Catholic Herald staff
On Wednesday, Nov. 23, the morning following the official release of the Diocese of Superior’s abusive clergy list, Bishop James P. Powers offered a Mass of Reconciliation in reparation for sins committed and to open a path for grace and healing.
Beginning his homily, the bishop referenced the words read from the prophet Joel: “They echo through my heart and my mind with profound sadness. ‘Yet even now says the Lord, return to me with your whole heart, with fasting, weeping and mourning. Rend your hearts, not your garments and return to the Lord, your God.’”
Confessing how his own heart was breaking, and in somber voice, the bishop expressed, “How I wish we could undo the past, but we can’t.”
He affirmed the ongoing commitment to repent and make reparation, “In light of our God’s grace and mercy.”
He asked for prayers for all who have been affected by the sin and trauma of sexual abuse within the Diocese of Superior and renewed his promise to continue making parishes and churches safe for all God’s children.
“What we can do is learn from the past,” Bishop Powers continued. “I believe that we have and are – for over 20 years, the Diocese of Superior has been proactive and steadfast in our commitment to the protection of the most vulnerable in our communities.”
The bishop enumerated the diocesan Office of Safe Environment’s commitment to transparency, immediate response, proactive measures and efforts for healing. These efforts include regular background checks of 15,000 diocesan employees and volunteers, ongoing training of thousands of children and adults on the signs of grooming and abuse. It also entails continuing “to build on this as we re-commit ourselves to healing and reconciliation and to guarantee effective response and accountability when allegations arise and to protect the faithful into the future.”
“All of the good works of today can’t change the past,” he lamented, “But they do give us an insight in to the wrongdoing and breach of trust on the part of the few of our clergy.
“Examining past has required careful study and attention,” crucial to the task of transparency.
Bishop Powers stated that in the Diocese of Superior’s 117-year existence, hundreds of priests have served the 16 counties that comprise the diocese, diocesan clergy and religious order priests alike.
“The overwhelming majority of these priests,” he said, “dedicated their lives to our parishes and our people and have left behind a lasting legacy of faith, hope and love.”
Of the 23 priests whose names were released, the bishop clarified that not all of the alleged crimes took place within the diocese; some were committed by priests who only served for specific terms within the diocese. Twenty of the men named are deceased; the remaining three have been removed from all priestly ministry, he confirmed.
The bishop said, “I know the publishing of the list will probably open wounds – causing pain, sorrow, disgust and anger – as they should, because there’s no place for any kind of abuse in the church.”
“I pray,” he added, “these emotions help us resolve to learn and make sure these gravest of sins are never repeated. We repent of these transgressions and hold ourselves accountable as we learn from and apply these crucial lessons as we strive to build a stronger, holier church.”
He called upon the Lord “to help us to rebuild trust with all those who have been harmed and affected.”
“Reconciliation demands that we are guided by faith and trust in the Lord,” he said. While there is pain in this process, “we anchor our hope in the truth that God is light and in him there is no darkness at all… and in the Blood of Jesus which cleanses from sin.”
“I acknowledge the sins committed in the past,” Bishop Powers declared, “and on behalf of myself and of the church, I’m sorry for all who have been harmed in any way.
“I reaffirm our ongoing efforts in the diocese to carry out the objectives of the charter and to keep our children safe. I’m committed to fostering healing and reconciliation with those who suffer and pray that we all unite as disciples of the Lord Jesus. Christ is our advocate with the Father and our hope is his triumph on the cross as he empowers us to learn from the past as we build a safe and faithful future for our children and for all.”
Calling to mind the following day’s celebration of Thanksgiving, the bishop said, “In spite of the pain, the sorrow, the shame that we feel today, we have much to be thankful for, as individuals, as a nation, as a Church.
“As we thank God, I beg you please, pray for the healing of those who have been hurt by sexual abuse. And pray for, and thank God for, the many good and faithful clergy who have dedicated their lives in service to the diocese and for me in my ministry to continue this crucial work.”
Bishop Powers concluded with a nod to the season of Advent beginning on Sunday after Thanksgiving, “As the candles are lit, let us find hope in that truth and that knowledge that Emmanuel, our God, is with us.”