Creating a Pathway toward Renewal: the Healing Garden

Courtesy of Mike Hoffman: Clergy abuse survivor, Chicago, Illinois, USA.

Just after the first edition of Healing Voices was published in January 2016, the Archbishop of Chicago, Cardinal Blase Cupich, wrote his invitation to “Renew My Church”. Tom Tharayil, LCSW, the Director of the Archdiocese of Chicago Office of Assistance Ministry which offers hope and healing to victims-survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their families, passed the invitation on to several survivors of clergy abuse. In the article, the Cardinal wrote about “dreaming big,” “resilience,” “boldness” and much more. These words and the tone of his invitation speak to me, because, as a clergy abuse survivor and an active Catholic, I have big, bold dreams too.

Mike serves as the President of the Board of Directors of Prevent Child Abuse – Illinois

For me, renewal can occur when a person takes a risk. The risk is to try something new outside of your regular routine or normal practice. A person would take that risk with the hopes of a positive outcome. In regards to efforts to heal wounds caused by clergy abuse of children, I believe the late Francis Cardinal George took a risk with the hopes of renewal in the lives of abuse survivors, family members and our larger Church family when he approved plans to build a Healing Garden as an additional outreach. A planning committee of four clergy abuse survivors, two priests and staff from the Archdiocesan Office for the Protection of Children and Youth worked closely together in a true collaborative effort. On June 9, 2011 Cardinal George dedicated the Healing Garden of the Archdiocese of Chicago–a place dedicated to the healing and reconciliation of childhood sexual abuse survivors. This is a sacred space, situated right in the middle of a vacated city street in the heart of the City of Chicago. Inscribed on the plaques are words of apology, prayer, reconciliation and peace. A variety of public outreach events occur each year at the Healing Garden which provide opportunities to heal broken hearts and restore what was lost to the truth of the abuse.

The Healing Garden, and the events held there each year for the past ten years since its dedication, are efforts at renewal of our Church. The annual Prayer Service and Pinwheel Planting is held each year during the month of April, which is National Child Abuse Prevention Month.

The Prayer Service and Pinwheel Planting is one of the finest ways to break the silence which surrounds childhood sexual abuse in our society by having adults and children alike singing and praying together and leaving behind a dramatic visual public display of support for protecting all children from any kind of harm. Each fall the Mass of Hope and Healing helps to reach out to abuse survivors and build them up and restore their sense of dignity and sense of self, which is too often lost to the abuse.

It is an on-going act of renewal of our Church to remind all who are interested that good people within our Church want to accompany those who have been sexually abused by trusted adults as an aid to healing from the pain.

Knowing the issue of childhood abuse by clergy and its traumatic and long-lasting effects on victims, families and our larger Church has been divisive and torn people apart, here is a unique place where people have come together in the spirit of renewal. For the abuse survivor, there is a risk that old wounds may be re-opened by participating in events such as these at the Healing Garden. I understand that. I would ask that you try something new and take a risk with the hopes of a positive outcome. These events, and others like it, have brought people together for the past ten years and helped me in my healing process. They may help you, too. I feel if we can come together and share something in common, we have hope that our Church can be renewed. That is my dream.