FAIRBANKS — Three Roman Catholic bishops of Alaska are in Nome this weekend visiting with elders and the homebound and conducting healing services for sexual abuse victims.
Fairbanks Catholic Diocese Bishop Donald Kettler held a prayer service at St. Joseph Church Friday, the first of three healing activities planned during the weekend.
Kettler was joined by Archbishop Roger L. Schwietz from Anchorage and Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau.
On Friday, the bishops visited the diocese’s radio station KNOM for an interview and visited elders, some to receive the sacraments and to visit. Later, they attended a meeting of the King Island Council in Nome and held an evening prayer service.
Today, the three bishops will lead a prayer walk beginning at 10:30 a.m. to pray for unknown abuse victims and deceased victims of clerical abuse. The walk, which will include the pastor and staff of St. Joseph’s Church, will begin in downtown Nome at Third and Steadman streets and end at the Nome Cemetery.
Following the prayer walk, Kettler said the bishops are to meet with community members for a 1:30 p.m. listening session at St. Joseph Church. The session will be followed by a Mass at 5:30 p.m. with the reading of a letter of apology and smudging, the burning of wild grass for purification.
“There will be a prayer for purification for the wrongs that have been done by the church,” Kettler said.
On Sunday, Kettler will preside at a 10:30 a.m. healing ceremony and Mass at St. Joseph Church. The Mass will be broadcast live on KNOM. Afterwards, a potluck and picnic will be held at St. Joseph Church.
Kettler, a canon lawyer, was installed as bishop in Fairbanks in August 2002 when the first of almost 300 child abuse lawsuits were levied against the diocese. A small number of the lawsuits were settled before the diocese declared bankruptcy in March 2008.
The healing sessions and services are part of the conditions set down in the Chapter 11 reorganization settlement of the Fairbanks Catholic Diocese in January.
In March, Kettler began traveling to small communities across the sprawling diocese, conducting healing ceremonies and listening sessions with victims of abuse. He has visited 10 communities to date, taking a hiatus once school was out and families departed to traditional summer camps. Kettler plans to continue the visits to another 20 communities this fall.
One of the priest perpetrators, named in 19 lawsuits. Fr. Jim Poole, was a former pastor in Nome and founder of KNOM.
Kettler said his reception to date in communities affected has been “generally good.”
“The communities and families appreciate the prayers for healing and our efforts and our apologies,” he said.
In addition, Kettler is writing letters to all the survivors of abuse, apologizing and inviting them to meet with him and attend a healing service.
“A few do that, many do not,” he said. “We believe in those cases at least they have heard the apology of the bishop.
“I am sure there is anger and some people have expressed it,” Kettler continued.
“There is the hurt there. It has not all gone away.”
Traditionally, Alaska’s Catholic bishops meet in the summer and visit locations across the state. Kettler said this year the bishops chose Nome to lend their voices to his in expressing sorrow over past harm.
“I am glad we can do this and glad for the support of the other bishops,” Kettler said.
Contact staff writer Mary Beth Smetzer at 459-7546.