LIBERTY, Mo. — About 100 Kansas City-area worshipers have participated in a Catholic prayer service to seek spiritual healing over past sexual abuse within the local diocese.

The service at St. James Catholic Church in Liberty was the eighth in a series called “Healing Our Parishes Through Empathy.” Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. presided.

Participants carried small stones in a somber procession to the altar, where they placed the pebbles at the base of a wooden cross to symbolize letting go of a burden they’ve carried. They then washed their hands in basins of water.

“If there are victims of sexual abuse here that was brought about by clergy, priests, bishops or anyone serving in the church,” Johnston said at the gathering, “I want to say, personally, that I am sorry. And before you I repent.”

“I repent of any actions or inactions on the part of any bishops or priests or others who harmed you,” he said.

Michael Sandridge, one of 32 plaintiffs in sex-abuse lawsuits against the diocese that were settled in 2014, said he wonders how effective the services can be. Sandridge said many victims won’t return to the places where abuse took place.

“I question this word ’empathy,’” he told The Kansas City Star. “How can they (church leaders) possibly be empathetic when they’ve destroyed so many lives?”

The diocese says it was just a coincidence that the service was held exactly one year after Pope Francis accepted Bishop Robert W. Finn’s resignation. The former leader of the Kansas City-St. Joseph Diocese accepted a criminal conviction in 2012 on a change of failing to report a child sex abuse case involving a priest.

It was also a coincidence that the service was held a day after the arrest of James M. Burton, a janitor at St. Peter’s Parish in Kansas City, who is accused of a sex-related charge involving a girl younger than 14.

The diocese issued a statement last week saying the alleged abuse didn’t occur on church property and that the victim isn’t a diocesan school student.