Most Reverend Joseph C. Bambera, D.D., J.C.L.
Bishop of Scranton
Day of Atonement and Healing – September 15, 2018
Hebrews 5:7-9; I Corinthians 10:14-22; Luke 2:33-35
It’s been one month since the release of the report of the 40th statewide Grand Jury investigating child sexual abuse by members of the clergy in the Catholic Church. It’s often said that “time heals.” In this instance, however, the passing of time only seems to complicate our thoughts regarding what is arguably one of the darkest moments in the history of the Catholic Church and certainly in our 150-year history as a Diocese.
To say that this is a difficult time is an understatement. For victims – survivors – of sexual abuse, some of whom may be with us today, I cannot begin to imagine what these days have been like for you. While you have endured the pain of abuse for years, decades and, in some instances, for half a century, the release of this report undoubtedly has led to a mixed reaction on your part. Surely, it validates all that you have experienced and wanted to share for so long. On the other hand, sadly, it brings to the fore painful memories that so many of you have sought to push to the recesses of your hearts and minds in order to simply survive from one day to the next.
As a bishop of this local Church, I offer my sincere apology. While these words may appear to many of you to be empty, they are not. My meetings with many of you have sadly taught me a great deal about all that you’ve endured and all the suffering that you’ve carried for far too long. I acknowledge, however, that your determination of the sincerity of my words may take some time and you may need to find a reason for why my words should be trusted.
For those who have been abused, none of us here today know the depth of your pain. I am sorry that a Church leader misused his power and abused you. I am sorry for your pain and the ways in which this abuse has affected your life’s journey. There simply is no place in a civilized world for the abuse of children – and certainly not within the Church. … If you can, I pray that you find it within your hearts to one day forgive us.
I ask forgiveness from your families who have suffered so much – with you and for you. Just a week ago, I met with three siblings of a victim of abuse by a priest in our Diocese. The abuse took place decades ago, yet this family still suffers and grieves the loss of so much life and potential for their brother and their lives together.
I also ask forgiveness from the countless numbers of good and faithful Catholics like so many of you who are here today or praying today in your parish churches who have been hurt by the reality of abuse within our Church.
The Church let you down. You deserved better.
So many of you have shared with me your personal struggles as you seek to make sense of such behavior, in some instances by those whom you knew and trusted. As your leaders, we have failed you. Yet, we are humbled by so many of you who still seek to live your faith, and even in the midst of the betrayal of trust, share your love and support for so many of us who have let you down. Please forgive us.
And to the many, many good and faithful priests and deacons of this Diocese and beyond – to women and men religious who are so vital to the life of our Church – my heart breaks for you. Because most of the abuse that took place by priests, you are tainted by the sins of others.
One priest shared with me that on the day following the release of the Grand Jury report, he rushed to a local hospital to anoint a parishioner. As he was quickly walking through the hospital lobby to do what he was ordained to do for the Church, a woman whom he did not know confronted him with these words, “Shame on you.” … I’m sorry that you have to bear that burden. But I also pray that you find the strength to move forward and to continue to share the life of Jesus with those of us who so desperately need to experience it – even and particularly as you bear your portion of his cross.
Finally, to our seminarians, I am so sorry that you have to face this reality as you seek to find your place in service of the Lord Jesus and his people. As difficult as this moment may be for you, remember that you are not part of the problem, but are a part of the solution.
When it was announced that the Grand Jury report was to be released sometime time between August 8th and 14th, I was concerned that we had planned to celebrate the Rite of Candidacy for some of our seminarians in the evening of August 8th. To my surprise, one of our seminarians asserted that if the report was to be released that day, he would gladly state to news reporters and all who would listen his pride in serving a Church where his gifts are needed and welcomed. … How blessed we are to have seminarians – and so, so many faithful people who are committed to living their faith now, more than ever!
Today’s memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows is a profound reminder to all of us of the brokenness of our world. Yet, it is also a memorial that is rooted in the reality of the Paschal Mystery – the life, death and resurrection of Mary’s son, Jesus. Indeed, were Mary to be presented to us with no experience of this world’s suffering and pain – never having the body of her Son placed across her knees and into her arms when he was taken down from the cross – we’d have no reason to turn to her in confidence when all else has failed.
Yet, here we are today, turning to Mary in our moment of desperation. For you see, Mary has trodden all the paths of our human existence. She has known the darkness and suffering, loneliness and pain. Yet, she stands before us as that little creature through whom God’s grandeur shines forth. In Mary, we see the fullness of what Christ can do for us who turn to the Savior for healing, life and salvation.
A few weeks ago, shortly after the Grand Jury report was released, we were all challenged by a Gospel passage that so providentially spoke to our hearts. It came from the sixth chapter of Saint John. In that particular Gospel, we heard that some followers of Jesus were disappointed and scandalized by his words and by his actions. And they left him. … When they left, Jesus turned to Peter and said, “Will you leave me?” Then he looked at all of the apostles and posed another question, “Will you all leave me, too?” And Peter responded with these words of faith, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of everlasting life.”
“To whom shall we go?” … “Why should we stay?” … I suspect that somewhere in the midst of however we answer this question, we’ll find something that has to do with faith – and the belief that for, as imperfect as the members of the Church may be – especially its leaders – God has given us the grace to discover within this community signs of his life, his mercy, his love, and a reason to hope – the surest and the only things that will give us lasting peace. Mary – our dear Lady of Sorrows – knew that! May God give us the wisdom to recognize the blessing of faith and its power to heal, to forgive and to change hearts.
My friends, I beg you to open your lives to the power of God – to be like the apostles and to stay with the Lord Jesus and with his Church in this dark time. For as disappointing as this moment in the life of the Church is for us all, the life of Jesus – not the broken lives of Church leaders – is the only life that can bring us to a place of peace.
May we pray for the courage to once again walk together in faith to renew the Church of Christ and to reflect his life and love to a world so desperately in need of it. Our Lady of Sorrows – pray for us!