Parishioners at Blessed Virgin Mary Help of Christians Church in Woodside are now reciting the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel at the end of every Mass.
It is a first step “to address the evil that still lurks within the Church,” according to Father Christopher O’Connor, pastor.
The evil to which he is referring are the sins of clergy sexual abuse and cover-ups, news of which has been making headlines this summer in Chile, Honduras and India – and most recently in the U.S., with allegations against former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick and the release of the Pennsylvania grand jury report, which cites the abuse of at least 1,000 children by more than 300 priests.
Forgiveness and Healing
To ask God’s forgiveness for the sins of sexual abuse in the Church, Father O’Connor offered a bilingual holy hour of reparation in English and Spanish at his parish Aug. 29. (See video below.)
And next Wednesday, Sept. 5, he will host a parish town hall to give the lay faithful a chance to express their anger, despair and frustration with the scandals.
“It’s very upsetting,” said Dr. Louise McNamara, longtime parishioner at B.V.M. Help of Christians. “I personally feel it’s worse than the first time because it’s opening a wound that was not healed.”
McNamara, who spent 38 years as a Catholic school teacher and principal, said that when the clergy sex abuse scandal broke in the early 2000s, it was a difficult time for her, personally and professionally.
“To hear it now again, and to hear the people involved – Cardinal McCarrick, Cardinal [Donald] Wuerl – I mean, come on these are big names. These were the headliners and to hear their names being brought up [like this] leaves me beside myself.
“It’s bad enough when it [sexual abuse] involves an adult, but to have these kinds of things happen to children, it’s an abomination. It really is and there’s no excuse. They should be held accountable,” she said.
Though she says her faith in God is constant, she can’t say the same about her faith in priests – her current pastor being an exception.
And Father O’Connor understands the pain, sadness and anger people feel, because he feels it too.
“The scandals hurt so much because the priest is supposed to be a reflection of Jesus, not Satan,” Father O’Connor said. “That’s what hurts people. They’re taught to trust their priests, they’re taught to call them ‘Father.’ And when Father betrays you, it cuts to the core.”
Cut to The Core
Cut to the core was how he and most Catholics felt during the clergy sex abuse crisis in 2002.
In the years that followed, he said Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio and the Diocese of Brooklyn made – and continue to make – great strides to address the wounds of survivors and their families, and ensure protections for young people.
Bishop DiMarzio has personally met with clergy abuse survivors and shown his commitment to them by offering an annual Mass of Hope and Healing for them, forming a survivors advisory board and implementing the Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to allow survivors to seek financial compensation.
The diocese has also set up a free and confidential hotline, 1-888-634-4499, to report cases of clergy sexual abuse directly to prosecutors and district attorneys.
To prevent future instances of abuse, Bishop DiMarzio created the Office of Safe Environment requiring all diocesan clergy, employees and volunteers to attend mandatory sexual abuse awareness training and undergo background checks. Children are also given preventive training to recognize and avoid sexual predators.
“But as a Church, I felt like we didn’t do enough in terms of reparation,” Father O’Connor said. “I think the old sins haven’t been acknowledged well enough.”
Father O’Connor preached at all of the weekend Masses following the grand jury report, but he knew he had to do more. “I realized that I couldn’t just talk about it, I couldn’t just say I’m angry too,” he said.
In prayer before the Blessed Sacrament, he was inspired to bring back the Prayer to St. Michael the Archangel after Mass, a custom many Catholics grew up with until it was discontinued during the 1960s.
Father O’Connor ordered 2,000 prayer cards in English and Spanish, and began saying the prayer at every Mass starting on the Queenship of Mary, Aug. 22.
He also felt called to host a holy hour and a town hall so members of his parish family could pray together and talk about the issues facing the Church.
Prayer and Dialogue
“We’re a family, and families should talk,” the priest said. “If they just want to ask questions, I’ll try to answer as best I can. If they want to yell and scream, I’ll take it. Sometimes that’s what people need to do – just get it out.”
In his homily last weekend, he touched upon the scandals again and reminded his congregation, “We are one flesh – what hurts you, hurts me.”
Moving beyond that hurt takes courage and strength, he said.
“Where do we get the strength to do that? We get it from the Eucharist, we get it from Christ.”