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Faith In Brooklyn for April 21

April 21, 2015 By Francesca Norsen Tate, Religion Editor Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Robert Hoatson, co-founder of Road to Recovery, has these messages for the church. Photo by Francesca Norsen Tate
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Brooklyn Bishop Acknowledges Need for Reparation at Mass for Healing

Survivors Group Says Healing and Justice Can Happen Together

Controversy arose last week over a mass for healing that the Roman Catholic Diocese sponsored for the victims of sexual abuse by clergy. The mass, which took place on Wednesday night, April 15, and was one of several offered around the world — including a similar mass by Pope Francis — garnered much criticism. It also brought to the forefront the contrasting views held by victims and the public on the Roman Catholic Church’s handling of this scandal.

A widely read article in the Brooklyn Eagle last week drew several comments, many of them expressing vitriol toward the leader of the Brooklyn Diocese, Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio, as well as the Roman Catholic Church. However, some of the comments also expressed support for the efforts being made by the Diocese of Brooklyn to help the survivors of sex abuse.

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Protesters gathered outside St. James Cathedral-Basilica, where the April 15 mass was offered, and said that justice must be done for the victims of sexual abuse by clergy before there can be healing. They claimed that Bishop DiMarzio’s offering this liturgy is an empty action and that what is needed instead is justice for the victims.

One man calling for justice identified himself as Robert Hoatson, a former Roman Catholic priest in the Diocese of Newark who works with the victims of sex abuse. His business card shows he holds a Ph.D. degree and identifies him as co-founder and president of the Road to Recovery: Hope and Healing for Survivors of Sexual Abuse. Standing outside the cathedral, Hoatson held signs saying that justice must come before healing. He also said that a bill currently before the New York state legislature, which would eliminate a statute of limitations, must be adopted into law so that sex abuse victims can sue their abusers.

However, the significant turnout at the mass far outnumbered the handful of protesters outside the cathedral. A spokesperson for the diocese told the Brooklyn Eagle that 100 people were in attendance. Moreover, a large delegation of priests and deacons vested and concelebrated the mass. Photography was not permitted inside the cathedral.

Members of the survivors group shared a different perspective on justice and healing than did the protesters stationed outside the cathedral. The survivors group said that both can happen concurrently.

Moreover, Bishop DiMarzio and members of the group told the Eagle on April 15 that they have been meeting for more than a year as a support group and to organize the healing mass and that they developed the idea together.

Philip and Tara Franco told the Eagle that they benefited greatly from the survivors group. They requested this mass and have worked with the Roman Catholic Diocese of Brooklyn and Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio to organize it.

“I think that the people protesting may be well-intentioned,” Philip Franco said. “I don’t think they know the whole picture, though. Because, first of all, coming from a Catholic perspective, there’s the incredible value of the mass and prayer. And, also, the church — at least in the Diocese of Brooklyn, as I can only really speak for Brooklyn — has done a lot for those who have been abused: financially, in terms of presence and support. And I’ve always — I hope — been able to separate the abuser from the rest of the community of the church.”

Bishop DiMarzio, speaking at a press conference before the mass, told reporters, “Certainly, as a representative of the church, I am sorry for what happened in the past, and we’re trying to make every effort to make sure nothing like this happens in the future. And we’re here to assist them with counseling, or, if they have questions, if they come forward, if they are victims of sexual abuse of someone employed by the church.”

He continued, “We came to a point where our survivors asked for this. They wanted this as a public statement that they’re on the road to healing, that they wanted to share their experience with others. But other people are not there yet. They feel bitter. They don’t understand how to live with this. They keep blaming the church. We have to acknowledge our faults, but we have to move on also and work with the healing process and turn victims into survivors. That’s the whole push we’re working on.”

The diocesan spokesperson confirmed that all its employees and volunteers are required to undergo background checks and complete VIRTUS training on recognizing and preventing child sexual abuse.

The healing mass incorporated readings from Lamentations, Psalm 34 and the Beatitudes from St. Matthew’s Gospel. During his homily, Bishop DiMarzio acknowledged the wrongdoing of the priests involved in the sex abuse scandal and called on all clergy — innocent and accused alike — to make reparation.

“Reparation is possible by others who have not committed this sin. How important it is that we repent and make reparation for this sin of those who did,” Bishop DiMarzio said. “Some people do not believe that reparation is possible. In the secular world, reparation means paying out something for evil done. In our spiritual world, reparation costs a lot more than any material goods. Reparation means a true change of heart and a change of ways. I believe that the church, in the last 10 years or so, has come from defending the actions of the past, of not recognizing sexual abuse, not understanding what was happening and not properly treating those who were abused by the clergy.”

At the conclusion of the mass, Jasmine Salazar, coordinator of the office of victim assistance ministry, spoke and provided resources for those wishing to report incidents of sexual abuse from diocesan employees. A toll-free number is available for that purpose: 1-888-634-4499. Those in need of this ministry may also visit [email protected].
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Yom HaShoah Program Honors Holocaust Victims Through Song and Reflection

‘Did we Do Our Best?’ Rabbi Potasnik Asks

Song and reflection served to honor the memory of all who perished in the Holocaust, as part of St. Francis College’s annual Yom HaShoah observance on Thursday, April 16.

