Church crisis response: Healing Masses, listening sessions, fasting

WASHINGTON (CNS) -- In response to the sexual abuse crisis in the church, Catholics are praying for victims, talking about their frustration and anger, and being urged to pray and fast for church healing.

They've gathered in cathedrals and parishes across the country for healing Masses said by bishops who have often prostrated themselves before the altar in a posture of repentance. They've met in parish halls to ask church leaders what went wrong and how the church should move forward. Their bishops have issued multiple statements on the crisis and many also have begun to urge Catholics to pray and fast for the church to find healing and restoration.

These Masses and listening sessions are scheduled to continue through the end of the year with many dioceses posting upcoming dates for the events on their websites.

Some dioceses also are using social media to address the crisis and respond to questions. The Diocese of Colorado Springs, Colorado, for example held a Facebook Live question-and-answer session on the crisis Sept. 13 with Bishop Michael J. Sheridan. The bishop planned to celebrate a Mass of reparation Sept. 24 at St. Mary's Cathedral in Colorado Springs.

Several dioceses held Masses for healing Sept. 14, the feast of the Triumph of the Cross, or Sept. 15, the feast of Our Lady of Sorrows, emphasizing the significance of these dates as appropriate times for penance and seeking God's grace.

"I want to pray today with you for those who have committed terrible sins, sins of sacrilege, sins that cry to heaven for vengeance," said Bishop Robert C. Morlino of Madison, Wisconsin, during a Sept. 14 Mass at Bishop O'Donnell Holy Name Oratory at Holy Name Heights in Madison.

Some dioceses had Masses for healing in August. In the Archdiocese of New Orleans, more than 1,100 people attended an Aug. 28 "Mass for Forgiveness and Healing" celebrated by Archbishop Gregory M. Aymond at St. Joseph Church.

In his homily, the archbishop said he was overwhelmed by the number of people who had packed the historic church to join him in prayer and he made reference to Hurricane Katrina, whose 13th anniversary was the next day.

Today, he said, "we are hit by another storm."

The archbishop asked for forgiveness from victims and survivors of abuse, Catholics disillusioned and scandalized by the crisis, and priests, deacons and seminarians who now bear the burden of being "tainted by the sins of others."

"We are now called in many ways to move forward, yes, as a wounded church. But as a wounded church, we can move forward. When someone is wounded, they can still walk, and we must move forward, asking for God's mercy and healing," he said.

Similar pleas came from other bishops at healing Masses nationwide. Bishop Frank J. Caggiano of Bridgeport, Connecticut, said in a Sept. 14 homily as at a clergy Mass of reparation at St. Augustine Cathedral that the "leadership of the church has failed in many ways; it has been tarnished" and healing will take a long time.

He said the scars for those who have been abused "may never go away" but he also urged the congregation of about 800 not to be "afraid of our wounds. Let them become the cracks through which the grace of Christ gets in and one day will set us free."

The bishop stressed that the church can only move forward through reparation by "works of mercy and acts of charity" and by being transparent in all things, ending the "culture of secrecy in the church."

The congregation applauded at the end of his homily and at the end of Mass when the bishop urged everyone to support the priests.

Some bishops have stressed that in the midst of this crisis they will devote time in fasting and prayer for healing in the church.

Others called on diocesan Catholics to join them. Some bishops urged Catholics to fast on the Sept. 14 and 15 feast days; others suggested Friday meatless fasts, as in Lent.

Bishop Paul J. Bradley of Kalamazoo, Michigan, called on diocesan Catholics to join him in more intense prayer and fasting during the following nine Tuesdays, praying an extra rosary on each of those Tuesdays as a weekly novena, meditating on the sorrowful mysteries.

"We will pray and fast for healing for all victims of sexual abuse, for a conversion of mind and heart on the part of those in need of repentance, and for a renewal in our individual commitment to follow Jesus with conviction, joy, and purity of heart," he wrote in an Aug. 19 letter.

Bishop Thomas R. Zinkula of Davenport, Iowa, similarly urged Catholics to "set aside time for prayer: for the healing of the victims of abuse, in reparation for the sins of omission and commission that have led to this crisis (and) for our own conversion."

He also urged Catholics to take up Lenten practices of fasting and almsgiving to be in solidarity with victims and survivors of abuse. Fasting could simply be from meat or from electronics, he said, and almsgiving could mean volunteering with ministries or community organizations that care for victims of sexual and physical abuse.

"The key is to choose something that will help remind us of those who have suffered abuse at the hands of the church," he wrote in an Aug. 22 letter to diocesan Catholics.

"Naming, and condemning, the sins of sexual abuse, of the abuse of power, of clericalism is essential. Holding perpetrators and those who looked the other way to account is essential. But these are not enough," Bishop Zinkula said.

"We are called to solidarity and to a deeper holiness. Solidarity with victims of abuse requires us to make sure that we do everything in our power, as individuals and institutions, to protect the most vulnerable in our communities. Prayer, fasting and almsgiving are a start, and the constant foundation from which we will need to build," he said, adding that efforts can't stop there, but should be ongoing.

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Follow Zimmermann on Twitter: @carolmaczim