To Begin the Healing

In each Catholic church, school and many homes, we find a crucifix – the symbol of our Catholic faith.  It speaks to us of the profound truth that our Lord Jesus offered up his death on the Cross to redeem and heal us and open for us a new beginning. Thus the Church sings in the liturgy, “O Crux, ave spes unica! O Cross, our only hope!”

To a people experiencing again the deep pain of clergy sexual abuse, as well as failures in responding to these scandals, the Cross of Christ is a reminder that from pain and sorrow eventually come hope, redemption and new life.  Yet, this renewal will come only by confronting this crisis head-on, taking responsibility for the wrongs of the past and committing to doing all that we can in the interests of healing, justice, repentance to see that innocent people and the Body of Christ are never so grievously scarred again.

Words fail in describing the intensity of pain and wounds inflicted by sex abuse and other wrongs on the innocent.  During the abuse crisis of 2001-02, Pope John Paul II said to the cardinals of this country, “Because of the great harm done by some priests and religious, the Church herself is viewed with distrust, and many are offended at the way in which the Church’s leaders are perceived to have acted in this matter. The abuse which has caused this crisis is by every standard wrong and rightly considered a crime by society; it is also an appalling sin in the eyes of God.”

Thereafter, the U.S. bishops hoped, prayed and believed that we had taken definitive action to end these wrongs, including creating the norms to facilitate the removal of priests involved in abuse in an expeditious and decisive manner. Many years before as Bishop of Pittsburgh, I had taken similar steps with a constant desire to end and prevent the horror of clergy sex abuse in a timely, just, compassionate and protective way.

Despite that desire and confidence in what we bishops around the country instituted, the processes were not flawless, and I must acknowledge the profound heartache, anger and distrust that have been expressed in the wake of the Pennsylvania grand jury report.

For my shortcomings of the past and of the present I take full responsibility and wish that I could wipe away all the pain, confusion and disillusionment that people feel, and I wish that I could redo some decisions I have made in my three decades as a bishop and each time get it right.  As I have said in a series of letters to priests in the archdiocese, I hope you will sense something of my anguish for those who have suffered and my sorrow for any of my failures to be there for both the abused and all who now feel a sense of alienation.

In my heart, I now ask myself what is the way I can best serve this Church that I, too, much love.  At issue is how to begin effectively to bring a new level of healing to survivors who have personally suffered so much and to the faithful who have also been wounded by the shame of these terrible actions and question their bishop’s ability to provide the necessary leadership.  Thus, among the many observations I have received in discussions with others is that, as part of that beginning of healing, the archdiocese would be well served by new leadership to help move beyond the current confusion, disappointment and disunity.

In recognition of the ongoing need for healing of abuse survivors and the whole Church of Washington, I have proposed a “season of healing” that begins with a special Mass tomorrow, September 14, the Feast of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross.  This liturgy, this necessary turning to God and his healing grace, will give voice to the pain and suffering of the survivors of clergy sexual abuse and failures in episcopal oversight, while also recognizing the pain and wound of the whole Church.

This first step in the necessary healing process for our Church will be followed by my meeting with Pope Francis about the resignation that I presented nearly three years ago on November 12, 2015.  Those called to serve the Church in a leadership capacity must recognize that we are to lead not only by word, but also by personal action.  We must be prepared to do whatever is needed, including stepping aside. This action on my part is an essential aspect of the healing so that this archdiocesan Church we all love can move forward.

As a Church, we also recognize that we are a people of faith and that we hope in the transformative power of Christ Crucified and Risen and believe in the healing power of the Holy Spirit.

Thank you for your prayers for those who have suffered abuse and other wrongs, for our many good and faithful priests, for our Church and for me.