Keynote Speaker Rabbi Joseph Potasnik spoke poignantly on “Being Human in the Face of Inhumanity.”

Offering opening remarks were St. Francis College Dean Allen Burdowski, Ph.D., and Fr. Brian Jordan, OFM, a professor and college chaplain.

Dean Burdowski relayed the story of a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp who walked around her surroundings (just after the liberation, 70 years ago).

“Hungry and starving, but surviving, and going to her morning labor detail, she turned around and saw that the SS guards were gone! In fact, all the guards were done. Here’s this lady who had been in this concentration camp for a number of years, suddenly without anybody watching her. What to do? Where to go? Walking back to the CC camp where she was, she looked around and was totally amazed by the absolute silence. Everyone was gone. How do you rebuild a life after that? Seventy years later, her son stands in front of me, as someone who came out of the ashes.”

Dean Burdowski said that he’s been reading “God, Faith and Identity from the Ashes: Reflections of Children and Grandchildren of Holocaust Survivors,” in which Rabbi Potasnik has contributed this quote: “Our responsibility is not to be silent, but to make noise in the face of evil.”

Dean Burdowski said, “We’ve come a long way, and that’s what this commemoration is about.”

Rabbi Potasnik has gained acclaim for his incisive and instructive humor. And although he and Fr. Jordan, who introduced him, sparred over Potasnik’s love of the Boston Red Sox, the spirit of this observance quickly took a more serious tone. Fr. Jordan recalled meeting Rabbi Potasnik in the wake of 9/11, when the two “worked shoulder-to-shoulder for many months, ministering in God’s name to those who were in pain and shock.”

Rabbi Potasnik unfolded a story of pain and shock from the Holocaust, citing examples of the world turning its back, but also stories of other courageous souls who helped save the lives of Jews, including those involved in the Rescue in Denmark.

He began, “We have a strange custom during Passover where we search the house for bread particles and then we rid ourselves of them because we say we’re not allowed to have bread during Passover. But what we also do is very strange, in that, after we do the search, we offer a declaration. And we state openly that we searched, we found the bread, we destroyed it, but there is a chance that there may be other particles that we didn’t destroy. God, we did the best we could. Please accept whatever we do. I think, when we look at the story of the Shoah/the Holocaust, that’s the story that has to be raised — Did we do our best?”

Speaking of the Nov. 9, 1938 Kristallnacht (the destruction of Jewish property, homes and businesses), which made worldwide news, Rabbi Potasnik said, “Nobody had the excuse of saying, ‘We did not know.’ [Franklin Delano] Roosevelt was asked, ‘Would you accept a transfer of Jews during this period, while it’s still possible to get some Jews out?’ Roosevelt’s answer was that ‘We can’t take such an unlimited number.’ Did we do the best we could? May 13, 1939: a ship, as you know (the St. Louis, a German transatlantic liner from Hamburg to Havana), was refused entrance by Cuba and rejected [at] many other places because ‘there’s no room for the Jews; we have a quota. We can’t accept any more.’ June 21, 1939: the ship went back and everyone was killed. June 21, 1977: Menachem Begin was prime minister of the State of Israel. And what he did on his first day as prime minister was to admit a boatload of Vietnamese refugees. Because, he said, ‘The St. Louis was turned away; we’re not going to turn these people away.’ June 21, ’39, ’77 — what a difference.”

Rabbi Potasnik contrasted two answers that were given to the pleas of Jews to seek refuge in other countries: although many turned their backs (asking “What could we do?’), others, such as the English Christian community in Denmark, said, “What else can we do?”

The program continued with Cantor Shira Lissek, a fifth-generation chazzan, who served at Rabbi Potasnik’s Congregation Mount Sinai before going to the Park Avenue Synagogue in Manhattan. Offering reflections from her family’s history, she also sang several songs, including “Es Brent! (Our Town Burns)” by Mordechat Gebirtig (1877-1942);  “If the World Had Cried” by Kenny Karen; “Chabbane,” by Kathy King Wouk (1949-); “Halich L’Kesaria (A Walk to Caesarea),” commonly known as “Eli, Eli (My God, My God)/Psalm 22,” by Hannah Senesh (1921-1944); “El Maleh Rahamim (Memorial Prayer for the Six Million;” “Mourners Kaddish;” and “Hatikvah (Hope),” the Israeli National Anthem, by Naphtali Herz Imber (1856-1909).
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Grace Church Observes Centennial of Armenian Genocide on April 26

Grace Church-Brooklyn Heights will observe the Armenian Genocide Commemoration on Sunday, April 26.

“After all, who today speaks of the annihilation of the Armenians?”

That infamous quote by Adolf Hitler still rings true today. These words are from his 1939 speech authorizing the merciless invasion of Poland. This year marks the 100th anniversary of the genocide of the Armenians by the Ottoman Turks, though Turkey continues to deny this genocide took place.

Grace Church will commemorate the first genocide of the 20th century with a sermon by the Rev. Julie Hoplamazian (the granddaughter of genocide survivors). She will also lead a special adult forum on genocide at 10:10 a.m., with special music at the 11 a.m. service from the Armenian liturgical tradition. The congregation is invited to the Armenian Genocide Rally in Times Square at 1 p.m., following the 11 a.m. service at Grace.




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