We continue to be deeply saddened — and, yes, angry — as news continues to come in concerning the sins of sexual abuse by priests and bishops. Just a week ago Pope Francis removed two Chilean bishops from the clerical state for their crimes against minors.
As discouraging as reports like these are, they are signs that God is continuing to purify his church.
After so many weeks of news like this, it is important to recognize that those clerics who have sexually abused are a minority in the church. Let’s remember and support the countless priests and bishops who love the church and serve her with integrity. These men are suffering in a particularly acute way, and they need to know that they are loved and respected by the Catholic faithful whom they serve.
We continue to pray for the victims of clerical sexual abuse. But let’s not forget to pray, too, for those who have found in these scandals an excuse for renouncing their Catholic faith. Pray that those who have left will soon realize that the church is the Mystical Body of Christ himself and the community of salvation. The church is forever holy by reason of the irrevocable gift of the Holy Spirit. At the same time, every single member of the church on earth is a sinner — some far more heinous than others. It is for that reason that Jesus gave his life for our redemption. It is well worth recalling a talk given in 1969 by then-Father Joseph Ratzinger, in which he said: “From the crisis of today (remember, this is 1969) a new church of tomorrow will emerge — a church that has lost much! She will become small and will have to start afresh more or less from the beginning . . . But [she] will find her essence afresh and with full conviction in that which is always at her center: faith in the triune God, in Jesus Christ, the son of God made man, in the presence of the Spirit until the end of the world.”
In a few weeks the bishops of the United States will gather in Baltimore for our semiannual meeting. Cardinal Daniel DiNardo, president of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB), has proposed a very full agenda, an agenda that will begin with a day of prayer. Is prayer enough to end these scandals? No! But without prayer our meager efforts are worthless. No amount of mechanisms for preventing or punishing sexual abuse by clerics is sufficient to put an end to these sins. Only when we —every one of us — turn again to God in prayer and penance and take our Catholic faith with the utmost seriousness can we expect to see a new manifestation of holiness. As we bishops pray in Baltimore, I humbly ask that all our Catholic faithful join their prayers to ours.
Other items on the agenda are:
• A request from the Holy See for a full investigation of the situation as regards Archbishop Theodore McCarrick;
• A proposal for the formation of a lay commission to assist the nuncio in the investigation of reports of sexual abuse or harassment by bishops, or failure of a bishop in responding to such claims;
• A draft of a Code of Conduct for Bishops to be voted on by the body of bishops;
• A draft of policies for a bishop who has resigned, retired or been suspended or removed due to sexual abuse, sexual harassment or abuse of power;
• A third-party reporting system for reporting on sexual abuse or harassment by a bishop.
During the recent meeting of our parish priests, all the priests supported my suggestion that we restore the prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the conclusion of all regular parish Masses. A number of parishes have begun this practice already. All other parishes will begin the prayer no later than the First Sunday of Advent. The power of this prayer has been demonstrated over many years.
In addition to the prayer to St. Michael, I encourage all the faithful to observe the Ember Days. These are the Wednesday, Friday and Saturday following the feast of St. Lucy (Dec. 13); following Ash Wednesday; following the Solemnity of Pentecost; and following the feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross (Sept. 14). The Ember Days were liturgical observances prior to the Second Vatican Council. They consist of prayer, along with fast and/or abstinence or other forms of penance. Much penance and reparation are needed to remedy the ills in the Church.
May God bless our efforts to put an end to sexual abuse by clerics, and may we soon see a return to lives of chastity by all.