September 21, 2018

‘An act of penance’: Archbishop Thompson leads holy hour in response to clergy sexual abuse crisis

Worshippers kneel in prayer while Archbishop Charles C. Thompson lays prostrate on the floor of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 15 during a “Holy Hour for Prayer, Penance and Healing” for victims of sexual abuse. (Photos by Sean Gallagher)

Worshippers kneel in prayer while Archbishop Charles C. Thompson lays prostrate on the floor of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis on Sept. 15 during a “Holy Hour for Prayer, Penance and Healing” for victims of sexual abuse. (Photos by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Archbishop Charles C. Thompson laid prostrate in prayer on the floor of SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis for several minutes on Sept 15 at the start of a “Holy Hour for Prayer, Penance and Healing.”

In a homily during the hour-long time of eucharistic adoration, he said his laying prostrate was “an act of penance and a pledge of doing everything in my power to do what is right, just and holy in eradicating the great scourge of sexual abuse and sexual harassment of all persons, most especially children and young people, making every effort to prevent it from happening again.”

(Related: Read the homily | See a photo gallery)

The holy hour, which was attended by approximately 175 people, was organized in response to recent allegations of clergy sexual abuse in central and southern Indiana and in the broader Church in the U.S. and other countries, and the failure of Church leaders to properly respond to clergy abuse in the past.

The holy hour took place on the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, which recalls the suffering that the Blessed Virgin Mary experienced at the foot of the cross in witnessing the crucifixion of her Son. It included exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, Scripture readings, periods of silent prayer and solemn Benediction.

Christen Havard, 24, was one of the people who attended. A member of St. John the Evangelist Parish in Indianapolis, Havard said she came because the clergy sexual abuse crisis has “been very much in my heart in prayer,” and she wanted “especially to be in prayer with the community of the Archdiocese of Indianapolis, … for the sex abuse victims.”

She said witnessing Archbishop Thompson laying prostrate in penance and prayer was “very powerful,” noting that “prayer, sacrifice and penance” was needed “first and foremost” as the Church moves forward in response to new allegations of sexual abuse and inadequate response to them by Church leaders.

(Related story: Priest abuse victim at holy hour says it ‘was the right thing to do’)

Archbishop Thompson described the holy hour as “merely an initial step in the long road of recovery, and it must begin with my deepest apologies for the atrocious sins of abuse, neglect and omission by those who have been entrusted with the mission of caring, loving, respecting, protecting, defending, honoring and healing. This includes clergy and others who serve in the Church.”

He also expressed sorrow for the failures of bishops “who have acted in any way contrary to the episcopal mission of witness, pastoral care and oversight.”

While he noted the necessity of apologizing, Archbishop Thompson emphasized that action was needed as well.

“The U.S. bishops are being called upon to provide more independent reporting of concerns involving bishops themselves and greater lay involvement in the process of oversight among other things,” he said. “I am confident that these will be put in place.”

He noted reforms put into place in the archdiocese since 2002, including the archdiocesan Review Board, an independent means of submitting accusations and independent audits to certify that the archdiocese is complying with the U.S. bishops’ “Charter for the Protection of Children and Young People.”

“This does not mean, however, that there is not room for improvement,” Archbishop Thompson said. “If we have learned anything these last few weeks, we must remain ever diligent, vigilant and courageous. Trust can only be restored by greater transparency and accountability.”

The archbishop expressed hope that the healing will be furthered by the Church’s response to the current clergy sexual abuse crisis.

“To that end, we must provide victims with the opportunities to be heard, understood, counseled, renewed, appreciated and respected as beloved children of God,” the archbishop said.

After the holy hour, Benedictine Sister Nicolette Etienne admitted to feeling “very emotional” about the crisis in part because she is the sister of Archbishop Paul D. Etienne of Anchorage, Alaska, formerly an archdiocesan priest, and two priests of the Evansville, Ind., diocese.

“I know that they’ve worked really hard to help bring people closer to the heart of God, and I know the pain they’re experiencing right now,” she said.

Her concern extended beyond her family to the rest of the Church, and especially the victims of abuse.

“I just feel for all those involved,” she said. “I feel for the victims, their parents. I feel for the good, holy priests and bishops who have lived their lives loving and serving God. I feel the pain that they’re going through now. I feel for our Church, at this time. I feel broken, and I feel broken for our Church.”

Like Sister Nicolette, Father Jude Sahayam has also been challenged emotionally by the clergy sexual abuse crisis. Because of that, his first inclination was to stay away from the holy hour.

“I didn’t want to go,” said Father Sahayam, associate pastor of St. Christopher Parish in Indianapolis. “It was hard. But I said, ‘I have to be there,’ both for the victims and for the priests who abused. That’s how we become one body. Sexual abuse really puts us apart from another. But the Blessed Sacrament brings us together.”

Archbishop Thompson, too, reminded those attending the holy hour, of the central role that God will play in the Church’s response to the current clergy sexual abuse crisis.

“In the end, however, it is ultimately the grace of God that brings about healing, redemption and salvation for us all,” Archbishop Thompson said. “That grace has been made possible through the passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

“As we commemorate the Memorial of Our Lady of Sorrows, we must keep in mind that our Blessed Mother did not despair in her sorrow. As she endured with her Son, his passion and cross, so we must do so with one another. It is in the Cross that we find the grace of healing, peace, reconciliation and redemption.”
 

(Criterion reporter Natalie Hoefer contributed to this story.)

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