Opinion: Amid abuse scandal, Church seeks healing

Monsignor G. Michael Bugarin

Many years ago, I sat with a survivor of clergy sexual abuse as he tearfully recounted his story. Behind him, a large crucifix hung on the wall. As he shared his horrific experience, he recalled that when he first came forward to family, no one believed him. He then pointed to the cross and said there was only one who listened: Jesus Christ. It was that relationship with Christ that helped him recover and survive.

In a recent letter to the faithful Archbishop Vigneron pledged his commitment to transparency and holding all clergy in the Archdiocese accountable for their moral actions.

Survivors like this man have blazed a trail that all Catholics can follow as we grapple for answers in the days, weeks and months following the release last week of a grand jury report detailing atrocious acts of child sexual abuse at the hands of some clergy in six dioceses of Pennsylvania. The accompanying press conference was difficult to watch, because it brought us face-to-face with the suffering of more than 1,000 survivors. These individuals struggled for years — even decades — to seek some sense of peace in their lives. They often did so in silence, because, like the man with whom I spoke many years ago, they feared no one would believe or listen to them.

Listening to victim testimony is not new to me. For the past nine years, I have been part of a team entrusted with dealing with clergy sex abuse cases in the Archdiocese of Detroit. I hear firsthand the heartbreaking testimonies of abuse and misconduct. Each time, I shake my head and wonder how and why any of it could ever have happened.

As I reflect on these difficult times, I challenge myself and the people I shepherd to follow the example of these brave survivors: Keep focused on Christ, his love for each of us, and the mission he has given to his people to bring about his kingdom here on earth. While some priests and bishops have fallen into sin and turned their backs on those most vulnerable, God never abandons his children.

We also must accompany the survivors in their own mission to bring these terrible sins into the light, where those who sinned are confronted and those who were harmed can find healing. Archbishop Vigneron in a letter to the faithful last week pledged his commitment to transparency and to holding all clergy in the Archdiocese, including himself, accountable for their moral actions. I ask that you pray for our community — clergy and laity alike — as we constantly seek to align our lives to Christ.

Last weekend, Pope Francis met with 70,000 young Italian pilgrims in Rome’s Circus Maximus, where he encouraged the crowd to “run towards Jesus” and their brothers and sisters “with hearts full of love, faith, and joy.” He explained that a slow pace will not do on life’s journey of faith, only “a quick step and daring leaps.” We need to be bold when faced with incomprehensible evil, especially when it is found inside the Church. We need to take daring leaps and embrace bold initiatives with hearts full of love, faith and joy to bring about the restoration of our world.

Monsignor G. Michael Bugarin is pastor of St. Joan of Arc Catholic Church in St. Clair Shores, Michigan.