Pope Francis prays before the crucifix from the Church of St. Marcellus in Rome during a prayer service in an empty St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 27, 2020. The crucifix was carried in Rome in 1522 during the “Great Plague.” At the conclusion of the service the pope held the Eucharist as he gave an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world). The service was livestreamed in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic. (CNS photo/Vatican Media)

Sagrato of St Peter’s Basilica
Friday, 27 March 2020

“When evening had come” (Mk 4:35). The Gospel passage we have just heard begins like this. For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. On this boat… are all of us. Just like those disciples, who spoke anxiously with one voice, saying “We are perishing” (v. 38), so we too have realized that we cannot go on thinking of ourselves, but only together can we do this.

It is easy to recognize ourselves in this story. What is harder to understand is Jesus’ attitude. While his disciples are quite naturally alarmed and desperate, he stands in the stern, in the part of the boat that sinks first. And what does he do? In spite of the tempest, he sleeps on soundly, trusting in the Father; this is the only time in the Gospels we see Jesus sleeping. When he wakes up, after calming the wind and the waters, he turns to the disciples in a reproaching voice: “Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” (v. 40).

Let us try to understand. In what does the lack of the disciples’ faith consist, as contrasted with Jesus’ trust? They had not stopped believing in him; in fact, they called on him. But we see how they call on him: “Teacher, do you not care if we perish?” (v. 38). Do you not care: they think that Jesus is not interested in them, does not care about them. One of the things that hurts us and our families most when we hear it said is: “Do you not care about me?” It is a phrase that wounds and unleashes storms in our hearts. It would have shaken Jesus too. Because he, more than anyone, cares about us. Indeed, once they have called on him, he saves his disciples from their discouragement.

The storm exposes our vulnerability and uncovers those false and superfluous certainties around which we have constructed our daily schedules, our projects, our habits and priorities. It shows us how we have allowed to become dull and feeble the very things that nourish, sustain and strengthen our lives and our communities. The tempest lays bare all our prepackaged ideas and forgetfulness of what nourishes our people’s souls; all those attempts that anesthetize us with ways of thinking and acting that supposedly “save” us, but instead prove incapable of putting us in touch with our roots and keeping alive the memory of those who have gone before us. We deprive ourselves of the antibodies we need to confront adversity.

In this storm, the façade of those stereotypes with which we camouflaged our egos, always worrying about our image, has fallen away, uncovering once more that (blessed) common belonging, of which we cannot be deprived: our belonging as brothers and sisters.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, your word this evening strikes us and regards us, all of us. In this world, that you love more than we do, we have gone ahead at breakneck speed, feeling powerful and able to do anything. Greedy for profit, we let ourselves get caught up in things, and lured away by haste. We did not stop at your reproach to us, we were not shaken awake by wars or injustice across the world, nor did we listen to the cry of the poor or of our ailing planet. We carried on regardless, thinking we would stay healthy in a world that was sick. Now that we are in a stormy sea, we implore you: “Wake up, Lord!”.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith?” Lord, you are calling to us, calling us to faith. Which is not so much believing that you exist, but coming to you and trusting in you. This Lent your call reverberates urgently: “Be converted!”, “Return to me with all your heart” (Joel 2:12). You are calling on us to seize this time of trial as a time of choosing. It is not the time of your judgement, but of our judgement: a time to choose what matters and what passes away, a time to separate what is necessary from what is not. It is a time to get our lives back on track with regard to you, Lord, and to others. We can look to so many exemplary companions for the journey, who, even though fearful, have reacted by giving their lives. This is the force of the Spirit poured out and fashioned in courageous and generous self-denial. It is the life in the Spirit that can redeem, value and demonstrate how our lives are woven together and sustained by ordinary people – often forgotten people – who do not appear in newspaper and magazine headlines nor on the grand catwalks of the latest show, but who without any doubt are in these very days writing the decisive events of our time: doctors, nurses, supermarket employees, cleaners, caregivers, providers of transport, law and order forces, volunteers, priests, religious men and women and so very many others who have understood that no one reaches salvation by themselves. In the face of so much suffering, where the authentic development of our peoples is assessed, we experience the priestly prayer of Jesus: “That they may all be one” (Jn 17:21). How many people every day are exercising patience and offering hope, taking care to sow not panic but a shared responsibility. How many fathers, mothers, grandparents and teachers are showing our children, in small everyday gestures, how to face up to and navigate a crisis by adjusting their routines, lifting their gaze and fostering prayer. How many are praying, offering and interceding for the good of all. Prayer and quiet service: these are our victorious weapons.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”?Faith begins when we realise we are in need of salvation. We are not self-sufficient; by ourselves we founder: we need the Lord, like ancient navigators needed the stars. Let us invite Jesus into the boats of our lives. Let us hand over our fears to him so that he can conquer them. Like the disciples, we will experience that with him on board there will be no shipwreck. Because this is God’s strength: turning to the good everything that happens to us, even the bad things. He brings serenity into our storms, because with God life never dies.

