Observance dedicated to children who have fallen prey to clergy across the globe

Local church service pays respects to priest abuse victims

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It was a solemn service at St. Francis of Assisi Catholic Church in Cartersville Thursday evening.

The Holy Hour observance called for "reparation of the damage done by clergy in the past, healing for the victims and purification of the Church." The ceremony came just three days after Pope Francis issued an open letter urging the Catholic Church to stand in solidarity with victims of clergy sexual abuse and to "condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death."

A little under 100 people turned out for the observance at 850 Douthit Ferry Road in Cartersville. About half of the attendees were middle-aged and senior Caucasians, the other half predominantly middle-aged Hispanics and their children. 

Father Juan Francisco Anzora presided over the service, alternating his sermon in English and Spanish.

He prayed for the communities affected by "suppressions of abuse" — as well as the friends and families of the abused and their abusers alike — and for their feelings of "shock and horror" to be replaced by feelings of trust and optimism.  

"For the families who share in their suffering, we offer them shelter and support," he said, "that they may be steadfast in faith and hope that God will come forward and strengthen them." 

Some attendees clutched rosaries throughout Anzora's sermon, while others appeared to quietly weep.

The observance coincided with the World Meeting of Families Congress, held this year in Ireland. The pope attended the Roman Catholic Church-organized event in Dublin this weekend amidst a slate of recent reports alleging decades of sexual abuse cover-ups by the Church in Australia, Chile and the United States.

That includes a grand jury report released earlier this month in Pennsylvania, alleging the Church swept thousands of alleged abuse incidents under the rug for more than 70 years.

Such inspired the pope to pen the first public letter ever addressed to all members of the Catholic Church — more than 1 billion people across the planet — on the issue of clergy sex abuse.

"With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives," the pontiff wrote. "We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them." 

Anzora asked God to heal the wounds of the abused, "so that they may once more receive and give love with confidence and dignity as your sons and daughters."

He concluded the observance with a prayer that the sins of the past be brought to light and the long chain of sex crimes committed by members of the Catholic Church against children finally comes to an end.

"Throughout the whole world, whatever is weak, may it be strengthened, whatever is broken, restored, whatever is lost, found," he said. "For the whole Church, the truth will set us free, the healing will restore our life and we will break the cycle of abuse."