As a Church, we have walked a dark valley these past few months, as reports of clergy sexual misconduct of various kinds and cover ups of that activity have emerged. We can only try to imagine the pain the victims endured and continue to endure from these attacks, whether they occurred recently or 30 years ago. As a bishop, I offer my deepest apology to the victims for these offences and for the way some of my brothers in the episcopacy terribly mishandled these allegations, failed to treat victims with care, respect and justice, and did not act to protect children and young people. I will do all that I can to ensure that our diocese learns from these terrible accounts and works to assist victims in their healing and recovery and to protect our young people from abuse through our safe environment program. I also make the commitment to work with my brother bishops to hold accountable those at all levels of Church leadership who commit or cover up sexual abuse.
I know, too, that our faithful have also been deeply hurt by these revelations and have justifiably responded with anger, resentment and a demand for answers. I realize that some may find in these disturbing reports a reason to stop practicing their Catholic faith. Certainly the accounts of misconduct have shown the dark side of human nature and the dark side of the some of those in ministry and leadership in the Church.
So why remain in the Church? Why continue to come to Mass? My answer is that now, more than ever, we need Christ. We need Jesus who comes to us in the Eucharist and the other sacraments. We recall the account in the Gospel of Mark (6:45-52) of the disciples in the boat on the stormy waters. They fear that they are going to be overwhelmed by the wind and waves. The Lord comes to them walking on the waters, and they cry out to him for help. With the words, “Take courage, it is I, do not be afraid,” he enters the boat with them and calms the storm. As we feel tossed by the waves of scandal, hurt, disappointment and grief, the Lord is with us as well, calling us to reach out to him for strength and grace. He comes to us in Holy Communion, in the Eucharistic, to feed us with his own body and blood. He comes to us in the sacrament of reconciliation, to bring us forgiveness of our sins and the help we need to forgive others. In the other sacraments as well, he enables us to encounter him wherever we are in life.
We also need Jesus as he comes to us in our fellow Catholics when we gather for Mass, and as we come together in service and fellowship. In times of pain and confusion, we also need to gather as a people of faith, to pray together and support one another. When we come together in the Lord’s name, he has promised that he would be in our midst. Formed, rooted and nourished by the celebration of the Eucharist, we are sent forth to bring Christ to others, not just to strangers, but to our family members, fellow parishioners, neighbors and friends. In Christ’s name, we encourage one another as we struggle with our doubts and confusion, and we try to build up the unity that Christ prayed at the Last Supper would mark his disciples.
In this, we walk in the footsteps of great saints who have lived the faith before us – St. Augustine, St. Francis of Assisi, St. Catherine of Siena, St. Ignatius, St. Maximilian Kolbe, St. Mother Teresa, St. Pope John Paul II, and countless others. Many of them also lived in times of terrible turmoil, both in the Church and in society, and yet their faith in Christ and their trust that he lived in His Church enabled them to persevere and to be active in renewing the faith, in ways both great and small. We ask for the grace to follow their example and seek their intercession.
Through this dark valley, through the stormy seas, Jesus walks with us. If we stay close to him, he will protect us, guide us and show us the way toward the light. Among his last words to his apostles was his promise to remain with us, his Church, until the end of time. Through periods of persecution, revolutionary violence, scandals, widespread heresies and failed leadership, Christ has been present to bring purification, healing and renewal, and he will do so again in our time as well. He asks that we remain steadfast, using the sacraments he has given to his Church to be resolute in our vocations, to strengthen one another in faith, hope and love, and so work to rebuild his Church one stone at a time.