The Lord asks us and, in the midst of our tempest, invites us to reawaken and put into practice that solidarity and hope capable of giving strength, support and meaning to these hours when everything seems to be floundering. The Lord awakens so as to reawaken and revive our Easter faith. We have an anchor: by his cross we have been saved. We have a rudder: by his cross we have been redeemed. We have a hope: by his cross we have been healed and embraced so that nothing and no one can separate us from his redeeming love. In the midst of isolation when we are suffering from a lack of tenderness and chances to meet up, and we experience the loss of so many things, let us once again listen to the proclamation that saves us: he is risen and is living by our side. The Lord asks us from his cross to rediscover the life that awaits us, to look towards those who look to us, to strengthen, recognize and foster the grace that lives within us. Let us not quench the wavering flame (cf. Is 42:3) that never falters, and let us allow hope to be rekindled.

Embracing his cross means finding the courage to embrace all the hardships of the present time, abandoning for a moment our eagerness for power and possessions in order to make room for the creativity that only the Spirit is capable of inspiring. It means finding the courage to create spaces where everyone can recognize that they are called, and to allow new forms of hospitality, fraternity and solidarity. By his cross we have been saved in order to embrace hope and let it strengthen and sustain all measures and all possible avenues for helping us protect ourselves and others. Embracing the Lord in order to embrace hope: that is the strength of faith, which frees us from fear and gives us hope.

“Why are you afraid? Have you no faith”?Dear brothers and sisters, from this place that tells of Peter’s rock-solid faith, I would like this evening to entrust all of you to the Lord, through the intercession of Mary, Health of the People and Star of the stormy Sea. From this colonnade that embraces Rome and the whole world, may God’s blessing come down upon you as a consoling embrace. Lord, may you bless the world, give health to our bodies and comfort our hearts. You ask us not to be afraid. Yet our faith is weak and we are fearful. But you, Lord, will not leave us at the mercy of the storm. Tell us again: “Do not be afraid” (Mt 28:5). And we, together with Peter, “cast all our anxieties onto you, for you care about us” (cf. 1 Pet 5:7).


As you know, we are all living through challenging and unprecedented times. Today alone, an additional 693 people in our Commonwealth tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the statewide total to 4,087 individuals. The Pennsylvania Department of Health also reported 11 new deaths, bringing the statewide total to 48. These numbers are increasing dramatically each day. Governor Tom Wolf also announced today that all Pennsylvania schools will remain closed until further notice.

On Friday, March 27, 2020, Governor Wolf issued “stay-at-home” orders for several more counties in the territory of the Diocese of Scranton. To date, five of our 11 counties – Lackawanna, Luzerne, Monroe, Pike and Wayne – are now subject to significant restrictions regarding movement outside of the home. On Sunday, March 29, President Trump also extended his social distancing guidelines to April 30, 2020.

While the Diocese of Scranton covers a large geographic area and the impact of the coronavirus spread is currently uneven, particularly between the Diocese’s most eastern and western counties, I am providing you with updated directives for church access and the availability of clergy and staff. These updated directives are issued with the understanding that while Governor Wolf continues to regard faith based entities as “life-sustaining,” we must continually do our part in safeguarding the people entrusted to our care as well as ourselves.

