see them do? What can we as leadership in the parish assure that we’re doing best we can to make this a safe environment?”

“There was a lot of raw emotion, but it was very respectful,” Father Butler told The Evangelist. “People listened to one another and really supported one another. They’re faithful people, but there are all those feelings of betrayal, sadness, anger, frustration [with], ‘Here we go again.’ A number of them recognized that this is a societal issue also, but we need to worry about cleaning our house.”

Even amid the high emotions, the pastor noted that parishioners’ “faith in God hasn’t wavered in the least. Church-wise, some of them feel shaken, but in terms of their relationship with Christ, that hasn’t changed.”

In the next week or two, the parish hopes to hold a follow-up meeting, getting input from parishioners on the list of questions they took home. Father Butler will compile the responses and send them to the Diocese.

Feedback already

One piece of feedback has already become clear: Catholics want to know more about the procedures the Diocese already has in place for addressing allegations of abuse. A number of parishioners at the listening sessions said they were surprised to learn that anyone wishing to report an instance of sexual abuse by diocesan clergy, employees or volunteers can contact the diocesan assistance coordinator (518-453-6646 or assistance.coordinator@rcda.org), who reports all allegations of abuse of minors to the appropriate district attorney and to the Bishop, the diocesan attorney and diocesan Review Board members.

Meanwhile, Holy Trinity parish in Cohoes is planning to hold an evening of prayer for abuse victims Oct. 30, 6:30 p.m., after a weekday Mass.

“I have referenced the recent sexual abuse scandal in several of my homilies, but please know that I am always available to talk further in person,” wrote Rev. Brian Slezak, pastor, in the parish bulletin. “Please continue to pray for the victims and offer sacrifices for the purification of our Church and those who lead and govern her.”

Bishop Scharfenberger has said he was “saddened and sickened” to learn about “spiritual fathers” who wounded the people in their care. He told the people of the Diocese: “Your voices, your vision, your experiences — and your prayers — are not only wanted by me and by your pastors, but are indispensable.”