PHILADELPHIA – Hundreds of priests in the Philadelphia Archdiocese were summoned by the cardinal Friday to hear from two adults who as children were molested by priests.
The meeting at a seminary was called as part of an effort by the church to teach members of the clergy about victims' struggles to rebuild their lives.
Cardinal Justin Rigali said many priests have read newspaper accounts of abuse victims, but it was important for them to listen to the stories as well.
"It is extremely important for us to hear their stories firsthand so that we may see the human face and hear the human voice," he said.
The victims were joined by a woman whose two sons were abused. All three speakers said they came from Catholic families, and that it was hard for them to report the abuse.
Victoria Windsor Cubberly graphically described being raped as a girl by a priest in a rectory office. She was later abused by two more clergymen. The experience left her with suicidal thoughts and nightmares.
"There are few people who want to hear my story — it's just too hard to hear," Cubberly said, adding that she "wanted so badly to be the good little Catholic girl who was supposed to please the priests."
A woman named Grace discussed her sons' abuse and the lingering trauma it inflicted on their family.
"How did I not know? How did I not see it?" said Grace, who was not required to give her last name and was not fully identified by the archdiocese. "I will carry these questions until I die."
She said a priest regularly visited her family's house to gain her and her husband's trust. The priest then sought to get closer to her boys. Her oldest son was abused repeatedly in the church priory. Both sons are now adults.
The hands the priest used to consecrate wine and bread, she said, were "the same hands he used to violate my son."
Abuse victim Edward Morris, 44, told the priests that the church has lost generations of followers because of crimes committed by clergy.
The priests were riveted by the speakers, who challenged the cardinal to offer victims more help, including financial compensation.
After the gathering, a prayer service was held for the 300 priests.
"I think everyone's going to have to absorb the impact of what they just heard," archdiocesan spokeswoman Donna Farrell said.
Victims' advocates said the meeting was a positive effort by the Roman Catholic archdiocese to face its past.
"We're hoping that as they witness this, they'll be able to take some action to actually help survivors," said Pat Clancy, a member of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests.
The event was closed to the public, but the church showed it live on the archdiocese's Web site.
A year ago, Philadelphia grand jury accused church leaders of covering up decades of abuse by at least 63 priests.
Before the meeting began, Monsignor Arthur Rodgers said it has been helpful to discuss the abuse with parishioners. A former priest in his parish was named in a report by the grand jury.
"It's been especially painful for people who knew the priest," Rodgers said. "They had confidence in him, and they felt very sorry that he should succumb to that temptation."