Holy Thursday, a day to celebrate Eucharist and Priesthood. Holy Thursday has always been a day when I give thanks for the gift of my ministry as a priest. It is a day when I think about the fraternity I share with my brother priests, and now, as a bishop, with my brother bishops. Today, as I think and pray about and give thanks for this fraternity of priesthood, I am especially mindful of our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI.
As every priest knows, there is a unique bond between a priest and his bishop. As a priest for the past 17 years, I always looked up to my own Archbishop, Daniel M. Buechlein, OSB. I espescially appreciated his own emphasis on his pastoral role as teacher. His writing and preaching formed much of my own life as a priest.
Now, as a bishop, I am particularly mindful of the fraternity shared among bishops, and of our “communion” with the Successor of Peter, Pope Benedict XVI. Last Tuesday evening, as I celebrated the Chrism Mass with the Church of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, I offered the Mass for our Holy Father, along with my intention for Archbishop Buechlein and the Archdiocese.
In our Holy Father’s present “hour of need”, I feel particularly close to him through the bonds of apostolic succession and union. Our Holy Father needs our prayers, and I write this column today asking all who read this to please pray for our Holy Father, that during this time of trial, he be granted the grace and strength of loving perseverance. May he know of our love and support.
As most of you know, the current news of clergy sex abuse and the handling of this crisis by bishops and other Church leaders has brought a great deal of discomfort and embarrassment to church members. It has no doubt also opened wounds of those who have been abused.
Sadly, there are certain news organizations now trying to draw a direct line of irresponsible leadership (and guilt) to the Holy Father Himself. I simply wish to reaffirm what other bishops have said in recent days. Our Holy Father has done more to bring focus to this sad reality of our recent experience than anyone else, both in his former role as head of the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, and most recently in his role as our Holy Father. He has called for continued compassion to be expressed for all victims of clergy sex abuse.
As painful as it is to read the accounts in newspapers at this time, it is important for Catholics to remember that these are mostly, if not completely old cases. In fact, we as Church in the United States are making very good progress in our efforts to protect youth and young people as the most recent independent audit shows of [arch]dioceses throughout the United States. As Cardinal William J. Levada stated in a recent article in Catholic San Francisco,Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger was instrumental in helping guide the U.S. Bishops toward the measures now in place.
We must never forget to be mindful of those who have been abused, and we as Church remain commmitted to supporting them. At the same time, we also must be diligent in balancing the information presented by the secular media with the reality that the Church, though “slow out of the gate”, is truly seeking to do what is right, and heal this wound of our past. Our Holy Father, Pope Benedict is giving the guidance we need. As the recently celebrated Chrism Mass invites people to pray for their priest, and to pray for their [Arch]bishop, so must we now pray for our Holy Father.