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BEFORE THE CROSS | Repentance, reparation, new structures of accountability

Laypeople will be asked to help clean up a mess that they didn’t make

We inherit the sins of our parents. That’s not just a theological doctrine, it’s a psychological fact. We don’t like it, and it’s not fair. But we know it’s true.

We also bear the weight of one another’s sins. We know this from our brothers and sisters and friends: Their sins shape the world we grow up in and live in, and our sins shape them. We know this all too well with the sin of racism in the city of St. Louis and in our nation. There’s no such thing as a purely personal sin — the wider community always pays a price.

We’re in a similar situation when it comes to the Pennsylvania grand jury report. Bishops and priests committed sins of the worst kind: committing sexual abuse, enabling sexual abuse and turning a blind eye to sexual abuse. But, while bishops and priests committed those sins, others will have to carry the weight of them. Today’s seminarians, for example, will spend their entire priesthood helping the Church to recover from sins that they did not commit. And laypeople will be asked to help clean up a mess that they didn’t make.

The situation calls for repentance, reparation and new structures of accountability.

Repentance can only come from those who committed the sins. That’s one of the central rules of the sacrament of reconciliation: no contrition, no absolution.

Reparation, however, is where I need to ask for your help. I know it’s not fair for me to ask the innocent to clean up after the guilty. But I need to ask it. And I know that this kind of reparation — the innocent helping to make up for the sins of the guilty — is deeply rooted in our faith. Here are three simple examples: 1) Jesus didn’t come to bear His own sins. He came to bear the weight of ours, and we’re asked to follow Him. 2) We were baptized into one body. As we all know that when one part of the body fails, another part has to take up the slack. 3) When we receive an indulgence the merits of Christ and the saints are applied to our sins: The innocent contribute their merits to help in the salvation of us sinners.

Your help can make a difference. So I’m asking for your help. One way to do this is participating in a Mass of Reparation, such as the one scheduled Sept. 7 at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. A Mass of Reparation uses specific prayers in seeking forgiveness of sins.

In terms of new structures of accountability, I don’t yet know what those will be. Have we made many strides since 2002? Yes. I’ve detailed some of them before. Our archdiocesan policy regarding the protection of children is stringent, thorough and includes multiple points of accountability.

The Archdiocesan Review Board — which consists of a majority of lay members not employed by the archdiocese, with backgrounds in law enforcement, medical ethics, psychology, psychiatry and the diagnosis and treatment of juvenile sexual abuse — reviews every allegation of clergy sexual abuse and provides me with advice concerning allegations. I have always followed their advice. In the fall of 2017 a former member of the FBI conducted a complete review of our child protection and Review Board policies and procedures, and our program was judged to be thorough and comprehensive.

But is it enough? Obviously not. That’s why I invited the attorney general of Missouri to review the files and procedures of the archdiocese. We need to be, and are willing to be, transparent and accountable. I have had and will continue to have conversations — as will all bishops around the country — about what further structures might be needed.

One of the central themes in this week’s readings from the Gospel of Luke is how God lifts up the lowly and casts down the mighty. The mighty have done a pretty good job bringing themselves down. I’m asking for your help as we try to lift up the lowly.

From the Archive Module

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