BATON ROUGE, La. (CNS) — Where there is darkness, light shines; where there is despair, hope.
Bishop Michael G. Duca celebrated a special Way of the Cross for reparation for the sin of sexual abuse within the church April 5 at St. Joseph Cathedral in Baton Rouge, offering grace to survivors and asking the church to accompany them on their journey of healing.
“(Praying the Way of the Cross) was important because we need to heal this wound in the church in many different ways; through our policies. But also we need to always remember our deepest healing comes from our faith in Jesus Christ,” the bishop said immediately following the service.
“And the faith on the road to the resurrection is the road to the passion of Jesus, and we can see that in the passion he teaches us how to walk with suffering in the hope of the resurrection.”
He added, “I thought it was important to add this to our many ways we will grow and hopefully heal as a church.”
Following each of the 14 Stations of the Cross, Bishop Duca prayed a special prayer for sexual abuse victims. After the third station — Jesus falls for the first time – Bishop Duca prayed “for all abuse victims falling under the heavy burden of anguish too heavy to carry, we pray with them in their pain, fear and confusion that they may have the endurance and receive the love that enables them to rise again.”
During his homily after the final station, Bishop Duca said, “We gather for this Way of the Cross and reparation for the sins of the church.”
He noted that reparation comes from the meaning “to repair.”
The bishop said that since his installation last August as the sixth bishop for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, the church has been inflamed with an anger and a shame about the sexual abuse of minors. He said in 2002 the problem was answered with programs put into effect by the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops, which were effective, but added “we never stopped really to allow ourselves to feel as a church, and as bishops, the pain of abuse.”
“It’s hard to if you did not experience it in your life,” he said. “It’s hard to understand how at the time when you are developing your understanding of love and trust that you are met with someone who uses you and robs you of the joy of your youth.”
Adding to the pain, he said, is that when many victims reported the abuse they were told to keep quiet, met with disbelief or were turned away by the church.
“It’s hard to feel that,” he said. “But what I think we as bishops, what I am doing and what I hope we as a church are doing, is trying to recognize the harm of our sins and the deep effect on the lives of those who have been abused.”
“So we have tried to begin to repair it as best we can,” the bishop added. “We have released a list of those who have been accused of abuse in our diocese to show the breadth of it and to allow those who have experienced it in their lives to come forward with more confidence now that we do want to hear their stories, we want to share in their pain.
“Two together are strong but one alone will despair.”
He urged all Catholics to reach out to victims, to reach out to those suffering and accompany them on their journeys, walking at their pace. He said those walking with victims must keep their hearts open and vulnerable and not try to move too fast through this pain.
He said the next step is healing. “It’s despairing, (can) we put this back again? It’s too broken,” he said. “But the other thing I keep in mind is a little phrase of (St.) Teresa of (Kolkata): ‘Nothing ever so filled you with sorrow or despair that you forget the joy and hope of the risen Christ.’ And that is what brings us here tonight.”
“We have walked the Way of the Cross,” he added. “But now I would also add to this the journey, the journey of grace and to be able to see not just the pain and suffering but to also see the way in which God is working in our church. And hopefully in the lives of those who have experienced this horrible crime that they be able to begin to trace the line of grace in their lives.
“God never abandons us. No matter how despaired we are, he is always there, waiting for us, giving us the grace that we need if we can just overcome the effects of that sin.”
He said the church must acknowledge its sin and offer grace for those who have been wounded, destroyed in some ways. He said the church in whatever way possible should also be a source of healing for victims and work so that such abuse never happens again.
“Let us continue to pray together for this and this night be a beginning, beginning to write the story of grace. And not just the story of sin,” he concluded.
Meek is editor and general manager of The Catholic Commentator, newspaper of the Diocese of Baton Rouge.
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