Francis Cardinal George, O.M.I.

Atonement, reconciliation and reparation

October 13, 2013

Last Sept. 28, on the 11th anniversary of the Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People, Mass was celebrated again at the site of the Healing Garden at Holy Family Parish, 1080 W. Roosevelt Road. The celebrants were the pastor of Holy Family Parish, Father Jerry Boland, and the pastor of St. Agatha Parish, Father Larry Dowling, who has involved himself constantly in promoting healing and reconciliation with victims/survivors of childhood sexual abuse by clerics and others in the church.

I am always grateful to all who advance the ministry of healing, which has as its goal the freeing of those who were abused from the long-term effects of the crime committed against them. The ministry is often quite helpful. A book recently written by Michael Hoffman, “Acts of Recovery” (Chicago, ACTA Publications, 2013), replays the steps he took in his struggle for healing.

Part of the process of healing is legal and financial, and it entails monetary settlements to help those who were abused have a fresh start. Again, sometimes this meets with success and sometimes not. The monetary settlements are made through the sale of undeveloped property bought decades ago at values far below what it can be sold for now. I write this because I still occasionally receive letters that tell me some people believe that current donations are being used for sexual abuse settlements. They are not.

There are also signs of progress in preventing this terrible crime. Of the 65 archdiocesan priests we know to have abused over the past 50 years, only three were ordained by Cardinal Bernardin, and, so far at least, none are from the ranks of those I’ve ordained. This means that the work begun over 20 years ago to reform seminary training has had some effect. The abusers are all dead, laicized, or permanently out of ministry.

Nevertheless, each time an abuse case is reported, no matter when it occurred or by whom it was committed, the scars are opened. Hence, there is need for constant atonement, reconciliation and reparation. This terrible crime has to be addressed at the level of the sin it is, beyond the legal and financial concerns each case brings forward. The church is to be a spiritual mother, as Pope Francis has recently explained in one of his Wednesday audiences. A mother spends her life for her children. She sees clearly what has happened to them. Beyond the physical, emotional, psychological and social damage that is done by sexual abuse, there is a deep spiritual wound, rooted in a profound betrayal of trust.

When fear replaces trust, spiritual progress is halted. In the Body of Christ, we profit from other people’s virtues and we suffer from other people’s sins. All the saints did penance for the sins of others. They did so because their souls were attuned to the movements of the Holy Spirit in the church and the world. Many who are most attuned to the demands of social justice recognize that the exploitation of another human being is the consequence of sin and the root of injustice. People with well-developed spiritual antennae can see and hear a world created in love, fallen in sin yet set free now by Christ. Believing this, we can take upon ourselves the spiritual work of reparation for sin, including the sin of the sexual abuse of children.

St. Paul wrote to the early Christians at Colossae, “Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in the afflictions of Christ on behalf of his body, which is the church, of which I am a minister…to bring to completion for you the word of God, the mystery hidden from ages and from generations past” (Col 1: 24-26). Reparation means repairing the wounds of the church and the world. The great and definitive reparation for sin is Christ’s self-sacrifice, to which we are joined in Baptism and the Eucharist.

Each day at Mass, before the altar of Christ, I pray for the victims of sexual abuse, and I pray for the people of Christ who suffer as a result of this scandal, as well as for those who do not believe because of the scandal of this grave sin. When many Catholics in the archdiocese prolong the effects of the Mass in their practice of Eucharistic adoration, they are making reparation for the sins of others, and I am sure that many do pray for the victims of this sin. The biblical acts of penance are prayer, fasting and almsgiving, and these acts bind up spiritual wounds, not only of individuals, but also of the entire church. They are ways to make reparation.

Today, some seem to believe that holiness can be divorced from chastity. Because the human body is the temple of the Spirit, all forms of sexual immorality must be avoided (see 1 Thes. 4: 1-22). A Gospel directed way of life presents a contrast to that too often presented in the entertainment world or in the news. The church, our mother, calls us to a different, a higher form of life. Ignoring the church’s voice led some priests astray. Making reparation for the past opens us to our mother’s voice once again; and repairing the effects of sin leads to hope for the future. I have seen this hope open up, even in the lives of those victimized by sexual abuse at the hands of those they believed they could trust in the church.

The Blessed Virgin Mary, Mother of Christ and mother of his church, protects us, her children. She listens to our petitions. She prays for us to her divine Son. She prays for those we bring to her, including the victims of sexual abuse. I have complete confidence that she is helping us now, and I ask you to pray to her often, especially during this month of the Holy Rosary.