Guilford church extends support to victims of church abuse

New Haven

St. George Catholic Church appears welcoming sitting beautifully on the historic Guilford Green, but inside, skeletons and dark memories live within their walls, and they still haunt some parishioners here.

Former priests have been credibly accused of sexually abusing minors here between the years 1971 and 1991.

The Diocese of Hartford Archbishop Leonard Blair released their names along with more than 40 others this year.

But after realizing their church had at least five abusers, was it enough?

Margot Burkle is a trustee and lifelong member of the church. She said, “It really became important to me that we address it and do something about it.”

Related: Pope requires sex abuse to be reported to church, not police

That’s how the healing garden at St. George came to be.

Lifelong member Margot Burkle suggested they plant a garden outside of the church, specifically for those who don’t feel comfortable going inside, as a place of comfort and healing.

The flowers in the garden, while beautiful, each hold a special meaning. There’s a reason they were chosen. The white tulips for example, represents mary’s prayer, and the purple hyacinth is a request for forgiveness.

Beyond the garden, Father Stephen Sledesky said there are added protections inside the church, designed to prevent these crimes from happening again.

Father Sledesky said, “Every volunteer, every staff member in every parish, has had a background check.”

But for people like Beth McCabe of Canton, the wounds may be too deep to heal in a garden.

McCabe said the garden is a nice gesture, “but until they really embrace the victims, who is it really for?”

McCabe has harsh words when it comes to how the Catholic Church responded to abuse.

She says she was just 11 when she claims a church on Long Island failed to protect her, the abuse continued for four years.

“As I started talking I feel myself shake and you just realize that, it never goes away,” McCabe said. “You learn to cope with it a little bit better but it doesn’t go away, ever.”

Related: 10 more priests credibly accused of sexual abuse in Bridgeport; Investigation being conducted

She’s wants to see the statute of limitations for abuse victims be eliminated nationwide and she wants the church to show its support, by putting victims first.

McCabe said, “where I put my energy is changing laws, because laws are what’s going to protect kids.”

Father Sledesky knows he can’t heal all wounds with one Mass, one garden or a few more windows, but said he’s doing what he can to embrace the past and he wants the victims to know that he hears them.

“You can’t undo the abuse, absolutely, but you can help people heal and you can help prevent further cases of abuse,” said Father Sledesky.

If you need support you can call 211. They’ll be able to direct you to someone who works specifically with church abuse victims.

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