The faithful who entered St. George Church in Guilford, Connecticut, Feb. 16 were met by a scene full of white roses and blue delphiniums filing the church’s interior with their fragrance.
The burst of blooms was a study in contrast to the somber mood of the occasion, as Catholics from around this south-central region of Connecticut were gathering for a “Mass of Reparation” for the victims of sexual abuse.
Picked from the parish’s St. George Healing Garden, which was established by the parish in 2015 for victims of sexual abuse and their families, the church flowers carried a sobering message. As prayer cards handed out for the occasion indicated, white roses symbolize Mary’s sorrow, purity and innocence, while blue delphiniums symbolize protection and a striving for something greater and more important.
On this day, Archbishop Leonard Blair of Hartford came to St. George’s to celebrate the second of three Masses of reparation for victims of clergy sexual abuse. Along with two auxiliary bishops, Archbishop Blair celebrated the three Masses in three distinct locales of the archdiocese: St. Bartholomew Church in Manchester, east of the centrally located diocesan see, Jan. 27; at St. George’s in the south the following month; and, most recently, March 26 in the western part of the archdiocese at Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Harwinton (which, with its sister church, Immaculate Conception, in New Hartford, composes Our Lady of Hope parish).
The three Masses were announced in a Jan. 2 letter by Archbishop Blair, almost three weeks before the archdiocese’s Jan. 22 release of the names of 36 archdiocese clergy (23 deceased), six religious order priests and six priests from other dioceses working in the diocese who have been credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor since 1953. Of the priests named, 23 are deceased and none are in active ministry. None of the abuse cases took place during Archbishop Blair’s appointment.
On Sept. 16, 2018, following a call by Pope Francis for a World Day of Prayer for Victims of Sexual Abuse, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops announced a day of prayer for sexual-abuse survivors. Bishops around the country also celebrated Masses of reparation around that time.
Since then, dioceses continue to offer public acts of spiritual reparation, including the Archdiocese of Denver, the Archdiocese of Milwaukee and the Archdiocese of Hartford.
In his March 7 column for the Denver Catholic, Archbishop Samuel Aquila indicated that the three dioceses of Colorado have made an agreement with the state’s attorney general to launch a victim’s compensation program to facilitate the healing process.
“Yet we cannot neglect the importance of God’s grace and guidance in this process either,” he wrote. “That is why I have established the First Friday of Lent as a day of prayer and fasting in the archdiocese, from this year going forward.”
Having recently removed the names of two of his predecessors, Archbishop William Cousins and Archbishop Rembert Weakland, from archdiocesan buildings, for their roles in the sexual-abuse crisis, Archbishop Jerome Listecki of Milwaukee also offered Mass for the victims of sexual abuse April 1 at Immaculate Conception Church in Bay View, Wisconsin, as part of the archdiocese’s annual Mass of Atonement.
“This Mass is a faith-filled, heartfelt and visible action step as we continue our path of reconciliation and resolution,” Archbishop Listecki said in promoting participation in the Mass. “While no single statement or event can make up for the painful abuse of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters, as believers we know that in Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, we find hope beyond measure as we move toward a brighter future.”
Likewise, Bishop William Callahan of the Diocese of La Crosse, Wisconsin, wrote an Oct. 8 pastoral letter urging his diocese to continue seeking reparations for the sins committed by Church members.
In the letter he stated that the diocese has “conformed consistently with the provisions of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People,” including a lay diocesan review board established in the diocese in 2003.
Bishop Callahan also asked the faithful to reserve First Fridays as “days of reparation to the Sacred Heart of Jesus for the sins committed by clergy, particularly against children and young people” and to pray the Act of Consecration of the Human Race to the Sacred Heart after First Friday Masses in the diocese; and that the faithful “return to the regular recitation of the St. Michael Prayer” after the dismissal at public Masses.
“Now more than ever,” Bishop Callahan writes, “we need the assistance of St. Michael to help rid us, the Church, of its current evils.”
Bishop Callahan named three specific prayer intentions: for the victims of abuse; the leaders of the Church, “particularly the bishops who will need humility and wisdom to address this current crisis”; and “for yourselves and all the faithful, that your faith in Jesus Christ will not falter even though some of the leaders of the Church have.”
