In the wake of the priest abuse scandal that has shaken the Diocese of Buffalo, Bishop Richard J. Malone held a Holy Hour of Reparation and Healing "to apologize deeply and sincerely to all who have been victimized by clergy or other Church ministers." The Sept. 30 gathering took place at 3 p.m., Mercy Hour, at St. Joseph Cathedral.
Father Peter Karalus, the recently named vicar general of the diocese, and Deacon Timothy Chriswell, director of the permanent diaconate, joined Bishop Malone in the sanctuary.
Msgr. David G. LiPuma, pastor of St. Peter Parish in Lewiston and one of the organizers of the service, welcomed guests with a quote from St. John Paul II: "We must be confident that this time of trial will bring a purification of the entire Catholic community, a purification that is urgently needed if the Church is to preach more effectively the Gospel of Jesus Christ in all its liberating force. Now you must ensure that where sin increased, grace will all the more abound. So much pain, so much sorrow must lead to a holier priesthood, a holier episcopate, and a holier Church." The late pope used those words when speaking on the same crisis in 2002.
The cathedral continued to fill as Bishop Malone lay prostrate before a cross in front of the altar. He then knelt and recited a prayer of confession: "I have greatly sinned in my thoughts and in my words, in what I have done and what I failed to do through my fault, through my fault, through my most grievous fault. Therefore I ask Blessed Mary ever virgin, all the angels and saints, and you my brothers and sisters to pray for me to our Lord our God."
In a reflection, the bishop explained that he wanted to speak from the heart, but made some note cards to keep him on track.
"We're gathering around the cross, the stark image of innocent suffering. At the same time paradoxically, the glorious icon of redemptive love," he said before asking everyone to imagine themselves at Calvary, looking at the face of Mary as she watches her Son on a cross.
"Mary is the face of every mother and father of every loved one of a victim of sexual abuse by clergy or other ministers of the Church. And Jesus on the cross is the face of those victims. But Jesus suffered freely out of love for us. Not so with victims. Jesus was crucified by Roman soldiers. The crucifixion of victims in sexual abuse happened through the horrific sins and crimes of representatives and ministers of that man on the cross. And what could be more horrific than that? What is more understandable than the outrage, the anger, the dismay, even for many, a crisis of faith.
"Today, we come here to apologize deeply and sincerely to all who have been victimized by clergy or other Church ministers and to those who love them. We know, and I know from many conversations with victims and their families that we can never take away all of the hurt, erase all of the scars. We can accompany them in ways we hope will bring healing. That's our commitment and our determination, but we know we can never lift it all the way. I know that I cannot lift it all the way. So, today is all about the victims."
He apologized and asked for forgiveness on behalf of Church leaders from around the country and the globe. He also asked for forgiveness for his own "failings" in handling cases of misconduct by clergy against adults.
"I want to assure you again, and I can say this with a clean conscience, that we have a strong and effective protocol across the country and here for responding to any complaints of abuse of minors," he said, emphasizing the zero tolerance policy. "But I know I failed in the way I responded to two allegations during my time here where clerics have caused misconduct or exercised misconduct against adults. I'm afraid our way of handling that, too often, has been to quietly try to work with those priests and admonish them and have them get the help they need. Only then maybe, maybe, maybe they have can some limited ministry. I see now, that is wrong."
The bishop promised to create a protocol for handling abuse claims against adults, as there is no national protocol. "With God's help and your forgiveness and your prayers we might move forward as God's people," he concluded.
Msgr. LiPuma, who also serves as chairman of the Presbyteral Council, organized the service with a committee of 11 people from Bishop's Council of the Laity, chancery, educators and clergy.
"We decided not to do a lot of formal prayers, but to have silence," he said of the planning. "In this noisy world with all the distraction and all the arguing right now, and all the dissention and separation, we thought, what unites us is prayer, silent prayer before the cross. The cross was obviously our symbol today. It's always our symbol that guides us throughout our lives. So, we felt a real need to come together, see who would come, open it up and pray before the cross."
An estimated 625 people attended the service, held during a Bills game.
"It says to me the people of our diocese really do care, they love our diocese, they love the Catholic faith," said Msgr. LiPuma, who has not seen a drop off in the people who attend St. Peter's. "There is a depth of faith in Western New York that's pretty profound. Everyone realized that we need to unite. The bishop is our shepherd and we are going to pray with him and for him, and we have to believe that he is going to do everything he can now to make sure these things never happen again, that there is transparency, total transparency, and really that we go through this purification. We really do purify the Church and purify all of us."