OAKLAND, Calif. (AP) - The Oakland Diocese of the Roman Catholic Church issued a rare public apology to victims of clergy abuse with an emotional reconciliation and healing service.
Bishop John S. Cummins joined with fellow clergy, victims and their families for the liturgy Saturday, during which the diocese offered deep regret for the ''grave evil'' of sexual abuse.
''The failure of many of the leaders of the Catholic Church to confront this abuse head-on, to ... remove priest abusers and other employees from active ministry, or to take the side of the victims, has been one of the more distressing aspects of the of the church's recent history,'' Cummins said.
Some 130 people attended the service, held in a lodge in the Oakland hills in respect for victims who did not want to enter a church. The event had the full support of the diocese's priests council.
About 10 victims told their stories to those gathered.
''I've held this secret for so long, and it has been so devastating to me,'' said Marlis Sender, who was molested two decades ago when she tried to help a priest with a drug problem. ''For me, telling the secret is a big part of my coming back into myself, coming back into my own power.''
Sonia Rubino, who was sexually abused as a child in El Salvador, said she wants nothing to do with the church and crosses the street whenever she passes one. But Saturday's service, she said, was a step toward healing.
''Victorious - that's what I feel - victorious,'' she said. ''It was a breakthrough for me, breaking the ice and speaking the truth. It's my truth and I will continue speaking.''
Two weeks ago, Pope John Paul II asked for forgiveness for church offenses throughout history. Other Catholic leaders offered their own pleas for pardon, including Cardinal Bernard Law in Boston who earlier this month apologized for sexual abuse by priests.
Sister Barbara Flannery, the diocese's chancellor who helped organize Saturday's service, called it ''a beginning, a step down a very long path that we hope will lead to forgiveness from those we have offended.''