A priest of the Diocese of La Crosse, Father Derek Sakowski, pastor of St. Mary parish in Altoona and St. Raymond of Penafort parish in Fall Creek, Wisconsin, has incorporated Bishop Callahan’s request into his morning Mass for schoolchildren at St. Mary’s School.
“After the dismissal,” Father Sakowski told the Register, “one of the teachers comes up and introduces the prayer, and I go to the foot of the altar and prostrate myself as everyone prays the prayer to the Sacred Heart.”
This posture before the altar, Father Sakowski said, teaches the children that prayer is a matter of the body and the soul, and it also serves as a reminder to priests of their ordination day, during which they prostrate themselves before the altar as part of the Rite of Ordination of a Priest.
“Those who are ordained ministers in the Church and others in the Church have either harmed or looked the other way to protect our young people,” Father Sakowski said. “It’s important to teach children healthy and holy ways. With this posture, there’s also the tie to our ordination day, a renewal of priesthood, a recommitment to priestly promises. Any priest prostrating himself is going to remember his ordination day.”
Mother and Sisters
The Diocesan Sisters’ Council of the Diocese of Gallup, New Mexico, responded in early September 2018 to an Aug. 22 pastoral letter by Bishop James Wall on the sexual-abuse crisis.
In his letter, Bishop Wall called for the priests of his diocese “to offer and dedicate one Mass publicly, once a month, in reparation for the sins of abuse by cardinals, bishops, priests and deacons. (In December the diocese also released a list to the public naming two order priests and three diocesan priests, four deceased, credibly accused of abuse.)
“I also ask all those who attend to undertake a deep examination of conscience during this time, and I include myself in these efforts,” Bishop Wall writes in his letter. “Have we overlooked misconduct? Have we given in to the sin of despair — that, because of the evil actions of some within the Church, we have thought that there is no point in pushing for reform? Have we undertaken an effort to serve God with all our heart, and all our mind, and all our strength? Have we fixed our eyes upon the living Christ, following after Him with every step, and striving for holiness?”
In response, on Sept. 8, the members of the Sisters’ Council of the Diocese of Gallup committed themselves to pray the Rosary privately or communally on Wednesdays.”
Delegate to Bishop Wall for Gallup’s Diocesan Sisters’ Council, Sister Rene Backe, 62 years a member of the Sisters of St. Agnes, told the Register that the Wednesday Rosary is recited communally by sisters in three places in the Diocese of Gallup, at the Sacred Heart Retreat Center and the Casa Reina chapel of perpetual adoration in Gallup, and at the contemplative Benedictine Monastery of Our Lady of the Desert in the northern part of the diocese, in Albiquiu, New Mexico. Many of the more than 70 female religious in the diocese, she said, also recite the Wednesday Rosary privately.
The women praying the Rosary in these congregations, she said, feel that they are serving as sisters to members of the Church most affected by the abuse scandal.
Reparation in Hartford
In his Jan. 2 letter, Hartford Archbishop Blair took to heart a comment made by a Catholic in a national television report that “she was not moved by the ‘Masses of Reparation’ being offered in various dioceses” in the past year.
“It is certainly true that offering a Mass is not itself sufficient to address the grievous suffering and betrayal experienced by victims,” he writes, but the “archdiocese is committed to doing everything humanly possible to heal their wounds,” including “public acknowledgement and apology, counseling and support groups,” and “a renewed invitation” by the archbishop to meet with victims.
But Archbishop Blair told the Register, there must also be reparation made to God for the sins committed by members of the Church.
“It is not to be underestimated that [the sexual-abuse scandal] is a question of behavior that is evil,” he said. “What is the Mass if not the great sacrifice of the cross made in reparation for sin?”
In announcing the Masses, Archbishop Blair told the Register that his role as the main celebrant was particularly important.
“I think this is clearly a crisis that lays at the feet of the bishops inasmuch as the bishops have a responsibility for the clergy and priests,” he said. “As all this transpired, very serious issues have arisen about how this was handled in the past, and even in some cases regarding the conduct of a bishop himself; so as the chief pastor of the archdiocese, it certainly falls to me to do this.”
Register correspondent Joseph O’Brien writes from Wisconsin.