To this end, Bishop Bambera offers the following directives:

  1. Access to Churches for private, individual prayer:
  • At this time, the decision to maintain access to a parish Church remains a decision of the Pastor or the Parish Life Coordinator.
  • Some Churches, particularly in the eastern region of our Diocese, have already opted to close their doors completely. In such instances, Bishop Bambera will support these decisions.
  • Pastors and Parish Life Coordinators who have chosen to maintain access may continue to do so at this time but must regularly assess the usage by members of the faithful. Care must be taken to cordon off areas where the faithful can pray in order to facilitate daily sanitization. In addition to sanitization, signage must remind parishioners of CDC directives regarding hand washing and the use of hand sanitizer as well as the maximum number of individuals who can gather at one time (10 or less). If a Church is unable to reasonably sanitize those areas frequented by parishioners as well as door handles, etc., or maintain CDC authorized numbers of visitors for prayer, it should be closed immediately.
  1. All public adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, Holy Hours, devotional prayers and processions, indoors or outdoors, are suspended. It has been brought to my attention that a number of parishes continue to defy federal, state and diocesan directives by inviting parishioners to gather for particular prayer opportunities. Such gatherings are to cease immediately. Moreover, “private masses” should not include members of the parish who may be present in the Church for individual private prayer.
  1. Funerals:
  • No funeral Masses or services, inclusive of those at funeral homes, are to be conducted. Priests, Deacons and Parish Life Coordinators may conduct grave-side burial services when appropriate for immediate family members only, mindful of the CDC guidelines for public gatherings.
  • Provisions are to be made for the celebration of Memorial Masses after the current healthcare crisis subsides.
  1. Sacrament of Reconciliation and Anointing of the Sick:
  • All public gatherings for the celebration of Confessions or the Anointing of the Sick, indoors or outdoors, are suspended.
  • In the gravest circumstances, priests may make themselves available for these sacraments, taking care to follow CDC guidelines for personal protection.
  • The faithful are encouraged to follow the directives of the Holy See regarding perfect contrition that have been communicated to you in our regular updates.
  1. Sacrament of Baptism: The celebration of Baptism is to be suspended for the health and safety of all. In case of emergency (danger of death), the sacrament may be administered.
  1. Sacrament of Matrimony: All weddings scheduled in the Diocese of Scranton are to be postponed until further notice. While churches may “hold open” the date of a scheduled wedding, whether the sacrament can be celebrated on that date will depend entirely on whether the restrictions have been lifted. Priests, Deacons and Parish Life Coordinators are encouraged to speak to each couple and share this information with them and if necessary assist them in the rescheduling of the wedding.
  1. Holy Week:
  • All directives regarding the celebration of Holy Week liturgies released on Tuesday, March 24, 2020 remain in place, with the following exception.
  • The distribution of palms on Palm Sunday is prohibited. While time honored and appreciated by many members of the faithful, the distribution of palms in any way risks the unnecessary spread of the coronavirus.

While these directives will no doubt further stretch you and many of your people, they are offered following a significant amount of consultation with our Deans, Episcopal Vicars and a number of other pastors who have shared their concerns during the past few days. Sadly, over the weekend, we learned of the first virus-related death of a priest from the Diocese of Brooklyn. Numerous priests and at least one bishop in the United States have tested positive for the virus. These directives are being enacted for the sole purpose of keeping you and your people as safe as possible.

May God bless and sustain you and your families during these challenging times.  Keep safe and well.


VATICAN CITY (CNS) — Pope Francis offered his early morning Mass for vulnerable people and health care workers who live in fear that they or their loved ones may fall ill to the coronavirus pandemic sweeping the world.

“In these days of so much suffering, there is so much fear,” the pope said March 26 at the start of the Mass, which was livestreamed from the chapel of his residence, the Domus Sanctae Marthae.

