My dear brothers and sisters in Christ:
In my previous column in the Aug. 19th issue of Catholic Times, I wrote about the recent revelations of what can only be described as horrifying abuse and neglect of authority among some priests and bishops of the church in our own country. While I felt compelled to respond immediately to the news, since that time, I have only experienced increasing anger, disgust, and a desire to act. I called for a response that must include several components, namely, public prayers of repentance and acts of atonement, new measures for review of bishops’ handling of cases and a reaffirmation of my own commitment to a zero-tolerance policy in our diocese, and a call for spiritual renewal at all levels of the church. I would like to share additional details and perspective on each of these three components of response — especially the first.
With regard to public prayers and acts of atonement, I am personally committing myself to a period of prayer and fasting in reparation and atonement as a way of confronting this crisis in our church on spiritual grounds. Specifically, I am abstaining from all meat and alcohol (except the sacramental wine used at Mass) for 40 days, which I began on Aug. 28, the Feast of St. Augustine, and will continue until Oct. 7, the Feast of Our Lady of the Rosary. During those weeks, I will also fast between meals on Fridays. On Oct. 7, I plan to run a marathon in Long Beach, Calif., with the LIFE Runners, a pro-life running group. There is a lot of pain involved in training and in the actual running of a marathon. In the past, I have offered up that pain for various intentions. This year I am offering the pain of my marathon training and running in repentance for the sins of all clergy—bishops, priests and deacons. I will also include this intention in the many rosaries that I will pray in the course of my running.
Further, at 7 p.m. on Monday, Oct. 1, the Feast Day of St. Thérèse of the Child Jesus — known as the “Little Flower” — I will lead a liturgical service of “Repentance and Prayer for those Harmed in the Church” at our Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Springfield. Each of our deans will conduct this liturgical service of “Repentance and Prayer for those Harmed in the Church” at the same time at a location to be designated in each of our deaneries. As sins of sexual depravity and complicity in their cover-up have deeply infected and wounded the church, it is crucial that we pray for these evils to be eradicated from the whole church.
Our priests will also gather for a liturgical service of “Repentance and Prayer for those Harmed in the Church” at the beginning of our upcoming convocation of priests on Monday evening, Sept. 17, at 7 p.m. at Mother of Perpetual Help Church in Maryville.
As I have previously said, we bishops of the United States must offer public prayers of repentance and acts of atonement for the sins of all bishops, priests and deacons. Having spoken with Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), it is my understanding that we will have prayers of repentance and acts of atonement at our next meeting in November in Baltimore.
I humbly invite all of you to join me in the holy battle for purification of our church throughout the world and here at home by participating in prayers of repentance, by fasting, and by coming to the prayer service on Oct. 1 at 7 p.m. at the Cathedral or at the location in your deanery. The nature of the battle at hand can be seen in these well-known verses in Genesis: “Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Where is Abel your brother?’ He said, ‘I do not know; am I my brother’s keeper?’ And the Lord said, ‘What have you done? The voice of your brother’s blood is crying out to me from the ground’” (Gen 4: 9-10). There is no such thing as private sin. The horrible sins that we have all endured learning about — and the souls of those damaged by them — hurt us all in the mystical body of Christ. In the same way, the prayers and sacrifices of the faithful are effective in bringing about spiritual healing to the whole Body of Christ.
In addition to public prayers of repentance and acts of atonement, I reiterate my increased resolve and continued commitment to a zero-tolerance policy in this diocese, and all the practical steps outlined in my statement of Aug. 19. I pledge our diocese’s full cooperation with law enforcement officials to make every available effort to protect our people. We will review the firm commitments we have made and the concrete steps we have taken to protect against clergy misconduct in our diocese. We are also willing to consider any additional actions that would be helpful in making our safe environment program more effective. Information about our diocese’s safe environment program and how to report abuse is available online at: https://www.dio.org/safeenvironment.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, I have called for a profound spiritual renewal at all levels of the church. When I say all levels, I include not only bishops, priests and deacons, but also the highest level of the hierarchy, the pope. In his Aug. 20th letter to the People of God, Pope Francis writes, “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.” I presume that he includes himself among the “we” to whom he refers. Indeed, in a letter this past April 11 to the bishops of Chile, Pope Francis asked forgiveness for his “serious errors of assessment and perception.” In a meeting with abuse survivors in Chile this past May, Pope Francis said, “I was part of the problem, I caused this and I’m sorry.”
Now, with reference to the situation in our own country, the former apostolic nuncio to the United States, Archbishop Carlo Maria Viganò, has revealed a set of facts and circumstances that are deeply troubling as they relate to the awareness, actions, and inactions at the very highest levels of the church. Archbishop Viganò has provided his written testimony stating that Pope Francis “must honestly state when he first learned about the crimes committed by McCarrick, who abused his authority with seminarians and priests. In any case, the Pope learned about it from me on June 23, 2013 and continued to cover for him.” The full text is available at http://bit.ly/2MyNj0f. When asked about this aboard the papal plane on his return flight from Ireland on Aug. 26, Pope Francis said, “Read the statement carefully and make your own judgment. I will not say a single word on this.” Frankly, but with all due respect, that response is not adequate. Given the gravity of the content and implications of the former nuncio’s statement, it is important for all the facts of this situation to be fully reviewed, vetted, and carefully considered. Toward that end, Pope Francis, Vatican officials and the current apostolic nuncio should make public the pertinent files indicating who knew what and when about Archbishop (formerly Cardinal) McCarrick and provide the accountability that the Holy Father has promised.
May God give us this grace. Amen.