Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield used the occasion of Ash Wednesday to mark Pope Francis’ Jubilee of Mercy by apologizing to and seeking reconciliation with Catholics in Western Massachusetts. Rozanski, sent from Baltimore to lead the 217,000-member diocese in 2014, said that ongoing fallout from the clergy sexual abuse scandal, shuttered and merged churches, and less than welcoming parishes have caused a rupture between the Church and some of the faithful. He says he is seeking forgiveness. “There are many people hurting in our Catholic community from the pain caused by our past failings as a diocese, as well as the grievous actions of some who ministered in our church,” he wrote in a pastoral letter on evangelization. “The reality of this pain is that it still echoes many years later, as was given witness in our recent diocesan survey.” Through that survey, completed by 3,000 local Catholics, Rozanski said he learned that some Catholics don’t feel welcome in churches and thus stop participating in the faith.
The bishop writes:
There are others who have distanced themselves because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary, but key among them are race and cultural differences, a sense of gender inequality as well as sexual orientation. Others have been treated unkindly, impatiently, or rudely by clergy, religious, ministers, and staff of parishes — all which is unacceptable. I ask your forgiveness. I make my own the words of Pope Francis, and say to you, “Believe me, in spite of its slowness, the infidelity, the mistakes, and the sins that may have and may still be committed by those who compose the Church, it has no other sense and aim if not to live and witness to Jesus: He has been sent by (the Father) ‘to bring good news to the poor … to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.’”
And he included this stirring call for evangelization:
We need to evangelize those who are with us each week for Mass, that they, in turn, may be empowered to become evangelizers themselves. We need to evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us: We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective. I would ask you to join with us as a diocese in rediscovering your spiritual roots. While acknowledging disagreements or negative experiences, perhaps we can also reflect on what it was about the Catholic faith you may have loved, what may have brought you comfort and peace, and what you are missing through your absence.
Photo: Diocese of Springfield