My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
As we approach Holy Week, the Church bids us to prepare more intently for the celebration of Easter and the reception of the grace that comes with the power of the Resurrection of Jesus. Since last Easter, the Church in the United States has undergone, and certainly has become known for, a crisis of leadership resulting from the sexual abuse of minors and young people. We have been dealing with the issue of sexual abuse in the Church for almost the last 20 years in a more intent and instructive way. Every effort has been made to eradicate this evil from within the Church. If we look at statistics, it seems that we have been successful; very few cases of new sexual abuse have occurred. If it has occurred, the abuse has been perpetrated by clerics who were ordained in the period of time when most perpetrators were ordained, attesting to the historical nature of the lack of human formation in seminaries during that time.
The issue of sexual abuse has affected the faith of people. The issue of lack of trust in leadership is the other side of the coin that needs to be addressed. The sexual abuse crisis in the Church is felt keenly by the priests of the Church who frequently doubt that they are trusted by the people whom they serve. Even more so, is the office of the bishop which frequently is blamed for the crisis itself because of inaction or an inability to recognize the problem when it occurred.
Both of these issues can be fruit for meditation as we come closer to Easter. How can we redouble our efforts to heal the Church of the scourge of sexual abuse against minors and young adults? How can we reconcile the victims of that abuse so that they can again practice their faith? The efforts of the Diocese of Brooklyn have been constant, but not always successful. The recent deanery and parish meetings show that our communications are deficient in this area.
One event held each year after Easter is our annual Mass of Hope and Healing. This year the Mass is on Tuesday, April 30, at 7:00 pm at St. Athanasius Church in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn. It offers an opportunity for everyone in the Diocese in Brooklyn and Queens – those who were abused, and also those of us who support them – to come together and pray in a way that is supportive and indicative of our faith in the Church. Our on-going efforts of reconciliation with victim-survivors continues with offers of financial compensation, counseling with an independent licensed practitioner, and the recognition of the evil that was perpetrated against them.
As you look at the issue of leadership, many challenges still await the Bishops Conference of the United States. New proposals following the meeting called this past February by our Holy Father – Protection of Minors in the Church, commonly known as the sex abuse summit – are on the agenda for the June meeting of the U.S. Bishops. Hopefully, these proposals will garner the support of all those present at our June meeting. The recent reframing has made them more feasible than when they were first proposed at our November 2018 meeting.
Among the proposals would be: a code of conduct for bishops, including making bishops responsible for properly administering the rules governing the protection of children and young adults, and the proper way of dealing with perpetrators. Also on the agenda for June is a mechanism whereby accusations against bishops may be handled in an objective way without involving the accused bishops. These two important issues should make it clear to our faithful that there are real efforts of institutional change underway.
In the old liturgy, this past week would have been known as Passion Week, beginning with Passion Sunday. Now it is the 5th Sunday of Lent. It is when the Church prepares us for Holy Week, recognizing that the passion and death of Jesus Christ were necessary in order that He rise from the dead. We are undergoing in the Church these days that passion, that suffering which prepares us for a new awakening and resurrection not only of this coming Easter, but also in our life in the Church.
On Monday, April 15, the Archdiocese of New York and the Dioceses of Rockville Centre and Brooklyn join together for Reconciliation Monday whereby any Catholic can go to one of the Churches in these three dioceses and find a priest awaiting to hear their confession from 3:00 pm to 9:00 pm, with a few exceptions. The call to reconciliation before Easter is a powerful one. Please visit dioceseofbrooklyn.org/lenten-journey/ to find a Church near you.
Palm Sunday is the day before Reconciliation Monday. This day commemorates the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. How quickly the crowd turned against Him because of jealousy and misunderstanding. Some of that same phenomena surrounds the unrest of the Church today. We are dealing with the horrible evil of sexual abuse against minors and young adults that the faithful wants eradicated from the life of the Church. Communicating what has been done to combat and prevent this abuse, and achieving what yet needs to be done, unfortunately, is not an easy task. The Church needs to take responsibility to make sure that all of these are accomplished in the coming year.
On Palm Sunday, there is an old Italian custom of exchanging palm with friends and relatives. The origin of this custom is much more different, as the origin reminds us that before Easter we must be at peace with everyone and that the exchange of palm, a symbol of peace and reconciliation, must be exchanged with our enemies. We cannot approach the Pascal Feast without being reconciled to all, if we are to be reconciled to Jesus Christ, and to the Father through the power of the Holy Spirit.
As we put out into the deep during this last week of Lent we have the opportunity for our continued renewal of mind and spirit. This is an opportunity to renew our faith. We must share with one another our doubts, but we must also help each other to regain our faith and trust; not just in Church as an institution, but in the Church which is the Body of Christ. It is that Body of Christ that was sacrificed for us and remains the glorious Church.