Pope Francis spoke specifically of “the fear of the elderly who are alone in retirement homes or in hospitals or in their own homes and do not know what could happen; the fear of workers without a steady job who think about how they will feed their children and see hunger coming; the fear of many social servants who in these moments help society move forward and could get sick.”

But he also acknowledged “the fear — the fears — of each one of us,” and prayed that God “would help us to have trust and to tolerate and overcome fear.”

In his homily, the pope reflected on the first reading from the Book of Exodus, which recounts how the Israelites made a golden calf and began to worship it.

“It was a true apostasy!” the pope explained. “From the living God to idolatry; they did not have the patience to wait for Moses to come back. They wanted something new, they wanted something, a liturgical spectacle.”

The pope said the sin of the Israelites revealed the “idolatrous nostalgia” for the certainties they had even as slaves in Egypt.

“This nostalgia is a disease, even for us. One begins to walk with the enthusiasm of being free, but then the complaints begin,” he said. “Idolatry is always selective; it makes you think about the good things it gives you but doesn’t make you see the bad things. In this case, they thought about how they were at their table, with such good meals they liked so much, but they forgot that this was the table of slavery.”

Idolatry, he continued, also caused the Israelites to lose everything, including the gold and silver they had received from Egypt after their liberation.

“This also happens to us,” the pope said. “When we have attitudes that lead us to idolatry, we are attached to things that alienate us from God so we make another god and we make it with the gifts God has given us; with intelligence, with will, with love, with the heart. Those are the gifts of the Lord we use to do idolatry.”

Pope Francis invited Christians to ask themselves what their idols are and warned that idolatry can “lead to a mistaken religiosity,” which can “change the celebration of a sacrament into a worldly feast.”

“Take for example a wedding celebration,” he said. “You don’t know whether it’s sacrament where the newlyweds give each other everything and love each other in front of God and promise to be faithful before God and receive the grace of God, or if it’s a fashion show with the way this one or that one is dressed. It is worldliness, it is idolatry.”

The pope prayed that at the end of our lives, God would not be able to say, “You have perverted yourself. You have strayed from the path I had indicated. You have prostrated yourself before an idol.”


March 26, 2020

His Excellency, Bishop Joseph C. Bambera, announces the following appointments, effective as indicated: 

Reverend Phillip J. Sladicka, V.F., to Administrator, Pro Tem, Saint Maria Goretti Parish, Laflin, effective March 23, 2020.  Father Sladicka will continue to serve as Pastor of Queen of the Apostles Parish, Avoca.

Reverend James J. Walsh, from Pastor, Saint Maria Goretti Parish, Laflin, and Defender of the Bond in the Tribunal of the Diocese of Scranton, effective March 23, 2020.


Solemnity of the Annunciation of the Lord
March 25, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Four weeks ago today, Lent began with the celebration of Ash Wednesday and its cherished invitation to rend our hearts and return to the Lord. We embraced this holy season of penance, sacrifice and conversion, hoping and praying that as Lent annually carries us to Holy Week and Easter, our lives of faith would be renewed and reflect a bit more clearly the life and love of Jesus. On Ash Wednesday, none of us could have imagined the depth of sacrifice that the current health crisis would demand of us.

On March 16, 2020, I suspended the celebration of all public Masses in the eleven counties of the Diocese of Scranton. While so many of you expressed how heartbroken you were with this decision, you embraced it willingly in a spirit of faith and self-sacrifice in order that the Church could do its part in mitigating the spread of the coronavirus.

Today, sadly, we are called to sacrifice even further for the sake of serving one another in our battle against this dreaded disease. The cherished Liturgies of Holy Week and Easter – Palm Sunday, the Mass of the Lord’s Supper followed by Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament, the Celebration of the Lord’s Passion, the Great Vigil of Easter and Easter Sunday Masses – will all be celebrated privately, without all of you, the blessed faithful who make up the Diocese of Scranton – filling our churches as you have always done during these most sacred days. The Chrism Mass will be deferred to a later date when the current health crisis has passed.

