November 20, 2023  |  By:   |  Press Releases  |  

On the weekend recognizing the United Nations World Day for the Prevention of and Healing from Child Exploitation, Abuse, and Violence, Fr. Michael Wakefield blessed the third Garden of Healing dedicated to victim-survivors of sexual abuse at St. Francis de Sales Church in Sherman Oaks on Sunday, November 19.

These gardens are made possible by the collective offering of parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Los Angeles as a manifestation of our ongoing care for and support of those impacted by sexual abuse in all its forms. Gardens of Healing have already been inaugurated at Saint Camillus Center (Lincoln Park/Los Angeles) and Our Lady of the Assumption Church (Ventura) with the aim of having a Garden of Healing in each of the five pastoral regions of the Archdiocese.

The Garden of Healing initiative is a first of its kind in the Archdiocese which was inspired largely by a victim-survivor, Joe Montanez, who taught horticulture and landscape design locally for more than 30 years and shared his experience and vision in planning the simple but important gardens.

“A little more than three years ago, I sat in the parking lot at St. Peter Claver Catholic Church, waiting to meet with the people from the Archdiocese – the Victims Assistance Coordinator and an investigator,” said Mr. Montanez. “I felt as if my palpitating heart was going to come out of my quivering body. It had been close to fifty agonizing years that I kept my secret. That day, for the first time, I was able to talk about my shameful abuse by my predator. In the years since, I’ve been in intense therapy, met with my perpetrator who acknowledged how he abused me and asked for my forgiveness, worked with Dr. Banis to create a prayer for healing card for all the parishes, and dreamt of building gardens for healing to all who want to heal and help and acknowledge the abuses of the past. I will continue to work with Archbishop Gomez and the Victims Assistance Ministry to help those afflicted with the same pain that I have endured.”

Mr. Montanez has worked with Dr. Heather Banis, Coordinator of the Victims Assistance Ministry Office of the Archdiocese, for many years now including creating a prayer card to encourage victim-survivors receive support and healing services from the Archdiocese, leading a listening session at St. Dorothy Catholic Church in Glendora, and sharing his story with seminarians at St. John’s Seminary in Camarillo.

“Growing up, my grandmother often quoted the saying, ‘one is nearer God’s heart in a garden than anywhere else on earth.’ When I met Joe and we began working together, his vision for this garden resonated with my grandmother’s words,” said Dr. Banis. “I am so grateful to the parishes of our Archdiocese for bringing these gardens, and the others soon to be built, to life and pray these healing waters in this sacred space awaken a sense of God’s abiding presence in the hearts of those who visit the garden.”

The design of the garden of healing is built around a weeping wall placed somewhere outside the church providing those who might find it difficult to step inside the church with a sacred and welcoming space dedicated to those impacted by sexual abuse. Water flows up the inside of the “wall” coming out and over the top, slowing “weeping” down the front into the rocks at the base – symbolic of the ongoing tears for tragedy of sex abuse in the church yet an embodiment of a pattern of renewal in healing and cooling waters. The plan is to incorporate the same basic design principles in each site.

So far, more than half of the parishes in the Archdiocese have pledged financial support for the project. If funds allow Gardens of Healing will be built at additional parishes.

The Archdiocese stands against any sexual misconduct and is resolute in our support for victim-survivors of abuse. The Archdiocese encourages anyone with information regarding these matters to please make a report to law enforcement and/or the Office of Victims Assistance Ministry at (800) 355-2545 or protect@la-archdiocese.org. For more information on the abuse prevention and protection efforts of the Archdiocese, please visit https://lacatholics.org/protect/.