A Letter to the Friars of St. Barbara Province

August, 4, 2003

My dear Brothers:

Something wonderful and miraculous happened in Santa Barbara over the week end of July 25 – 27, and I thought you might like some good news. The occasion was the annual SAS reunion that Alberic Smith puts on for the alumni. Because we believed that the Seminary property would have been sold by this time, Alberic arranged that I would come and preside and preach at the reunion Mass in the Seminary chapel. Since I was going to be in Santa Barbara and because we had some recent “bad press” including a new, ugly lawsuit, it was thought advisable that I meet with the press in order to get our story out there. While all this was going on, a group of survivors held their second retreat with the IRT.

With the above as a background, let me tell you what happened:

• I had a two hour interview with a reporter from the Santa Barbara News Press; I was joined by John Hardin and two survivors;

• the survivors also had a separate interview outlining the new group they have founded called SafeNet (Survivors Alliance and Franciscan Exchange Network); you will be hearing more about this group in coming months;

• alumni, SAS Greater Community, survivors and their parents were present at the Mass; in my homily I expressly begged for forgiveness

for what has happened; at the end of the homily I was given a standing ovation; I am including a copy of the homily for your review (no need for an ovation);

• at the end of Mass, we were interviewed again by a reporter from the Santa Barbara Independent.

Here are the miracles:

• in Sunday morning’s News Press, we were on the front page with our story and IT WAS POSITIVE; Fr. Virgil said it was the most positive press that the friars have received in Santa Barbara in 10 years; I am sending you a copy so you can read it for yourself;

• at the Mass in the Seminary chapel I was able to bring together a survivor with the friar who abused him and peace and reconciliation was made; you cannot imagine the emotion of the moment; the friar told me: “Now I can die in peace”; the survivor told me that he had not been in a church since 1972;

• the alumni were not only supportive of the survivors but also supportive of the Province; they truly value the education they received at SAS and promised to be a continuing support to the Province.

I will be honest with you. I could not have done what I did if I did not have the support of SafeNet. They were with me all the time. They see themselves as a bridge between other survivors of abuse and the Friars. We have pledged to work together. After this week end in Santa Barbara, I am convinced that reconciliation is possible with the help of SafeNet.

When I asked for forgiveness at SAS, I told the congregation that this was not so that we can forget about what happened and move on. Rather we are asking for forgiveness so that we can have the strength to do what we need to do. We need to build on the prophetic directions set by Joseph Chinnici in the early 1990’s and furthered by Finian McGinn. I believe that the next steps involve working with SafeNet for reconciliation, evaluating where each friar in Aftercare is living and what he is doing (see the article in the Sacramento Bee for the presentation of the issue), reviewing the various IRT guidelines and updating where necessary.

I share all of this with you because in an area of darkness, I think we finally see some light. We must also come to the realization that as a fraternity, we will have this issue on our plates for a long time. We must never put ourselves in a position which says: “this is all past history”. As followers of Francis, we are called to be peacemakers and this is exactly what we need to do!