Catholic Women at Georgetown and Georgetown’s chapter of Knights of Columbus hosted a joint prayer service for victims of clerical sexual abuse Sept. 21 in Dahlgren Chapel as allegations of sexual abuse by priests continue to surface across the country and world.
Large numbers of Catholic clerics have faced allegations of sexual abuse in recent years, particularly since the Boston Globe’s 2002 Spotlight investigation, and a Pennsylvania grand jury report released in August revealed that over 300 Catholic priests had sexually abused children over seven decades.
The Holy Hour consisted of Eucharistic adoration, a form of prayer in which participants pray in front of the Eucharist, and praying the Chaplet of Divine Mercy and benediction. It was a way for Georgetown Catholics to come together as a religious community and pray for survivors of abuse, according to organizer Madeleine Ostertag (COL ‘21).
“The Eucharist is the center of our faith. In the Eucharist we believe that God becomes present to us in the humble appearance of a host,” Ostertag wrote in an email to The Hoya. “Dedicating a time of prayer in His presence for the victims of this crisis allowed us to honor the dignity of the victims abused sexually.”
20 individuals attended the event and Fr. Jerry Hayes, S.J., presided over the service.
The Pennsylvania report shed new light on the ongoing scandal, and included allegations that Cardinal Donald Wuerl, an honorary degree holder from Georgetown University, covered up sexual misconduct. Furthermore, allegations of sexual misconduct also surfaced against Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, another honorary degree holder from Georgetown University, in June. At least 1410 individuals have signed a student-led petition, calling on Georgetown University to revoke Wuerl and McCarrick’s honorary degrees.
Ostertag said that amidst this crisis, it is important for Catholics to remember why they are Catholic and work towards healing the Church.
“While we as an organization condemn the heinous acts perpetrated by those implicated in this scandal and would like to see more concrete action taken by the university, what unites us as a community of faith demands something more: a call for each of us to participate in the renewal and healing within our Church,” Ostertag wrote. “Dedicating this Eucharistic Holy Hour to the victims of the sexual abuse crisis allowed us to respond to that call.”
Erica Lizza (SFS ’19), president of Catholic Women at Georgetown, also said that the allegations are challenging for those who are Catholic, and that this challenge was part of the decision to hold the Holy Hour as Catholics consider how to confront and respond to allegations.
“One of the things that I treasure about Catholicism is that we have a tradition which combines prayer and action,” Lizza wrote in an email to The Hoya. “The Holy Hour was a way for us to pray for all victim-survivors of clerical sexual abuse and to keep their suffering at the forefront of our minds as we struggle with how to move forward as a Church.”