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Diocese’s Full-Time Victim Assistance Coordinator Begins Her Work

By Iliana De Lara

SAN DIEGO — A full-time coordinator to assist survivor-victims of clergy abuse has begun to work at the San Diego Diocese.

The coordinator, Mary Acosta, combines her extensive professional experience in social work with her profound Catholic faith.

She will be the point person to receive allegations of sexual abuse and sexual misconduct by Church ministers in the San Diego Diocese, ensuring that they are reported to the appropriate law enforcement agency and investigated by the diocesan Independent Review Board. She will coordinate support for victim-survivors and their families, which can include therapy, regardless of where the abuse occurred. And she will take the lead to educate not just the Catholic community but the greater one about the Church’s response to this issue and its prevention program.

“I also will collaborate with other agencies and organizations that serve people who have been abused,” she said.

Last fall, Bishop Robert W. McElroy held eight listening sessions across the diocese to hear the voices of the faithful about the sex abuse in the Church. In January, he announced that the diocese would take a series of steps in response to those sessions. One of them was to expand the part-time position of Victim Assistance Coordinator to full-time status.

Acosta, who was born in Canada in a deeply Catholic family, always had an interest in helping the most vulnerable. Her mother had studied pastoral care and worked as a chaplain at a jail.

“She was the first Catholic chaplain and the first woman chaplain in the Elkhart County jail,” in Indiana, where the family settled, she said.

“I had a good example of how to serve people who find themselves in a bad place in their lives,” said Acosta, who is a member of St. Mary’s Parish in Escondido.

Acosta always had an interest in exploring other cultures. She studied French for a time but discovered that it would not be too helpful for what she wanted to do. That is when she decided to learn Spanish, which she speaks fluently.

She became a social worker, and has worked in mental health programs, community corrections, and at the Restorative Justice Mediation Program, which brings together victims and offenders in face-to-face dialogue to promote healing.

On the personal front, she married Elías Acosta, who is from the Dominican Republic, and they lived for 14 years in its capital, Santo Domingo. There, she worked with U.S. Agency for International Development, focusing on the modernization of the judicial system.

She returned to the U.S. in 2007 and six years later met Deacon Jim Walsh, the former associate director of restorative justice at the diocese, who invited her to join the Restorative Justice Mediation Program. She eventually became director of programs, working with young offenders.

Now at the diocese herself, Acosta will help any victim-survivor of sex abuse by clergy and their families. Her work will extend to parishes, working with their pastors and ministries to raise awareness of sex abuse and the preventive measures at the diocese and Church. She will work with the parishes interested in starting a support group for victim-survivors and their families, or in developing other programming to respond to the harm caused by the abuse.

She said that, given her experience, she would like to add the dimension of restorative justice to her new position.

“I know that when trauma happens to a child or young person, and the person does not get help to address that hurt, it can affect them years later, even destroy them.”

Acosta acknowledges the issue of sexual abuse by clergy is a deeply complicated one that has hurt not just individuals but the Catholic community as a whole. She is looking forward to playing an important role in addressing it.

“Our Church is committed to assisting victim-survivors to recover from the trauma of abuse, promoting their spiritual and emotional healing.”

The Southern Cross

Victim Assistance Coordinator

Anyone who wants to report an incident of sexual abuse or sexual misconduct by clergy or other diocesan personnel at the San Diego Diocese may contact its Victim Assistance Coordinator, Mary Acosta, regardless of when the abuse occurred.

Acosta, who is bilingual (Spanish), may be reached by phone at (858) 490-8353 or by email at MAcosta@sdcatholic.org.

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