Since the announcement of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury report and the allegations against Archbishop Theodore McCarrick, there has been great sorrow and anger toward the Church. Sadly, some of this hostility is well-earned.
This rage and pain has rightly contributed to a rising crescendo of calls for swift investigation. Such is the case with the recent decision by the New Jersey Attorney General to review the five dioceses in the State to determine their compliance with the 2002 Memorandum of Understanding related to the reporting of clergy sex abuse. As I have stated often in the past, we work closely with all law enforcement and will comply with the requests of the task force.
However, amidst a scandal this awful, there are also prayerful things we can do as a community of faith. These include the opportunity to ask God’s intervention that we may never forget our duty to protect the most vulnerable and to ensure the Church always meets a higher standard of oversight.
With that in mind, I invite you to join me on Friday, September 28th at Our Lady of Hope Parish (Saint Agnes Church) in Blackwood at 7 p.m. for an evening of prayer for the victims of abuse and reparation for the sins of the Church.
Many of the priests of the diocese will be present and I invite you to join us as we publicly, solemnly, and humbly ask God to bring peace to those abused by priests and to their families. We will also ask that through the Holy Spirit all Church leaders, both laity and clergy, remain energized in their work to ensure safe environments for Catholics in our schools, parishes and ministries. And, we will beg God’s forgiveness, and the forgiveness of those hurt, for the times our Church did not do all it could to protect the victims.
This is no small request to pray for God’s intervention. In our faith, the act of penance, both for ourselves and for the Church as a whole, is an important and ancient tradition. It is not an accident that this prayer service will occur on a Friday, as that is the traditional day of the week for the penitential act of fasting as we recall Christ’s sacrifice on the cross.
We are reminded in Psalm 32: 6, “Therefore every loyal person should pray to you in time of distress.” And again in Psalm 51: 12-15, “A clean heart create for me, God; renew within me a steadfast spirit. Do not drive me from before your face, nor take from me your holy spirit. Restore to me the gladness of your salvation; uphold me with a willing spirit. I will teach the wicked your ways, that sinners may return to you.”
You may ask why you, the lay faithful, are invited to join with the clergy in this penitential service. Perhaps Saint Paul explains it best, “As a body is one though it has many parts, and all the parts of the body, though many, are one body, so also Christ… So that there may be no division in the body, but that the parts may have the same concern for one another. If [one] part suffers, all the parts suffer with it; if one part is honored, all the parts share its joy” (1 Cor 12: 12, 25-26).
Not because you have wronged anyone, but because we as a Church community must show our solidarity that this never happen again. That we as clergy will always protect youth and young adults; that we as Church leaders will continue to immediately engage law enforcement the moment we hear a report of abuse; and that you, the laity, will hold us to these pledges.
I realize that there may be many who wish to attend such a service, but are not able to travel to Blackwood on September 28th. Therefore, I have asked our Deans to organize local prayer services on October 5th at 7 p.m. at:
- Saint Joseph the Worker, 901 Hopkins Road, Haddonfield
- Church of The Incarnation, 240 Main Street, Mantua
- Saint Andrew the Apostle, 27 Kresson Gibbsboro Road, Gibbsboro
- Christ the Good Shepherd, 1655 Magnolia Road, Vineland
- Saint Katharine Drexel, 6075 W. Jersey Avenue, Egg Harbor Township
- Our Lady Star of The Sea, 525 Washington Mall, Cape May
These prayer services are important opportunities to add our spiritual weight to the legal, psychological and pastoral work that is already being done in our State, our region and around the world.
I hope you are able to join me on the September 28th or attend one of the local prayer services on October 5th.
Most Reverend Dennis J. Sullivan, D.D.
Bishop of Camden