April 26, 2019

Clergy sexual abuse crisis gives added meaning to chrism Mass

Fathers Douglas Hunter, left, Vincent Lampert, Minh Duong and Juan José Valdés join in the eucharistic prayer during the April 16 chrism Mass. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

Fathers Douglas Hunter, left, Vincent Lampert, Minh Duong and Juan José Valdés join in the eucharistic prayer during the April 16 chrism Mass. (Photo by Sean Gallagher)

By Sean Gallagher

Since last summer, Catholics across the archdiocese, the U.S. and the world have borne the burden of a renewed crisis of clergy sexual abuse.

And the annual archdiocesan chrism Mass, which is rich with spiritual meaning on any occasion, had a greater relevance for the faithful from across central and southern Indiana who attended it on April 16 at SS. Peter and Paul Cathedral in Indianapolis.

During his homily, Archbishop Charles C. Thompson encouraged prayer for “those who have been victims of abuse and injustice, as well as their families.”

“As this Holy Week reminds us, we must acknowledge sin with contrite hearts that lie open to the transformative power of God’s mercy, made especially known to us in the cross of Jesus Christ,” he said. “We must also take this opportunity to celebrate our wonderful priests who serve so faithfully, devoutly and unselfishly.”

Some 140 priests who serve the local Church renewed the promises they made at their ordination during the chrism Mass. Archbishop Thompson also blessed oils to be used in the coming year in the celebration of baptism, confirmation, priestly ordinations, the anointing of the sick and the dedication of churches and altars.

Lay Catholics and religious from across central and southern Indiana then came forward to receive the blessed oils and take them back to their parishes and religious communities.

Father Jeffrey Dufresne, associate pastor of St. Monica Parish in Indianapolis, renewed the promises he made at his priestly ordination last June.

“My first year in the priesthood has been fantastic,” he said. “I’ve been very joyful and excited in my ministry. And the chance to renew these promises and to be reminded of how they’ve shaped my life is exciting.”

He appreciated being able to renew the promises with other priests serving in the archdiocese and noted that the renewed crisis makes priestly fraternity all the more important.

“We have to be with each other to support each other, not only fraternally,” Father Dufresne said, “but spiritually, and to hold each other accountable.”

Archbishop Thompson reflected on the motivation for him and the priests to renew their ordination promises.

“We do so on behalf of those entrusted to our care, those we serve,” Archbishop Thompson said. “We do so as a means of remaining united with the great high priest and shepherd of souls, Jesus Christ our Savior.

“We do so, fully aware of our wounds, weaknesses and the fact that we are sinners. We do so, keeping in mind how we must rely upon the grace of the Holy Spirit that we may indeed be credible before God and the people we serve.

“We do so, daring to believe in a new Pentecost taking place to renew our minds and hearts, our ministries and services, our Church and our world. Together, inspired by the Spirit of the Lord upon us, may we remain ever fixed on the mission of Jesus Christ.”

Archbishop Thompson’s reflection on the Holy Spirit resonated with transitional Deacon Timothy DeCrane, who assisted at the chrism Mass and is scheduled to be ordained a priest on June 1 at the cathedral.

“The Holy Spirit has called me to this [vocation] and will continue to be there,” Deacon DeCrane said. “He’s nourished my vocation over the past nine years, and he’ll be there for the rest of my priesthood as it begins and as it continues. I’m very grateful for that.”

He admitted that the recent revelations of clergy sexual abuse have challenged him.

“I was struggling with it,” said Deacon DeCrane, a member of Holy Name of Jesus Parish in Beech Grove. “It was sorrow—sorrow for [the] priests, sorrow for the vocation I was about to enter into. I realized that it didn’t represent me and doesn’t represent the priests that I’ve known, who led me to this point, following their example. They mentored me while I’ve been a seminarian.”

The crisis has spurred Deacon DeCrane to focus on the sacraments, which were at the heart of the chrism Mass.

“That’s what the faithful want, to see the sacraments celebrated well, and that we need to be men of prayer and be willing to follow the grace and call of the Holy Spirit,” Deacon DeCrane said. “It’s a challenging time. But it’s also a time when we can take comfort in the Holy Spirit. The faithful have been so good.”

Archbishop Thompson will use the chrism oil blessed at the chrism Mass to anoint the hands of Deacon DeCrane during the June 1 ordination.

He will also use it in many celebrations of the sacrament of confirmation across central and southern Indiana in the coming months.

Justin Wininger, who will be confirmed later this year, received the blessed oils for his faith community, SS. Francis and Clare of Assisi Parish in Greenwood.

An eighth-grader at his parish’s school, Justin was surprised to be asked to receive his parish’s oils.

“Why me? There’s a whole parish out there,” he said. “But, I’m honored to do it.”

Justin was also glad to know that the oils he and others took back to their parishes would change so many people’s lives.

“There are so many people here from all walks of life, from so far away,” he said. “It’s really special to know that we’re all coming here to celebrate our faith and help other people celebrate their faith.”

Many who attended the chrism Mass expressed their support for priests serving in the archdiocese in this difficult time for the Church.

One was Laura Elstro, a member of St. Elizabeth Ann Seton Parish in Richmond. She especially appreciates the life and ministry of the clergy because her pastor, Father Kevin Morris, died on March 12. Deacon Frank Roberts, who also served at the parish, died on March 19.

Attending the chrism Mass was encouraging to her.

“It gave [me] strength, knowing what we have been through in the last month,” Elstro said. “Losing a priest and a deacon within a week of each other, it’s been really hard.”

Being at the Mass was also a priority for her in light of the challenges facing the Church in the clergy sexual abuse crisis.

“Hearing the priests renew their promises brought about healing,” Elstro said. “We have been rocked in the last nine months by a lot of scandal. To hear them say that they’ll be faithful brings me hope and courage. And it makes me aware that I still need to pray for them … and to pray for the victims, too, because that takes courage to come out.” †

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