Bishop Seeks Forgiveness For Church's Failings
The spiritual leader of Roman Catholics in western Massachusetts offered a broad apology today to people wounded by the clergy sex abuse scandal, to those embittered by church closings, and to people who were alienated from the church over racial and cultural differences or sexual orientation.
In a 2,300 word pastoral letter released on Ash Wednesday, Springfield Bishop Mitchell Rozanski asked forgiveness for “ our past failings as a diocese” and the “ grievous actions” of some who ministered in the church. He called on priests and lay leaders to be proactive in efforts to get lapsed Catholics to return, and vowed the church would be open to “self-examination and change.”
Speaking with reporters after the noon mass at Saint Michael’s Cathedral in Springfield, Rozanski said the pastoral letter titled “The Wideness of God’s Mercy” is his answer to a diocesan survey taken last September that generated nearly 3,000 responses.
" We know we've offended you in one way or another and if you are separated from us because of that please don't let it stand in the way," Rozanski said. " Come back to the church."
Rozanski said the survey confirmed that deep wounds still exist over the clergy sex abuse scandal and that many people were pained by the decisions to close some 60 churches in the diocese over the last decade.
"It did not surprise me, but whatreally touched me and affected me was the depth of the hurt that is still there that I felt really needed to be addressed," he said.
The pastoral letter was distributed in churches on Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of Lent, a 40-day period of self-reflection for Christians that leads to Easter.
Rozanski’s letter broadly reflects the new evangelism in the Church espoused by Pope Francis. Rev. Michael Wood of Springfield said the bishop is encouraging priests to get out from behind their church walls and into their communities.
"Let people see you in the community, meet them where they are at so when a time comes they may have problems they will feel more comfortable approaching you," said Wood.
Parishoner Elizabeth Rosa of Springfield welcomed the bishop’s call for the Church to focus on the realities of how families live and work today.
" I think it is important. I come back and forth myself. It is just something people go through, so reaching out to people is a great thing," she said as she entered St. Michael's for the mass.
Shabazz Wilson of Hampden said the church needs to welcome more diversity.
" For example, in traditionally Black neighborhoods in Chicago you may see things like gospel music, but it is still a Catholic church," he said.
This is the not the first time Bishop Rozanski has specifically apologized to victims of clergy sex abuse. He did so at his installation mass in 2014.
David Clohessy, national director of the Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP), called the latest apology “public relations” and said Rozanski should take tangible steps to protect children from abuse.
Rozanski said the diocese requires all its employees to be trained in spotting signs of abuse and has implemented rigorous pre-employment screenings for anyone going into ministry.
The Springfield diocese has paid out more than $11 million to settle lawsuits over clergy sex abuse.