VATICAN CITY — After calling for Eucharistic adorers to adopt priests as spiritual children, the Vatican Jan. 4 exhorted believers to seek reparation for abuse victims through the Blessed Sacrament.
In an interview with the Vatican daily newspaper L’Osservatore Romano, Cardinal Cláudio Hummes, prefect of the Congregation for the Clergy, detailed his proposal for perpetual adoration around the globe, exhorting parishes, seminaries, convents and monasteries “to make amends before God for the evil that has been done and hail once more the dignity of the victims.”
The initiative says something about the emerging character of Benedict XVI’s pontificate, which has already been marked by a return to the Church’s rich sources of Tradition and prayer.
In his 2007 encyclical Spe Salvi (On Christian Hope), for instance, the Pope points to the patristic interpretation of the Magi’s adoration of the baby Jesus: “[At that] very moment, astrology came to an end, because the stars were now moving in the orbit determined by Christ.”
This transforming power witnessed through adoration specifically for victims of clergy abuse has already begun in many dioceses throughout the United States. In the Archdiocese of Portland, Ore., Archbishop John Vlazny as early as 2002 reinstituted Ember Days, periods of prayer and fasting with the intention for those victims.
Parishes throughout the Archdiocese of Washington, D.C., hold holy hours and other similar events for healing, actively supporting prayer for those who have been harmed. And the Real Presence Association, supported by Cardinal Francis George of Chicago and Archbishop Raymond Burke of St. Louis, has encouraged adorers around the globe to visit its website (therealpresence.org) for information, inspiration and free access to dozens of articles on the Eucharist by noted author Jesuit Father John Hardon, who died in 2000.
With the new international appeal, however, have come mixed reviews from support and watchdog groups. David Clohessy, National Director of Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests, expressed appreciation for the program but bemoaned what he sees as a lack of action.
“We are grateful for any initiative that raises public awareness, especially the one that reminds people that there remains a deep, vast well of pain,” he said. “At the same time, we think that actions, not words, protect vulnerable kids, and that’s essentially still missing.” Clohessy suggested two ways of moving forward: “One, get Church officials working with us to reform predator-friendly laws; and two, there have to be consequences for ignoring or concealing.”
Yet the Church, according to the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, “has made extraordinary efforts.” Sister Mary Ann Walsh, director of media relations for the bishops’ conference, dismissed charges of laxity by pointing to the comprehensive programs put into effect throughout the nation.
“More than a million children have gone through safe environment programs,” she said, “and even greater numbers of those working with children have gone through background checks.”
These preliminary steps are only the beginning, for the Church has developed awareness programs for what happens during day-to-day interactions, as well.
“All those working with children have been trained as to what constitutes an offensive gesture,” Sister Mary Ann added. “People have to be alerted to the crossing of boundaries.”
Boston-based Voice of the Faithful, which has had an on-and-off relationship with the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests over the years, communicated its response to the news as a similar mix of gratitude and frustration, albeit with a harder edge. Media relations head John Moynihan opened his two-page written response with satisfaction: “To admit [the scandal] is indeed a worldwide problem is a major step and justifies the work of VOTF and others like us over the past six years.”
He then quickly pointed out what he perceived as a complete lack of concern for the situation and the victims.
“If they wanted to show they were really concerned about this problem, they would hold these enabling bishops accountable for their sins and dismiss them from their dioceses,” he said. “If they wanted to show reparation to the survivors they wouldn’t have chosen such a method [as adoration]. The survivors are so injured that they don’t want to go anywhere near a church.”
Those notions, Sister Mary Ann Walsh noted, are contrary to what the Church teaches in terms of charity and the effectiveness of prayer.
“We pray for people who find themselves unable to come near a church,” she said. “We pray that they will be able to receive the sustenance that the Church intends to give.”
A priest directly involved in speaking for others in this regard is Father John Bambrick, pastor at St. Thomas More Church in Manalapan, N.J. An abuse survivor, he has made headlines for his ministry of advocacy in the Church, and he tries to lead by example.
“You can be a survivor of clergy sexual abuse and be a member of the Church,” he said. “You can recognize that your faith is deeper than your abuse.”
In terms of the adoration initiative, he remains cautious but optimistic.
“Prayer alone will not solve a moral crisis,” Father Bambrick said. “An act of the will, prayer and concrete Christian action must all go hand in hand. But prayer, in whatever form, especially before the Blessed Sacrament, ought to be encouraged.”
Stephen Mirarchi is based in
St. Louis, Missouri.