While this ongoing pandemic is calling us to be socially distant from one another, it does not mean we need to be spiritually distant. I invite you and your family to join me in prayer as we renew our efforts to turn to the Lord. While not open to the public, all of our Holy Week liturgies at the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton will be broadcast on CTV: Catholic Television and live-streamed on the Diocese of Scranton’s website and social media platforms. Many parishes will also plan to broadcast their own Masses.

As we seek to come to terms with this latest casualty of the coronavirus, I want to share with you a recent encouraging directive of the Holy See regarding the Sacrament of Reconciliation, firmly rooted in the traditions of our Church. With the increasing difficulty for individuals to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation due to the current health crisis, the faithful are reminded that by having perfect contrition, one can receive the forgiveness of sins apart from going to confession.  Perfect contrition requires the following three things: a love of God above all else; a sincere desire for the forgiveness from sin; and the resolution to go to confession as soon as possible when this health crisis subsides. Please take consolation in knowing that while you may not have access to the Sacrament of Reconciliation, the power and love of God is far greater than we can imagine. For all who sincerely express contrition, your sins are forgiven.

My friends, in so many respects, it seems that the disciplines of Lent will last a bit longer this year as we continue to sacrifice, to pray and to serve in unimaginable ways. Yet, through God’s grace, I hope that we can begin to see one of the blessings of this difficult moment in our lives. In the midst of this crisis, so many of you are responding generously and courageously to the Gospel invitation to walk in the footsteps of Jesus, sacrificing our own well-being and serving selflessly the lives that God places in our own.

As we confront the uncertainty of our future, may we recognize that our greatest hope has always been rooted in our embrace of the mystery of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection – the heart of our faith as Christians. Good Friday, with its suffering and pain, always yields to power of Easter and its promise of life and peace! So too will this moment in our lives.

May God continue to bless you and your family and keep you safe.

Saint Joseph, pray for us!

Faithfully yours in Christ,
†Joseph C. Bambera
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton

Solemnidad de la Anunciación del Señor
25 de marzo de 2020

Queridos hermanos y hermanas,

Hoy hace cuatro semanas, la Cuaresma comenzó con la celebración del Miércoles de Ceniza y su apreciada invitación a someter nuestros corazones y regresar al Señor. Abrazamos este santo tiempo de penitencia, sacrificio y conversión, esperando y orando para que, como Cuaresma anualmente nos lleve a la Semana Santa y a la Pascua, nuestra vida de fe se renovará y reflejara un poco más claramente la vida y el amor de Jesús. El Miércoles de Ceniza, ninguno de nosotros podría haber imaginado la profundidad del sacrificio que la actual crisis de salud nos demandaría.

El 16 de marzo de 2020, suspendí la celebración de todas las misas públicas en los once condados de la Diócesis de Scranton. Mientras tantos de ustedes expresaron lo desconsolados que estaban con esta decisión, la abrazaron voluntariamente con espíritu de fe y sacrificio para que la Iglesia pudiera hacer su parte en la reducir de la propagación del coronavirus.

Hoy, lamentablemente, estamos llamados a sacrificarnos aún más por el bien de servirnos unos a otros en nuestra batalla contra esta temida enfermedad. Las preciadas Liturgias de Semana Santa y Pascua – Domingo de Ramos, la Misa de la Cena del Señor seguida de la Adoración del Santísimo Sacramento, la Celebración de la Pasión del Señor, la Gran Vigilia de Pascua y misas dominicales de Pascua – se celebrarán en privado, sin todos ustedes, los fieles que conforman la Diócesis de Scranton, llenando nuestras iglesias como siempre lo han hecho durante estos días más sagrados. La Misa crismal se aplazará a una fecha posterior cuando haya pasado la actual crisis de salud.

