As the Roman Catholic Church continues to grapple with the sexual-abuse crisis that has shaken its foundation, the Camden Diocese will host a series of evening vigils starting Friday to pray for the victims and the church.

The diocese is inviting South Jersey's 475,000 parishioners to pray that the victims will be healed and that the church will atone for its sins, as part of the "legal, psychological, and pastoral work that is already being done" to cope with the crisis.

Bishop Dennis J. Sullivan will preside during the first prayer service, at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Agnes Church of Our Lady of Hope Parish, 701 Gloucester Rd., Blackwood. The remaining vigils will be at 7 p.m. Oct. 5 at six churches throughout the diocese.

The vigils come after the release last month of a Pennsylvania grand jury report revealing that top Catholic leaders in six dioceses had covered up decades of child sex abuse involving more than 1,000 victims and hundreds of priests. Two priests who had served in the Camden Diocese were included in the report.

Sullivan has said in a letter to parishioners that he is "ashamed and disgusted" by the past actions of bishops and priests and that their failure is heartbreaking.

Earlier this month, New Jersey Attorney General Gurbir S. Grewal launched an investigation of potential clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups into the state's Catholic dioceses. New Jersey is one of at least seven states to announce official probes of clergy misconduct since the release of the Pennsylvania report. Grewal established a 24-hour hotline for victims to report abuse. The number is 855-363-6548.

The Camden Diocese has faced numerous allegations of abuse and paid out millions in settlements, according to the website The diocese will be working with the Attorney General's Office in "any capacity that they require of us," said Michael Walsh, spokesman  for the Camden Diocese.

Sullivan wrote in a recent column that the church community must show its solidarity "that this will never happen again." Clergy and church leaders must protect youths and young adults, and "will continue to immediately engage law enforcement the moment we hear a report of abuse." The laity must hold church officials to that pledge, the bishop wrote.

The Oct. 5 vigils will be at St. Joseph the Worker in Haddonfield, the Church of the Incarnation in Mantua, St. Andrew the Apostle in Gibbsboro, Christ the Good Shepherd in Vineland, St. Katharine Drexel in Egg Harbor Township, and Our Lady Star of the Sea in Cape May.

Robert Hoatson, founder of Road  to Recovery, a New Jersey organization that supports victims, said that prayer is always welcome but that vigils are often used to "schmooze over a problem." The laity is asked to participate in prayer services that church officials use to "mask holding themselves accountable," said Hoatson, an abuse survivor and former priest.

"People have a tendency to think that once a prayer service is ended, the consciences are clear and the forgiveness is done," Hoatson said, "but it's just the beginning."