A Letter to the People of the Diocese
Wednesday, August 22, 2018 - Syracuse, NY
The letter below originally appeared in The Catholic Sun's August 23, 2018 print edition and online at thecatholicsun.com:
My dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
In recent weeks, it has been said among many different groups of people and in many places that it is not easy to be a Catholic today. We are both embarrassed and ashamed by reports of horrific activity on the part of priests in Pennsylvania outlined in the grand jury report, as well as similar activity in other parts of our country and other parts of the world. Criminal actions, sinful actions against young people and vulnerable adults cause us shame and justifiable anger.
As I was waking up on the morning of Monday, August 20, I heard on the radio the first reports that our Holy Father Pope Francis had released a letter to the People of God on the issue of clerical sexual abuse. He pointed out how Church leaders failed to respond appropriately in listening to and responding to victims, pointing out that when one member suffers, we all suffer. The Holy Father’s letter shows his compassion and concern for victims. The pope states clearly: “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude of the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”
My mind then reverted to the Scripture readings of the previous Sunday especially the second reading from the Letter to the Ephesians. “Watch carefully how you live, not as foolish persons but as wise, making the most of the opportunity, because the days are evil” (Eph 5:15). The events of the past weeks including the reports concerning the immoral behavior of Archbishop McCarrick and the devastating report from the Pennsylvania grand jury are a vivid manifestation of evil days.
“Evil days” is an apt description for the days, months, and years in which the most vulnerable among us, our children and young people, suffered unspeakable acts of violence that resulted in lasting and painful consequences for the rest of their lives. “Evil days” is an apt description for a prolonged period of time when numerous priests, called to shepherd their flock with care and love, exploited children and young people for their pleasure and personal satisfaction. “Evil days” describes the time of silence and inaction of bishops and others who turned a blind eye to the sexual abuse and in so doing perpetuated the abuse.
No single emotion captures my feelings as this crisis unfolds. I am filled with profound sorrow for the victims; disgust for the actions of the perpetrators; anger at those who have been complicit in keeping these serious sins from coming to light; concern for the many fine priests who are steadfast in their commitment to the promises of their ordination and minister faithfully to the flock entrusted to their care; and solicitude for the people of our diocese who are disturbed, discouraged, and scandalized by the actions of priests and bishops.
While it is imperative that we embrace the truth of what happened in the past, we cannot remain in the past. We need to move forward. First, our efforts should be directed to prayer and fasting. “The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion” (Pope Francis, Letter to the People of God, August 20, 2018). Second, we need to stand fast in our commitment to assist victims of sexual abuse. Their lives have been profoundly altered at the hands of those who should have provided them with spiritual guidance. Their courage to come forward and publicly tell their stories gives witness to the changes that need to take place. “We will never abandon those who have been hurt” (Statement of the New York State Catholic Conference). Third, we will continue to follow assiduously our diocesan Safe Environment policies. Fourth, we will persist in our cooperation with law enforcement in addressing sexual abuse matters. Lastly, I again wish to be clear that despite some posts on social media I have never believed a child was responsible for his/her abuse. The priest or the adult is always responsible. I apologize again in my own name and on behalf of the Church for the harm caused to so many individual young people and vulnerable adults by those who are called to be their shepherds and protectors.
Also in the second reading last Sunday, St. Paul reminded the Ephesian community that they “were once darkness, but now you are light in the Lord. Live as children of the light, for light produces every kind of goodness and righteousness and truth” (Eph 5:7). Surely, these are dark and troubling days for our Church. Yet, even in the midst of this darkness, we can live in hope.
The end of Jesus’ journey on earth was not the darkness of the hours He hung on the cross or the moment of His death. Rather, the light of His glorious resurrection and His promise to remain with us forever are the foundation of our faith, the anchor of our hope, and the motivation for our charity.
Christ is our light. United with Him, we are bearers of His light. Do not allow the darkness of these days to drive the light of Christ from your hearts. Rely on Jesus’ promise: “Behold I am with you always, until the end of the age” (Mt 28:20).
Cordially Yours in Christ,
Most Rev. Robert J. Cunningham
Bishop of Syracuse