Si bien esta pandemia en curso nos llama a estar socialmente distantes unos de otros, no significa que debamos estar espiritualmente distantes. Los invito a ustedes y a su familia a unirse a mí en la oración mientras renovamos nuestros esfuerzos para volvernos al Señor. Aunque no están abiertas al público, nuestras liturgias de Semana Santa en la Catedral de San Pedro en Scranton se transmitirán en CTV: canal Católico y se transmitirá en vivo en el sitio web de la Diócesis de Scranton y plataformas de medios sociales. Muchas parroquias también planean transmitir sus propias Misas.

Al tratar de llegar a un acuerdo con esta última consecuencia del coronavirus, quiero compartir con ustedes una reciente directiva alentadora de la Santa Sede sobre el Sacramento de la Reconciliación, firmemente arraigada en las tradiciones de nuestra Iglesia. Con la creciente dificultad para que las personas reciban el Sacramento de la Reconciliación debido a la actual crisis de salud, se recuerda a los fieles que al tener una contrición perfecta, se puede recibir el perdón de los pecados aparte de ir a la confesión.  La contrición perfecta requiere las siguientes tres cosas: un amor a Dios por encima de todo; un deseo sincero de perdón del pecado; y la resolución de ir a confesarse lo antes posible cuando esta crisis sanitaria desaparezca. Por favor, sientan consuelo al saber que si bien tal vez no tengan acceso al Sacramento de la Reconciliación, el poder y el amor de Dios son mucho mayores de lo que podemos imaginar. Por todos los que expresan sinceramente contrición, tus pecados son perdonados.

Mis amigos, en tantos aspectos, parece que las disciplinas de cuaresma durarán un poco más este año a medida que sigamos sacrificando, orando y sirviendo de maneras inimaginables. Sin embargo, por medio de la gracia de Dios, espero que podamos comenzar a ver una de las bendiciones de este difícil momento en nuestra vida. En medio de esta crisis, muchos de ustedes están respondiendo generosa y valientemente a la invitación evangélica a seguir los pasos de Jesús, sacrificando su propio bienestar y sirviendo desinteresadamente la vida que Dios pone en la nuestra.

Al afrontar la incertidumbre de nuestro futuro, reconozcamos que nuestra mayor esperanza siempre ha estado arraigada en nuestro abrazo del misterio del sufrimiento, la muerte y la resurrección de Jesús, el corazón de nuestra fe como cristianos. ¡El Viernes Santo, con su sufrimiento y dolor, siempre cede al poder de la Pascua y a su promesa de vida y paz! También lo hará este momento en nuestras vidas.

Que Dios los siga bendiciendo a ustedes y a su familia y los mantenga a salvo.
¡San José, reza por nosotros!

Fielmente tuyo en Cristo,
†Joseph C. Bambera
Reverendísimo Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Obispo de Scranton



On Wednesday, March 6, 2019, the Diocese of Scranton received an allegation of sexual assault involving Father James J. Walsh, pastor of Saint Maria Goretti Parish, Laflin. Upon receipt of this allegation, the Diocese immediately notified the Lackawanna County District Attorney’s Office. The Diocese also confronted Father Walsh with the information.  Fr. Walsh adamantly denied the allegation.

The alleged incident took place in 1979 while Father Walsh was serving as Assistant Pastor at the Church of Saint Gregory in Clarks Green.  The individual making the allegation was an adult at the time of the alleged assault.

The Diocese followed its established procedure relative to allegations of sexual misconduct not involving minors. In addition to notifying the civilian authorities, Diocesan outside counsel retained a professional investigator to conduct a thorough investigation.  During the course of the investigation, the Diocese received another allegation involving inappropriate behavior with an adult by Walsh. The investigator fully investigated this allegation, as well as two prior reports of possible misconduct. Fr. Walsh denied each allegation.

Based upon the investigation, the Diocese determined the allegations to be credible.  This determination was presented to the Bishop’s Advisory Board for Clergy for recommendation and review. Bishop Bambera thereafter informed Father Walsh of his intention to remove him as pastor.  After being so informed, Father Walsh submitted his resignation as pastor of Saint Maria Goretti Parish.



