Wednesday, April 08, 2009

"I Ask You, The Church Asks You, For Forgiveness"

Last night saw the much-publicized "Service of Apology" take place in Pittsburgh's St Paul's Cathedral for anyone hurt or abused by the church.

Presided over by Bishop David Zubik, the "emotional" rite -- from which cameras were barred out of sensitivity to those attending -- attracted several hundred:
"For whatever way any member of the church has hurt, offended, dismissed or ignored any one of you, I beg you -- the church begs you -- for forgiveness," Bishop Zubik told several hundred people inside St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

Out in the pews, former Catholic and onetime seminarian Tim Bendig took comfort from those words and from the rest of Bishop Zubik's service. Sexually abused by former priest Anthony Cipolla as a teenager in the 1980s, Mr. Bendig -- now 40 -- hadn't entered a Catholic church for 20 years.

He restrained himself from making the sign of the cross, reciting prayers and singing hymns. But he was looking for a chance to forgive the wrongs against him and to renew his life as a Catholic. Last night, he found it.

"I feel uplifted," Mr. Bendig, who settled a lawsuit against the diocese in 1993, said as he nervously prepared to shake Bishop Zubik's hand after the service. "I feel real light on my feet. I feel refreshed. What I hoped I would accomplish today, I accomplished."

The service began on a somber note. In place of the usual organ music and hymns of welcome, Bishop Zubik and his alter servers entered in silence, the only noises the sound of their footsteps and the rustling and muffled coughing of those in attendance.

Reaching the altar, Bishop Zubik prostrated himself before it, lying flat and motionless on the cool marble floor for a full two minutes. He stood up, and soon offered the opening prayer in a ringing voice that filled the huge, vaulted cathedral.

"Where sin has divided and scattered, may your love make one again," he said, addressing God. "Where sin has brought weakness and hurt, may your power heal and strengthen. Where sin has brought death, may your spirit raise to life."

But even as he celebrated God's mercy, he acknowledged that the church is made up of men and women who are very human and at times, very sinful.

It was clear from the hundreds of people attending the service that their sins had caused harm, he said....

He would do whatever he could, he told his listeners -- many of whom were middle-aged men and elderly women -- to restore their trust in the church "so that as a church, we can live our best, love our best, do our best, give our best."

Bishop Zubik then lit six candles of remembrance and apology to the victims -- children, teenagers and adults -- of abuse by representatives of the church.

"We acknowledge their deep wounds," said a priest, after Bishop Zubik lit the third candle. "We acknowledge the betrayal of a most sacred trust. We acknowledge their courage in speaking the truth. We affirm their dignity as people who are seeking truth and accountability, compassion and redress for the wrong that has been done to them. We support their healing. We offer our prayer for their journey toward wholeness."
Fulltext of Zubik's reflection at the service has been posted... here's a snip:
In a very real moment of woundedness, I stand before you tonight as Shepherd of the Church of Pittsburgh and embrace the presence of each of you, women and men, who come here tonight showing by your presence that somewhere, sometime in your life you have been hurt by someone who was entrusted to represent Jesus and His Church, but failed to do so. Some of you have already expressed your hurt; for many others of you, you do so this night by your being here. You call me, as leader of the Church of Pittsburgh, to not only not forget the sins of those who have hurt you, but you charge me with the need to continue to work to secure that the sins not happen again.

As I stand before you, I see also the face of Christ, the Jesus who met Peter on the seashore, confronting Peter’s betrayal. Your very presence here tonight both painful and trusting, confronts the need for the Church to ask forgiveness from you and the opportunity to renew your trust in the Church as Jesus renewed His trust in Peter.

To those of you who looked for the compassion of Christ in the sacrament of Penance but found only scolding and harsh judgment in return—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

To those of you who found sacred moments in your life and the life of your family (baptisms, weddings, funerals) met with callous, heartless, unfeeling, un-Christian-like attention to your need—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

To those of you who are here tonight who have in any way been the victims of any abuse, sexual or otherwise, whether as a child or as an adult, or as a parent, or sibling, or friend who shared in the pain of that someone you love—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

To those of you who came to the Church, rightly expecting her to help you understand the rich tradition of our teachings and traditions, but met with a less than half-hearted response—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

To those of you who have been hurt by the poor judgment of others entrusted with leadership—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

To those of you who believed in the Church to be a voice against prejudice but found, rather, a deafening silence—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

To those of you who looked to the leaders of the Church—lay, religious or ordained—to give good example but met, rather, with a philosophy that said: “Do as I say, not as I do,”—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

To those of you who needed the Church to be with you in sickness, in grief, in trauma, in turmoil, but found her representatives to be too busy—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

To those of you who have offered your talents for the mission of the Church, but experienced an injustice in the Church’s workplace—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

For whatever ways any representative of the Church has hurt, offended, dismissed, ignored, any one of you—I ask you, the Church asks you, for forgiveness.

For any ways that I personally, as your Bishop, whether in speech or deed, by omission and commission, have disappointed, not heard, or dismissed you, I ask you for your forgiveness.

At the conclusion of his public act of repentance for the sins of anyone who represented the Church, Pope John Paul II said: “the penitent attitude of the Church in our time turns our gaze to the past and to the recognition of sins, so that they will serve as a lesson for a future of ever clearer witness.”

With all the love in my heart and with all the sincerity in my soul, you can be assured that I will do all that I am able to do to restore your trust in the Church and to work together with you to reflect the very love, compassion, mercy of Jesus Himself in and through the Church.

Shortly before her death from cancer in 1990, Sister Thea Bowman, an African American Sister who had a reputation of portraying the very face of Christ and challenged all whom she met to become more like Christ, was part of a concert for people afflicted with AIDS. Her words that day brought a challenge to all. Thea Bowman said: “I have come tonight seeking a blessing. I have come tonight seeking a healing. I don’t usually talk about myself, but tonight I want to tell you a little about me. I have cancer. More importantly, I have something in common with my brothers and sisters who have AIDS—weight loss, hair loss, loss of voice, weakness, fatigue, exhaustion. I’m here tonight to say, God IS! GOD MADE ME! GOD LOVES ME. I WANT TO LIVE MY BEST; I WANT TO LOVE MY BEST; I WANT TO DO MY BEST; I WANT TO GIVE MY BEST.”

Like Sister Thea, I stand before you tonight on behalf of the Church seeking your blessing, seeking your forgiveness, seeking a healing so that we as Church can live our best; love our best; do our best; and give our best.
Turning from last night's sorrow and healing, the Steel City formally grieves tomorrow as Zubik leads the civic memorial for the three Pittsburgh police shot and killed on a domestic call last weekend. Alongside the local public, some 15 to 20,000 officers from across North America are expected to attend the tribute.