October 27, 2022  |  By:   |  Press Releases  |  

Archbishop José H. Gomez blessed the inaugural garden of healing dedicated yesterday to victim-survivors of sexual abuse at Saint Camillus Center for Spiritual Care in Los Angeles. Auxiliary Bishop David G. O’Connell for the San Gabriel Pastoral Region of the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, Bishop Emeritus Armando Ochoa and Father Chris Ponnet, pastor at Saint Camillus Center joined the blessing of the garden which is the first of its kind in the Archdiocese. Gardens of healing are being planned in the four other pastoral regions of the Archdiocese spanning Los Angeles, Ventura and Santa Barbara counties. These gardens are made possible by the collective offering of parishes throughout the Archdiocese as a manifestation of our ongoing care for and support of those impacted by sexual abuse in all its forms.


“This garden is a promise to our brothers and sisters: we will never forget, and you are never alone; we go with you, always,” said Archbishop Gomez during the dedication of the garden of healing. “We pray that in the silent beauty of this garden, many may come to hear God’s voice, to know his love and compassion, and his longing to comfort them, to strengthen them, and to make them whole again.”


Inspiration for the gardens of healing came largely from 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 garden.


“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. Today, the first of five gardens is a reality. 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 this garden, 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.


“St. Camillus Center is a healing and peace center and training center for interfaith chaplains. As chaplains we are about accompanying people toward healing of mind heart or body,” said Father Ponnet. “I was ordained in 1983 and have been saddened, shocked and embarrassed by this crisis in our church. Today I am Happy that our center is hosting one of the healing gardens. May this dedication be a simple step forward in acknowledge and commitment to make our churches schools and center safe places for all.”


So far, more than half of the parishes in the Archdiocese have pledged financial support for project. The aim is to create at least one garden in each region of the Archdiocese, and 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/.