Pope Francis is seen in a window greeting a few nuns standing in St. Peter’s Square at the Vatican March 22, 2020, after reciting his weekly Angelus prayer from the library of the Apostolic Palace. The pope announced he will give an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) at 6 p.m. Rome time March 27 in an “empty” St. Peter’s Square because all of Italy is on lockdown to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. (CNS photo/Alberto Lingria, Reuters)

VATICAN CITY (CNS) — In response to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, Pope Francis said he will give an extraordinary blessing “urbi et orbi” (to the city and the world) at 6 p.m. Rome time March 27.

The formal blessing — usually given only immediately after a new pope’s election and on Christmas and Easter — carries with it a plenary indulgence for all who follow by television, internet or radio, are sorry for their sins, recite a few prescribed prayers and promise to go to confession and to receive the Eucharist as soon as possible.

After reciting the Angelus prayer March 22 from the library of the Apostolic Palace, Pope Francis announced his plans for the special blessing, which, he said, would be given in an “empty” St. Peter’s Square because all of Italy is on lockdown to prevent further spread of the virus.

With the public joining him only by television, internet or radio, “we will listen to the word of God, raise our prayer (and) adore the Blessed Sacrament,” he said. “At the end, I will give the benediction ‘urbi et orbi,’ to which will be connected the possibility of receiving a plenary indulgence.”

An indulgence is an ancient practice of prayer and penance for the remission of the temporal punishment a person is due for sins that have been forgiven. In Catholic teaching, a person can draw on the merits of Jesus and the saints to claim the indulgence for themselves or offer it on behalf of someone who has died.

In addition to announcing the special blessing, Pope Francis said that at a time “when humanity trembles” because of the COVID-19 pandemic, he was asking Christians of every denomination to join together at noon March 25 to recite the Lord’s Prayer. The Catholic Church and many others mark March 25 as the feast of the Annunciation.

“To the pandemic of the virus we want to respond with the universality of prayer, compassion and tenderness,” he said. “Let’s stay united. Let us make those who are alone and tested feel our closeness,” as well as doctors, nurses, other healthcare workers and volunteers.

Pope Francis also expressed concern for “authorities who have to take strong measures for our good” and the police and soldiers maintaining public order and enforcing the lockdown.


The Diocese of Scranton has joined dioceses across the nation in implementing the new Catholic Abuse Reporting Service, another important step in addressing the clergy abuse crisis and the accountability of bishops.

The system will enable anyone to report an allegation of abuse against a bishop. Reports will be taken by an independent company, and investigated by both Church officials and lay people.

In May 2019, Pope Francis released his apostolic letter “Vos estis lux mundi” (“You are the light of the world”) to address the issue of sexual abuse and holding bishops accountable in the global Catholic Church.

In June 2019, one month after Pope Francis issued his order, the bishops of the United States convened for their general assembly in Baltimore and approved the implementation plan for carrying out the directives of the Holy Father here in the United States.

It was because of the ongoing commitment of American bishops to be held accountable that the Catholic Bishop Abuse Reporting Service was established. It is operated by Convercent, Inc., an independent, third-party entity that provides intake service to private institutions through a secure and confidential process.

When a report is received by the third-party system, it will be forwarded to the supervising archbishop of the region. In the case of Pennsylvania, that is Philadelphia Archbishop Nelson Perez. The report is at the same time forwarded to a layperson (someone who is not a priest or bishop) who has been designated to assist in receiving reports.

If the report involves abuse of a minor, it also will be forwarded to law enforcement.

After review and an initial assessment, the allegation then will be sent to the Apostolic Nuncio, the Pope’s ambassador in the United States, who will forward it to the appropriate authority at the Vatican. Within 30 days, the Vatican will assess the report and, if warranted, authorize a formal investigation.

Anyone who needs to report an allegation of sexual abuse or related misconduct against any bishop should go to www.ReportBishopAbuse.org or call, toll-free, 800-276-1562.

The service is intended to be used only for reporting allegations of abuse concerning bishops. It is not intended to be used for the reporting of other local concerns about bishops, such as priests’ parish assignments, closure of schools or parishes, or liturgical concerns.


