EVENT DATE: Sunday October 3, 2021 at 2 p.m.
All are urged to stand in solidarity with those who have suffered sexual assault by Catholic clergy and all victims of sexual violence as St Mary’s Church in Hamilton, NY dedicates a lifelong memorial to promote healing and commitment for the change. The dedication ceremony will take place at 2 p.m. on October 3, 2021, in St Mary’s Garden at 16 Wylie Street in Hamilton.
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“Unless they sue us, we don’t recognize their existence.
This is, according to Professor RM Douglas of Colgate University, how the Catholic Church has historically responded to victims of rape and sexual assault. A Catholic lay group, the Sexual Assault Prevention and Response Team (SARP) of Hamilton, NY, of which Douglas is a founding member, is aiming to do something about it. In early October, SARP will dedicate a permanent memorial to those who have suffered sexual violence at the hands of Catholic clergy and to all victims of sexual assault, on the grounds of St Mary’s Church in Hamilton.
The memorial, a granite obelisk from Vermont, will be one of the few to exist. “We have looked at this issue,” said SARP member Dr. Bud Ballinger, a forensic psychologist who works professionally with sex offenders, “and we only know of three others in the United States. The Bishop of Kansas City promised to build one five years ago, but little seems to have happened there. Australia has one small memorial, and Belgium another, and maybe that’s it. I think it’s safe to say that there are less than a dozen all over the world.
Local pastor Reverend Jason Hage says that needs to change. Supporting victims of sexual violence is, he believes, the duty of every Catholic and part of the Church’s mission to defend the human dignity of all. The problem according to him is one that Christians, if they want to be faithful to their calling, are not entitled to ignore.
Although Father Hage is one of the most enthusiastic supporters of the SARP, he himself is not a member. “It’s a job that only the laity can do,” says Dr. Jennifer Meyers of SARP, a pediatrician from Hamilton and a convert to Catholicism. “All SARP members are committed Catholics and parents of children. Some of us work professionally in the area of sexual assault. Some are themselves victims of sexual assault committed by clerics. We are deeply committed to solving this problem, and it must be addressed from the bottom up.
The memorial is just one step in that process, according to Professor Margaret Wehrer, a former Benedictine nun who herself survived sexual violence at the hands of a priest. “But this is an important question. “For centuries Christians have kept victims invisible, and sad to say, we still do. This is why we wanted the memorial to be in the open, not hidden inside the church building. First, for people whose perpetrators were members of the clergy, it can be very difficult to enter a church. But secondly, we hope to reach out to people in the community who have never thought about sexual assault and suggest to them that they could. Because the victims are all around us.
This is a point made by Rebecca Shiner, a psychologist at Colgate. “This memorial is not reserved for people injured by priests or nuns,” she explains. “It’s for everyone, women and men, whose lives have been affected by rape and sexual assault. It is for the families and friends of the survivors, who must also bear a burden. And it’s a visible symbol, a promise if you will, that as Catholics we are committed to doing things differently in the future.
Ray Douglas, SARP
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