In his statement, Hebda noted that he had spoken to Fr. Richards, who had communicated that he had been planning on reposting the article and hosting some subsequent educational events about abuse before he was transferred from the parish.
“He has indicated to me that he regrets that he did not complete the educational plan and repost the article prior to his assignment to another parish this past summer,” Hebda said.
The archbishop added that the Church has an “affirmative duty….(to) support victim/survivors on their journeys to justice and healing. The opportunity for abuse survivors to tell their stories is universally acknowledged as an essential moment in the healing process. Going public often means for them that they are no longer subject to the manipulation of the abuser. This can also be an important moment of justice.”
Stories of abuse are shared “not out of vengeance, but truthfulness,” the archbishop noted, which can be a positive healing step for a whole community and can hold past abusers accountable for their actions.
Addressing the resistance met by some within the parish to posting Barthel’s story, Hebda asked parishioners to join him in “praying for a healing of any such division. Join me also in praying for all survivors of abuse, as well as for their family members and for those who support them in their healing and pursuit of justice. May Mary, Undoer of Knots, bring her Son’s love into the difficulties of our lives.”
Jim Thorp, communications manager for St. Michael’s Catholic Church, told CNA in an email that “we pray that Gina’s story brings hope and healing to many. We continue to pray for healing for Gina and all victims and survivors of abuse, as well as their families, communities and the Church as a whole.”
Fr. Park, through Thorp, declined to comment on why he waited for Archbishop Hebda’s letter before reposting Barthel’s story.
Of the nine comments on the parish Facebook post sharing Hebda’s letter and Barthel’s story, all were positive or supportive, as of October 20.
“Bishop Hebda and the pastor have done a right and courageous act. God bless them, Gina Barthel and all the victims of clergy abuse. They must be very beloved to Jesus,” Patricia Tinajero commented.
“So grateful for the Archbishop's words and for Gina's brave witness, both bringing light to this darkness. I am hopeful that our beautiful church family and leaders continue to recognize the importance of supporting and praying for all victims of abuse,” commented Katrina A. Witschen.
Bishop Andrew Cozzens told CNA that he was glad Barthel’s story was shared with her parish community, because in every parish community are survivors of abuse, whether that is abuse from clergy or other people.
“There are victims of abuse in every parish and so we always need to be attentive to that. And it's difficult at times to raise up that reality because nobody likes to talk about it,” Cozzens said.
“But it can be really helpful to the victims of abuse if we're willing to, when it's appropriate, raise up the reality of abuse so that people who have experienced it can come to healing. So when you have a story like Gina's, where there has been some healing, that can be helpful.”
Cozzens added that he hoped any abuse victims who have been following Barthel’s story see that “the Church is committed to standing by them, even if it takes a long time to do so, even if we still have a culture change that we have to go through. We are committed to standing by survivors and we hope they understand that.”
Dr. Jim Richter is an abuse survivor and survivor advocate who became friends with Barthel last year, after reading her story.
Richter told CNA that for abuse survivors, it is often, though not always, important for them to share their stories, and their local communities often seem like the safest and most comfortable place to do that.
“If you have a community, a family community, a civic community, or a parish community, I think that's a great place to explore doing that sharing because it's oftentimes been identified or it's associated with something that is comfortable, familiar, safe and often supportive.”
He added that while he understands stories of abuse can be difficult to hear, they can also help communities remember that they have survivors in their midst and that they need to remain vigilant against potential future abuse.
“Although this is 2020, and although it is difficult for folks to sometimes recognize that a crisis isn't over as quickly as they would like it to be, the better equipped we are to hear, and in some cases to be unpleasantly reminded of what has happened. That can really inform the work that as an individual and as a parish we're going to do moving forward,” he said.
“So I don't understand...the need to bury or ignore or kind of sidestep somebody's abuse experience.”
Barthel said that while she is grateful for all the support she has received thus far on the archdiocesan level, it was also meaningful to share her story with her local community.
“My everyday life happens in the local church. And I need to have the support of the local church. All victim/survivors need the support of their local community. To feel that I was being stripped of that by some (parish) members….who have not been supportive, made that very painful.”
Ultimately, Barthel said she is grateful for the support of her archdiocese, and now her parish, in sharing her story.
“To have Archbishop Hebda's voice is so important because I think it sends the right message, the healthy and hopeful message to the Church,” she said. She said she hopes other victim/survivors continue to find hope and encouragement in her story.
“I can only speak for my archdiocese, but at least in our archdiocese, if they do come forward, they can find the support that they need in the leadership of the church. And I think that's really important.”