Friday, August 16, 2019 - Updated: 1:48 pm
When a reporter interviewed me recently about this week’s anniversary of the Pennsylvania grand jury report on child sexual abuse by Catholic clergy, I tried to explain both my devastation and my hope through the lens of Good Friday.
When Jesus died on the cross, His followers felt betrayed, thinking that everything He had told them was somehow not true. Some people were crushed by the tragedy of His death, not sure of what direction to take in the future. The leader among His disciples denied knowing Him. A few women and just one of the 12 disciples stood by Him, bewildered and broken-hearted.
Good Friday was the result of horrendous sins by all of us human beings. Our wrongs, then and now, set in motion a chain reaction that harms others. Jesus was a victim of every sin in that chain. But his death paid the price for our sins. Even as we repent and do all we can to make amends, His death and Resurrection have freed us to move forward in new life as a community dedicated to his mission of love and mercy.
As a diocese, our Good Friday occurred during the past year, as we have faced together the significant challenges arising out of the very public review of the most reprehensible sins and failings of some of our clergy. Our Resurrection hope is that this has called us to be a more holy Church.
One of the questions some Catholics have asked me this past year is, “Are you sorry? Are you truly sorry for the pain the victims/survivors are living with?” “Are you sorry — truly sorry — for all the distress, rage, anguish and betrayal that many members of the Church have felt?”
The answer to those questions is “Yes, I am sorry.”
That is something I have said many times before, in public and private. Long before last year, I began to apologize on behalf of the Church to those who had been abused by clergy. The most public forum was in services of apology that I held, first in the Diocese of Green Bay in 2006 and then in Pittsburgh in 2009 and in 2016. It is also something I have done many times in conversation with victims/survivors.
Their response has often been, “Bishop, we don’t want to hear that you’re sorry. We want to see what you’ve done as a result of your being sorry.” The issue for the victims/survivors, and the sign of true repentance, is not one of words, but of deeds.
That is why I wrote my pastoral letter, The Church Healing, with an action plan at its heart.
The five-point action plan in The Church Healing explains what the Church has done, and continues to do, to repent for the abuse that some children and young people experienced in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
The five points are: (1) Healing and enhanced support for victims/survivors, their families and loved ones; (2) greater financial transparency; (3) increased accountability; (4) ongoing spiritual and human formation for clergy and seminarians; and (5) continued listening to seek truth and reconciliation. Those points were detailed in my letter, in past news stories and elsewhere in this issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic.
They embody my commitment to continuing action. Doing my best to help victims/survivors has always meant expressing my sorrow and shame that a priest could abuse anyone — especially a child — and seeking to do whatever was in my power to prevent it from happening again. That is repentance.
The abuse can’t be dismissed as something that happened long ago. Each of these children and young people was and is infinitely precious in the eyes of Jesus. Yet, some priests to whom He entrusted care of their souls instead shattered them. For that, the Church of Pittsburgh must answer to both the victims/survivors and to God.
As Church, we must acknowledge what victims/survivors have suffered. We want to walk with them on the path to recovery. We must become a Church in which they can feel welcome.
My prayer is that the Good Friday of the victims/survivors will eventually become their Easter.
Reaching out to bring healing to those who have been the most wounded by the Church is crucial to my call as a bishop to bring people closer to Jesus and guide them toward heaven. When Jesus spoke of seeking the lost lamb, we often imagine a lamb that just wandered off. But some lambs were chased away by wolves, and Jesus expects His shepherds to seek them out, comfort them and tend their wounds. That is why we focus on responding to those who were sexually abused by members of our clergy.
The call to care for those who suffer extends to everyone in the Church. It is part of Jesus’ call for His followers to act together in His name to mend what is shattered, comfort the broken-hearted and aid those in trouble. When we see Jesus in every broken heart, then we will be a Church renewed.
Those who stood by the cross on Good Friday were also the first witnesses to the Resurrection. Standing at the cross is not a passive act, but one of strong commitment. It allows the Holy Spirit to work through you and me.
If you stood at a listening session to express your feelings, the Spirit was working through you. If you have prayed for the Church of Pittsburgh and its shepherd, then the Holy Spirit has worked through you. If you have reached out to listen to a victim/survivor and conveyed your sorrow for what they have endured, then the Holy Spirit has worked through you. The Holy Spirit brought the first believers together as a Church, and will bring us together anew in the Diocese of Pittsburgh.
Like Jesus’ disciples on Good Friday, we have struggled to make sense of the events described in the grand jury report. We pray that our faith will guide us through our confusion and lead us to our Easter. Through our efforts to heal victims/survivors and protect our children we are, hopefully, rolling away the stone. We are honoring the presence of Jesus among us.