‘Permit me to begin by begging for forgiveness’

In an act of penance, Bishop Dennis Sullivan lays prostrate at the beginning of a prayer service for victims of abuse and reparation for the sins of the church in Saint Agnes Church, Blackwood, on Sept. 28.
Photo by James A. McBride

Following are the remarks Bishop Dennis Sullivan made at the Evening of Prayer for the Victims of Abuse and Reparation for the Sins of the Church at Saint Agnes Church, Our Lady of Hope Parish, Blackwood, on Sept. 28.

Sisters and brothers,

I am most grateful for your presence this evening to join with me and my brother priests in prayer for our church which is dealing with this seemingly endless sexual abuse scandal. And, to pray for the victims of sexual abuse by some members of the clergy.

While I am so very grateful to everyone who is here with me tonight, permit me to begin by begging for forgiveness:

  • To those who have suffered abuse by a minister of the Church of Camden, I am sorry;
  • To those who tried to bring that abuse to light, but did not experience the caring concern they deserved, I am sorry;
  • To the family members of the abused who have watched the effects of that abuse impact their family, I am sorry;
  • To the people of South Jersey whose expectations of the Catholic Church have been shattered, I am sorry;
  • To those whose faith in the institutional Church has been shaken by these most recent reports, I am sorry;
  • To our many good priests who acutely suffer the effects of this scandal, I am sorry.

May our prayer tonight and our prayers in the future move us into action for the purification of our church and for the healing of the pain of the victims of abuse who have been scarred and wounded by the actions of sinful priests and bishops. Lord, send healing and mercy to these wounded members of the family of God. What they have suffered at the consecrated hands of church ministers shames us and calls us to respond with the love and truth of Jesus Christ. But, words will not do it. They are not enough. There must be actions. Concrete, actions on behalf of the victims and specific actions — decisions on the manner the church will conduct itself when a member of the clergy commits a crime.

To the laity who are with us this evening for this prayer service — the church needs your help at one of its darkest moments. You, the lay faithful are as much the church as we your ordained ministers are church.  You must insist that we change how we do business. Help us to purify our church. Help us to address this crisis. Help us to realize much needed change. Insist that the church rid itself of the culture that allowed this situation to develop. Sinful Priests and Bishops have damaged the Body of Christ. Those wounds must be healed.

You, the lay faithful, have a right to be angry, disgusted, confused, frustrated, disillusioned and bewildered by what you have learned about this scandal.  How it has been mistakenly handled by some bishops and church authorities; how victims of priests were further victimized by shepherds of the church who showed no concern for their suffering sheep; how truth was kept hidden. You, the lay faithful of the church must insist that this never happen again. There has been colossal failure that has caused serious damage to our ability to preach the Gospel and to engage our culture with its message and truth.

Despite your anger and disillusionment, my brother priests have told me about the way you their parishioners have graciously reached out to them with thoughtful words of support and encouraging emails. Also, you Religious Women have lovingly reached out with prayerful concern to our priests. Thank you for your love of your faithful priests who are hurting as a result of the actions of some of their My brother priests — I want to thank you for your presence. In my conversations with some of you in this past month, I have felt your pain and shame. And, I have heard your counsel that there must be change. Many of you were with us on Wednesday night at Saint Padre Pio in Vineland for a Holy Hour of Priestly Sanctification. You know as well as I do that this scandal not only embarrasses us but it challenges you and me to strengthen our resolve to grow in priestly holiness.  We are gathered on a Friday.  Each Friday points to Good Friday. Each Friday remembers the Cross of Christ and His pierced Heart out of which blood and water flowed at the Crucifixion. We look to the brokenhearted Jesus whom we must tenderly minister in his suffering people and in ourselves. I encourage you priests as your brother and father to persevere in your priestly ministry. To stand in solidarity with all those who have been wounded either by bishops or priests. Through the ordained priesthood you are privileged to share you can bring reparative love — transformative love to the broken Body of Christ. You heard the Gospel imperative that was proclaimed this evening “Remain in my love.” Let your hearts scarred by these disgusting actions of some of our brothers and some bishops turn fully to Christ to whom you were configured at your ordination. “Remain in my love.”

For all of us lay faithful, religious, priests and bishop this present suffering is a participation in the suffering of Christ. The wounds in Christ’s body are more visible than ever due to this scandal. The sin in Christ’s body is more deadly, more mortal than ever. Let us be courageous in our response.

Let the negativity that this has been released not destroy or lessen your faith in Jesus Christ and His Church. Yes. Our faith is shaken but let this not become a crisis of faith. Our faith is NOT in bishops; Our faith is NOT in Cardinals; Our faith is NOT in popes; Our faith is NOT in priests. Our faith is in Jesus Christ who calls us into action. Christ who is our High Priest and our Mediator with God.  Christ whose blood was shed for our salvation. He calls us laity, consecrated women and men to greater purification by which we can reform the Church. He calls us to greater holiness of life as laity, religious and priests by which we can purify the church. He invites us to stronger communion with Him. He can purify His wounded church through us.

This crisis has revealed at all levels of Church life, the deadly presence of sin. NO sin is isolated. Sin has a social dimension which is so evident in these scandals which have been compared to an oil spill that spreads and dirties whatever it touches.

Yes. It has touched you but do not let it not poison you to Christ or to His Church. We can create a better future — Laity, Religious, Priests and Bishop. We can put together what is needed for a complete resolution to this scandal. The Church is about Jesus Christ, the Light of the Word whose Light has been dimmed by the sins of some bishops and priests but can never be extinguished. Now is the time for us to fan that Light back into flame. As I said at the beginning of this reflection let this prayer and the many prayers to come resolve us to do all that has to be done so that through His church so darkened by the sins of some priests and bishops His light, the light of Christ, will shine brightly upon our world. Amen.

See related story by Peter G. Sánchez:  https://wp.me/p5d7Nw-7L5