As the Catholic Church reels from headlines of abuse, Chicago’s Holy Name Cathedral looks to focus on healing by opening a chapter of the Maria Goretti Network and offering support to survivors of abuse.
The network was named for an 11-year-old Italian girl who died from her abuse more than 100 years ago. With help from chapters in Houston and Seattle, Holy Name reached out to those abused by priests and others and held its first meeting Monday for survivors.
"This is not just about clergy abuse," said Miguel Prats, manager of the Houston chapter. "Maria Goretti Network is for any victim of abuse."
It was more than a dozen years ago that Chicagoan Mike Hoffman first told his then-parish priest, Fr. Greg Sakowicz, that he had been abused by a priest as a young boy.
"Because that conversation went so well, I was able to feel more comfortable, to reach out to the Archdiocese of Chicago and begin the independent review board process," Hoffman said.
Along with Holy Name's rector Fr. Sakowicz, the group is committed to listening and empowering survivors.
"These things happened to me, but it doesn't define me," said Hoffman. “But these things happen to many people. And here in Chicago we're going to do this."
"Forgiving is a process," Fr. Sakowicz said. “Recovery is a decision."
Holy Name parishioner Dr. Christine Lawless said she was frustrated by the negative headlines detailing priest abuse.
"I wanted to do something for the people who are left in the pews," Lawless said. "They need to be renewed."
Dr. Deb Rodriguez with the Seattle chapter of Maria Goretti said she feels especially passionate about this project because “our church is a place for healing. It's a place for hope."
"I felt alone when I first came forward with my story to the Catholic Church," said Dr. Deb Rodriguez with the Seattle chapter of Maria Goretti. "I felt alone. No one understood what I was going through. Now I know there are many of us."