Lent is the traditional season for reflection and repentance for past sins as the faithful prepare for the Easter celebration of redemption, and by extension by the church itself, as needed.
Archbishop Charles J. Chaput was the principal celebrant of a Mass for healing for victims of clergy sexual abuse Saturday evening, March 22, at Philadelphia’s Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
The readings for the Third Sunday in Lent were perfect for the occasion, especially the Gospel account of the spiritual healing by Jesus of the Samaritan woman at the well.
A number of those sinned against — survivors of clergy sexual abuse and their family members — were in the congregation of 200 or so, as well as a knot of orderly protesters outside the cathedral who were witnesses to the continued need for justice and healing.
A mea culpa on behalf of the Archdiocese of Philadelphia was issued by the archbishop during his homily.
“There is no way that the church can make up for the destruction that takes place in the lives of the young because of the sexual abuse by priests,” he said, “but God can do something.”
He also addressed the issue of the inaction by church authorities, to whom clergy sexual abuse was reported.
“As the archbishop of the archdiocese, I apologize to the church for all that happened in the leadership of our community,” he said. “There is no way to explain it really. We ask for forgiveness, of the church’s pastors, whether they be priests or bishops or other people.”
The idea for the Mass came out of the archdiocesan Office for Child and Youth Protection several months ago, according to Kenneth Gavin, director of the archdiocesan Office of Communications.
“It made logical sense for the Office for Child and Youth Protection to work with the Office for the Clergy to arrange the Mass. The hope is to assist the victims on the path to spiritual healing,” he said.
Leslie Davila, who is director of the archdiocesan Office for Child and Youth Protection, was pleased that everyone who wished to participate in the Mass had an opportunity to do so. Her office continues to work with victims to identify ways the archdiocese can be of assistance to them.
“We still get people coming forward and we continue to offer them therapeutic services,” she said. “We are also here for victims who have used our services in the past and now wish to do so again.”
Some who attended the Mass were there simply out of sympathy for victims of abuse.
Among them was a group of ladies representing senior citizen groups connected with the archdiocese. They were handing out prayer cards and small knitted squares made from various colors of yarn.
“Each stitch represents a prayer for the victims,” said Toni Capponi, a leader of the group. “We have created a quilt and we have ladies stitching squares all over the archdiocese.”
Barbara Ann Fields was one of the parishioners of Cathedral Parish who came to the Mass, and she thought the archbishop’s homily was appropriate.
“He apologized, he didn’t make excuses and he tied everything into the Scriptures.”
In her view abuse is not new, it’s just “we didn’t talk about it,” she said. “Now I feel it’s like a dark veil has been lifted.”
Lou Baldwin is a freelance writer in Philadelphia.