Parishes hold novena to pray for healing, atonement of abuse crisis

By Michelle Martin | Staff writer
Wednesday, October 9, 2019

Father Daniel Fallon, pastor of St. Cornelius Parish, 5205 N. Lieb Ave., carries the Eucharist back to the tabernacle at the close of the novena on Sept. 24, 2019. Bishop Mark Bartosic led the Novena for Healing and Atonement at nine parishes across Vicariate II Sept. 21-29, 2019, to pray for healing and atonement for the clerical sexual abuse crisis. (Karen Callaway/Chicago Catholic)

For nine consecutive nights culminating with the Sept. 29 feast of the archangels, Bishop Mark Bartosic visited a different church in Vicariate II and joined the congregation in praying for healing and atonement for the clerical sexual abuse crisis that has roiled the church.

The novena was organized by task force of laypeople from Vicariate II, the area of the archdiocese under Bartosic’s administration, which includes much of Chicago’s North Side and some north suburbs.

“They’ve been the same but different,” said Winnie Bowman, a parishioner at St. Gregory the Great Parish, following the Sept. 26 service at neighboring St. Gertrude Parish. “It’s meant for people to come together and to heal.”

The readings varied, and parishes could choose some of their own music. Some had the parish choir participate; others used a single cantor. But the structure, including the exposition of the Blessed Sacrament and prayers for victims of abuse, those angered by the church’s response, priests who have not offended but carry the shame of those who did, and those in authority in the church, was the same.

The novena prayer, asking the archangels for protection and healing, also was the same.

Bishop Bartosic knelt in front of the monstrance holding the Body of Christ for the duration of each service, she said, standing only for the Gospel reading and prostrating himself during the penitential rite.

In place of a homily after the Gospel, a lay person read a brief excerpt from Pope Francis’ Aug. 20, 2018, letter asking the Holy Spirit to grant the whole church the “grace of conversion” so that it can atone for and combat crimes of abuse.

That message was followed by music, then a period of silence at each parish. Depending on the evening, sounds of falling rain, traffic, even a volleyball game in the neighboring gym filled the churches.

The decision to not have the bishop or a priest preach was deliberate, Bowman said.

“Preaching doesn’t always lead to healing,” she said. “And I think it speaks volumes to have the bishop kneeling in the middle of the church.”

The sites of the novena services were distributed to make it easier for people from across the vicariate to participate. The congregations varied, some with three dozen people, some with five or six dozen.

The task force that organized the novena was created after a series of listening sessions in Vicariate II in late 2018. Bishop Bartosic said that at the sessions, some participants took it upon themselves to inform others about the steps the archdiocese had already taken to prevent and respond to clerical sexual abuse, such as Virtus training and background checks for employees and volunteers, safe environment training for students and the archdiocese’s victim assistance ministry for those who were abused.

“They were angry,” he said, angry that fellow Catholics did not know what the church was already doing and that the church was not defending itself. But some of that defense must come from the laity, Bishop Bartosic said.

“Since 2018, if you listen to Catholics, people’s feelings are focused on the bishops,” he said. “And there have been terrible stories about some bishops that are true, and it is incumbent on all bishops to do penance for the sins of a few. It’s important for the whole church to do penance. We have to remember that Jesus took on all our sins. He died for us.”

People who follow Christ, Bishop Bartosic said, are called to partake in that sacrifice.


  • clergy sexual abuse

Related Articles