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Powerful: What a Bishop Did to Express Sorrow Over Clergy Sex Abuse

Bishop sorrow ceremony

Deacon Greg Kandra - published on 05/02/16

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The picture above really is worth a thousand words.

The caption:Bishop Edward J. Burns lies prostrate on the floor of St. Paul the Apostle Church in Juneau during the Ceremony of Sorrow held on April 29th, 2016. (Lucy Nelson photo)

Look closely. Gone are all the trappings of the office. What remains is a man prostrate before his God.

Worth noting: Bishop Burns is the chair of the USCCB Committee for the Protection of Children and Youth.

From his homily at the ceremony:

Every one of us makes mistakes. Each of us has faults, failings and blind spots. None of us are perfect and all of us have, in the words of St. Paul, “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) That includes me, your bishop, my brother priests and deacons and the lay men and women who are our collaborators in ministry. But everyone gathered here tonight, in this place, throughout our diocese and in our Church, rightly expects and deserves that those entrusted with shepherding God’s holy people as priests, deacons and lay ministers, and their bishops, will at all times, to the very best of their ability imitate the compassion, humility, kindness, mercy, integrity, and sacrificial love of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. …As your shepherd, I apologize, in the name of the Church, for the actions of all those ministering in this diocese who, past and present, have mistreated, betrayed and harmed those entrusted to them pastorally. There is never an excuse for a bishop, priest, deacon or other pastoral minister to act in a way that is uncaring, harsh, vindictive and unkind, nor to take advantage of the trusting and vulnerable, nor to engage in wicked, immoral and in some instances, criminal behavior. I am grateful for all those men and women who have come forward in the past and during recent days to disclose the harm inflicted on them. They acted not only on their own behalf, but for the common good as well. What you experienced was not your fault! You have done the Body of Christ a great service by courageously disclosing the wrong inflicted on you by those clerics and others who treated you so badly and unjustly. Thank you! As your shepherd, I expect and require that all the ministers, priests, deacons and lay men and women in the Diocese of Juneau, will in their words and actions pattern themselves after Christ the Good Shepherd. In our gospel today, Jesus, taught us: “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd.” (Jn 10:10) In this Year of Mercy, all of those who share in my ministry as chief shepherd of this local Church, have the privilege and responsibility to zealously search out all those in our parishes and in our communities who are lost and all those who have been scattered or wounded or scandalized by the actions of some of our ministers, past and present. We are called as the Church’s ministers to love with compassion, kindness, and gentleness the flock entrusted to us by Christ; to listen attentively to the voice of the Good Shepherd and in turn to listen patiently and sympathetically to those we are called to serve; to be servant leaders who in every instance speak the truth, but do so with loving hearts.

Read more. 

The homily includes this footnote:

Bishop Burns announced during the Ceremony of Sorrow that the Friday following Ash Wednesday will be observed, in the Diocese of Juneau, as an ‘Annual Day of Sorrow’ ­— a day in which we pray for forgiveness of the sins of the past within the Church committed by clergy and ministers, and for the healing of anyone who has been victimized, abused and offended.

UPDATE: A reader notes that a similar service has been conducted in the Diocese of Green Bay for a few years. From two weeks ago:

Before addressing the assembly of about 50 people, Bishop Ricken walked quietly into the church wearing the symbols of his office: a purple chasuble over his plain, white alb and a violet zucchetto on his head that was covered by the episcopal miter. He walked with his shepherd’s staff, or crozier, and on his right hand he wore his episcopal ring. As he approached the altar, Bishop [David] Ricken removed all of these symbols and placed them on a table. Wearing just a simple alb, he prostrated himself before the altar as a gesture of seeking forgiveness from God. In his reflection, he explained in detail this gesture. “The reason for my prostrating here before we began is to ask for forgiveness from the Lord for our terrible digressions and terrible denial,” he said. “I ask for forgiveness and I hope that this is some expression to you that we, too, are on a journey and that we take responsibility for the lack of understanding you, of loving you in a proper way, as does the Good Shepherd.”
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