In the Vineyard :: November 21, 2014 :: Volume 14, Issue 22

VOTF Partners with Restorative Justice to Conduct Healing Circle

On November 1, 2014, VOTF partnered with a group of Restorative Justice (RJ) advocates in Boston to conduct a Healing Circle for 20 participants who are wounded by the Catholic clergy sexual abuse scandal. The circle provided them an opportunity to begin or to continue a journey of healing. They experienced a deep sense of connection, validation, and mutual support as they shared their stories and listened to each other’s in a sacred space of trust and affirmation.

What prompted the partners to offer a circle was the positive impact of a panel presentation at the 2014 VOTF Assembly describing the potential for an RJ model to address the wounds of the sexual abuse scandal within the Body of Christ—a need largely unaddressed in the life of the Church during the 12 years since the revelations unfolded across the U.S. and beyond. 

The 20 participants were a diverse group that included 8 who are victim/survivors of clergy sexual abuse as children; 3 priests who responded with integrity in support of the survivors; several lay Catholics who left the pews because of the scandal; several lay Catholics who remained and tried to address it (including 2 current leaders of VOTF and others who currently work in Church ministries); and a few who are not Catholic but have also been impacted by the scandal.

On the evening prior to the circle, VOTF hosted a dinner at which participants began to build a small community that enabled them to respond at a deeper level to the questions posed by the circle facilitator the next day.

What distinguishes a Healing Circle conversation from ordinary dialogue is a process rooted in RJ principles and practices. Participants speak only when they hold a “talking stick.” No cross-talking or follow-up comments occur in order to foster intense listening when others speak. Participants give voice to their personal stories of harm and its effects upon them as well as to the ripple effects of harm in their individual communities. The result is a sacred space in which participants feel safe and trusting within the vulnerability of their stories. 

RJ practices are not “new-age” but rather derive from the learned wisdom of indigenous people around the world, who addressed harm by speaking truth in a circle. The aim is both to repair harm and restore relationships in their communities.
VOTF and its partners conducted this circle as a pilot in order to see if those harmed by the abuse and the scandal could find an experience that met their individual longings for healing—and, by extension, could contribute to healing the wounded Body of Christ.

The feedback from participants indicated a resounding “yes” by the conclusion of the 6-hour circle. 

Plans are underway to conduct additional pilots in other parts of the country.  A long-term vision is that faith communities will offer Healing Circles when their members desire a healing opportunity from the continuing harm they experience.
For more information, contact Jayne O’Donnell at, or 860-335-4259

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