Statement for The Priest Magazine on the Release of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report

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For the past two years a grand jury empanelled by the Pennsylvania State District Attorney has been investigating clergy sexual abuse in several dioceses in the state. With the Aug. 14 release of the voluminous, heart-wrenching and long-awaited report, the darkness of this horrific tragedy has been brought to the light of day. The stinging pain of victims is all the more real and can be felt now by the Church faithful and her priests more than ever before. The victims of clergy sexual abuse need our prayers and support as they seek healing and peace. As priests who act in the person of Jesus Christ, we need to do our part to assist all those who have been hurt by sexual abuse.

The release of this report, coupled with the news about the retired archbishop who has been removed from public ministry as a result of substantiated allegations of sexual abuse, is a source of undeniable sadness and deep disillusionment. Having served in the clergy office of my own diocese of Pittsburgh for two years, I have witnessed firsthand the heartache of this dark evil. When I was ordained 30 years ago there was a scandal involving three of our priests. Many of us lived through the events of 2002 that yielded the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People. Few of us have not been affected by this reality in one way or another. But no one has been devastated or hurt more than the victims of this unspeakable scourge.

In recent weeks I, along with my assistant priests Father Benjamin Barr and Father Tom Gramc, have preached about this tragedy and have tried to offer words to our faithful who are just as embarrassed and scandalized as we are. Just a few weeks ago in anticipation of the grand jury report we shared the following three points with our faithful.

1. We need to acknowledge the horror of clergy sexual abuse and the unspeakable hurt that it has caused. Innocent lives have been lost and forever changed. We need to pray for the victims of clergy sexual abuse. St. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians 12:26 that “If one member of the Body of Christ suffers, we all suffer.” To make sure this never happens again, we need to insure that our safe environment policies are followed completely. And every day we need to aspire to be holy priests.

2. We need to recognize that the Church that we love and serve is both human and divine. In that humanness some of the Church’s ministers have committed egregious acts and broken trust with the faithful. There is much healing that needs to be done on many levels with victims, the faithful, the Church and brothers who have betrayed us by their actions.

3. In the midst of this scourge, we need to remember who we are and whose we are. We are all children of God made in his image and likeness in love and for love, but always in need of his grace and mercy. With the generations who have preceded us we hold on to, especially in the most difficult of times, the virtues of faith, hope and love.

Brothers, as we walk this road let us welcome this light that signals once again a new day. Let us be sure to pray for one another. The Church needs us to be good, holy, faithful and joyful priests, who bring Jesus to the world, more specifically, healing to those who are hurting, hope to those who are despairing and comfort to those who are dying. In good times and bad, in times of darkness and light, remember, “You are a priest forever in the order of Melchizidek” (PS 110:4).

Father David Bonnar is editor of The Priest magazine.