March 16, 2020

Dear Brothers and Sisters,

Effective immediately, and until further notice, I have suspended the celebration of Masses open to the public and all public gatherings in all diocesan parishes, worship sites, college campuses, chapels and health care facilities in the eleven counties of the Diocese of Scranton.

Churches of the Diocese will remain open daily for individual private prayer. The time frame for each parish is to be determined by its pastor or parish life coordinator. The dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass during this time remains in effect.

Scheduled sacramental celebrations such as weddings, baptisms or funerals will be permitted, but attendance will be limited to immediate family members and follow any guidelines established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The sacraments of the Anointing of the Sick and Reconciliation will be available, when requested individually, by the faithful in cases of serious need.

It deeply saddens me to take this temporary action, knowing the depth of your faith and your desire to celebrate the Holy Eucharist on a regular basis. In light of continued concerns surrounding COVID-19, and upon the advice of medical experts, it is clear that we, as a faith community, must do our part in order to help slow the spread of this virus.

The number of faithful souls who filled our churches this past weekend, even with the dispensation from the obligation to attend Mass, was deeply consoling to me. As you always have, so many of you are turning to your faith as the surest place where we will find God’s peace, consolation and hope.

Unfortunately, the presence of such great numbers of worshippers in our churches is not serving our efforts to help mitigate the spread of the Coronavirus. In an effort to prevent overwhelming our hospitals and health care facilities, national, state and local leaders have urged people to avoid large gatherings of people and keep appropriate social distancing from one another.

As your bishop, in addition to the care of souls, the safety and health of all of our faithful parishioners, friends and those we welcome through our outreach and service, is of utmost importance to me. As such, the decision that I have announced, while difficult, is the best way for us to work together to serve the common good of all, both in our parishes and in our communities.

During these challenging times, it is also crucial that we not forget who we are as Christians. May we continue to offer, in whatever way we can, care and concern for those who are most vulnerable, including the poor, our senior citizens and those who are ill. I also urge those who can do so to maintain support for your parishes during these difficult days in order to sustain the ministries and outreach services for parishioners and those most in need.

Despite the suspension of public Masses, a private Mass will be celebrated daily in the Cathedral of Saint Peter in Scranton, and made available on CTV: Catholic Television of the Diocese of Scranton. On weekdays, the Mass will be broadcast at 12:10 p.m., 3:30 p.m. and 7:00 p.m. On weekends, the Saturday Vigil Mass will be broadcast at 4:00 p.m. and rebroadcast on Sunday morning at 10:00 a.m. The Masses will also be streamed on the Diocese of Scranton’s website (www.dioceseofscranton.org), made available on the Diocese of Scranton’s social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter and Instagram) and will be accessible on the Diocese of Scranton’s YouTube channel.

Additional resources for individual parishioners to deepen their faith during Lent are also available on the Diocese of Scranton’s website.

During this sacred season of Lent, we are being asked to sacrifice more than ever before – particularly with the loss of cherished religious practices, most especially the celebration of the Holy Eucharist. May we do so mindful of the selfless sacrifice of Jesus and for the sake of our brothers and sisters who are most vulnerable and in need of our help.

The Diocese of Scranton continues to monitor the rapidly evolving health situation regarding the coronavirus. We are constantly monitoring directives from national, state and local officials. This policy will be reassessed on a regular basis, in addition to the plans for Holy Week and Easter.

God bless you and keep each of you in His care. Let us continue to pray for one another.

Faithfully yours in Christ,
†Joseph C. Bambera
Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton



SCRANTON, PA (March 16, 2020) – Due to the closure of local schools and the pressing need to help our community in regards to COVID-19, Catholic Social Services of the Diocese of Scranton will be offering two additional community food distributions to people in need. The events will take place at the following times/locations:

  • Thursday, March 19 from 3:00 – 6:00 p.m. at 640 Hemlock Street in Scranton
  • Saturday, March 21 from 10:00 a.m. – 1:00 p.m. at the Family Center Basement of Saint Rose of Lima Parish in Carbondale