By SAMANTHA SMITH, Staff Writer | Published April 18, 2019
ATLANTA—The Catholic Church has dealt with sex abuse for decades. However, with news of the Pennsylvania grand jury report and the actions of former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick revealed in August 2018, more Catholics have been struggling with not only their faith, but also trust in the church’s leadership.
To address these concerns and bring healing to the church, some Catholics came together with Archbishop Wilton D. Gregory, Bishop Joel M. Konzen, SM, and Bishop Bernard E. Shlesinger III on Wednesday, April 10, for the Mass of Reparation at the Cathedral of Christ the King in Atlanta. The theme of the evening Mass was “Calm Before the Storm,” taken from Psalm 107.
The Office of Safe Environment of the archdiocese and Atlanta’s bishops decided together to have this Mass “as the Catholic Church worldwide (is) in the midst of a storm of confusion and hurt,” said Sue Stubbs, director of the Victim Assistance Program for the Archdiocese of Atlanta. Stubbs said that the Mass was a time for us to come together as a faith family to renew our trust in Christ, “and continue one step at a time, to repair the hurt that assails our church.”
During the penitential rite, the bishops handed over their symbols of episcopal ministry to laywomen and men. This included the archbishop’s crosier (hooked staff), and the miter (tall headdress) and episcopal ring of each bishop.
Heather Triggs, parishioner at Holy Spirit Church, Atlanta, removed the symbols from Archbishop Gregory during the Mass. She felt that the bishops handing over their symbols was powerful and humbling.
“It was beautiful” to be “part of a healing process,” she reflected.
After the bishop’s symbols were removed, the congregation was asked to kneel for the remainder of the act, which included the Confiteor and Kyrie. The intercessions were offered in multiple languages, symbolic of the many cultures represented in the Archdiocese of Atlanta.
Forgiveness and faith in Christ
In his homily, Archbishop Gregory acknowledged the pain, hurt and frustration of victims. “You were dealt a terrible injustice,” he said. “Local clerics may well have disappointed you, harmed you, hurt you. The hierarchy and my brother bishops may too have frequently frustrated you, not believed you and dismissed your concerns and hurts.”
“I may not know, or have the right to know of your personal sorrow,” the archbishop continued. “But for that horrific moment, I now ask your humble forgiveness and mercy. All survivors, family members, clergy and the episcopacy stand in the presence of the Lord as we ask his mercy, forgiveness and your pardon for the failures of the past.”
“He was really apologizing to us,” said Peggy Ballou, parishioner at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart of Jesus, Atlanta.
Archbishop Gregory explained that we are all guilty of putting our trust in “sinful people,” but encouraged the congregation to put their trust in Jesus.
“Only Christ, risen from the dead, can confirm your faith and renew your trust,” he said.
There was a sense of hope among those who attended the Mass. Triggs prayed that “hearts would be open to forgiveness.”
The Mass was a “time for us to turn a page (and) as members of the church, open our eyes more,” said Thomas Fagbamiye, parishioner at St. Theresa Church, Douglasville.
Stubbs hopes for a renewed strength in Christ as plans for reform and more about the sex abuse scandal continues to be revealed.
“We hope those who attended will receive a strengthening of faith, hope and love in the face of the truth that is coming to light,” she said.