Ten years ago today, the clergy sexual abuse crisis exploded in Boston. This has been a very painful chapter in the history of our Church, but at the same time, an opportunity for us to focus on a very serious human problem and direct our efforts and resources at trying to make our Church the very safest place possible for young people.
Not that we celebrate something as sad as the sexual abuse crisis, but in order to express our contrition and sorrow for what happened and to assure people of our commitment going forward, I thought it would be appropriate on this anniversary to thank the countless priests and lay Catholics who have helped us face this problem, and sought solutions for our Church.
For this reason, I issued the following letter earlier in the week. It is reprinted in this week’s Pilot, and I want to share it with you here as well:
My dear friends in Christ,
Ten years ago, in the early days of 2002, a problem with a history far deeper than any of us had imagined, that had been wreaking havoc along its course, exploded in the Church. We never can and never will forget our shock and revulsion at the revelations that for decades, children had been subjected to sexual abuse, devastating their lives and those of their families and loved ones. The magnitude of these horrendous crimes was made even greater by the abuse having been perpetrated by Catholic priests, who shattered the bond of trust placed in them by the people they had promised to serve.
As a Church we must continue to express the depth of our sorrow and contrition for how badly we failed those entrusted to our care. I reflect on this in my prayer every day. As leaders in the Church we must accept our responsibility for those failings and clearly acknowledge that Church leadership could have and should have responded more quickly and more forcefully. We cannot change the tragic implications of past failures, but we must, we can and we will do everything in our power to ensure that these crimes, these sins, never occur in the community of the Church again.
We are deeply indebted to the scores of people who during the past ten years have taken leadership in planning and implementing child safety protection programs for our parishes, schools and social service agencies. These dedicated personnel and volunteers have given countless hours to training adults across the archdiocese in order that the protection programs are “always and everywhere” in the life of the Church. In particular, these efforts have been greatly aided by the men and women of our community who responded with fortitude, determination and unfailing resolve. They rightfully made clear in the earliest days of the crisis that nothing short of complete and total protection for children would be acceptable if we were to go forward together.
We are also indebted to the priests of the archdiocese who have been and continue to be good and faithful servants to the people of God. Our priests have remained true to their mission and their calling while carrying many burdens because of the crimes of some of their colleagues. They are to be commended for their service in the midst of great turmoil that also deeply impacted them.
Our commitment to uphold the moral standard of the Church and the civil statutes in all matters concerning child safety is absolute. There is no place for compromise or equivocation concerning the welfare of children and young people. We have learned much during the course of the past ten years and made sweeping and significant changes to all dimensions of the life of the Church, but we cannot be lulled into a sense of achievement that would risk complacency. It is my solemn pledge that at all times and in all places we will be vigilant in the protection of children, our responsibility to God and the community demands nothing less.
Today we have published a document entitled, “Ten Years Later — Reflections on the Sexual Abuse Crisis in the Archdiocese of Boston”, providing a summary of the actions taken in response to the crisis. The document also addresses the survivors of sexual abuse and their loved ones, those whose lives were most deeply impacted, and people in the Church and the wider community who played important roles in bringing the crisis to light and providing us helpful guidance.
We offer the reflections for your review and consideration. They are not and are not intended to be a final word or the closing of a chapter. There will never be a time to presume that the crisis is over or behind us. The reflections are presented as a marker on a path that will be travelled every day of our lives and the lives of those who will follow us, a path of healing, rebuilding trust, and renewing ourselves in the presence of the Lord.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
Cardinal Sean P. O’Malley, OFM Cap.
Archbishop of Boston
I also celebrated Mass today in our Pastoral Center for all those harmed by clergy sexual abuse.
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As I shared with you last week, after the Christmas events here in the archdiocese, spent some time in Florida visiting my family. On New Year’s Eve I returned to Boston to celebrate Mass at St. Leonard’s Church in the North End.
Each year I have a custom of ending the old year and beginning the New Year in prayer with the Mass. In Boston, those Masses have been associated with the pro-life movement and the promotion of the Gospel of Life in our midst.
This year, we had the holy hour directed by Father Matt Williams, with rosary and benediction, followed by confessions, and then followed by the Eucharist. The Boston fireworks were going off as I finished my homily; it was a dramatic way to finish a homily — with fireworks!
We had a large number of people. Afterwards, we served sandwiches and coffee in the parish hall. It was a beautiful way to begin the New Year, asking God’s blessing upon us, and encouraging people to become involved in the Church’s promotion of life. This is particularly important as we begin this year in which we will be facing the issue of physician-assisted suicide, that we ask people’s prayers to help them once again to respond to the demands of the Gospel of Life.
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On New Year’s Day, I celebrated Mass at the cathedral for the Haitian community. When I arrived in Boston one of the Masses that I initiated was for Haitian Independence Day, which is also the feast of Mary Mother of God.
It is always a magnificent celebration of faith. Haitians come from all over the diocese and fill the Cathedral. This year the choir from St. Ann’s in Somerville did a stunning job. The vice-consul from Haiti was also present and addressed the Haitian community at the end of Mass. As always, we closed with the national anthem of Haiti.
A part of that celebration is always chanting the Te Deum in Latin, which is a customary European hymn of thanksgiving. It is very beautiful prayer of the Church, and is recited as part of the Liturgy of the Hours, but is seldom chanted in public here in the U.S. In fact, the first time I heard a public Te Deum was in Ireland, when President Kennedy was in the country and they were celebrating the arrival of the president and the coronation of Pope Paul VI. In Haiti, of course, they have the French influence, but I find in the United States many people do not know what the Te Deum is. I was very pleased, since this is one of the few times we get to hear the Te Deum chanted in our cathedral.
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Monday, I went to Newton to the convent of the new community, the Daughters of Mary of Nazareth. There, I blessed the altar and the Chapel.
We are amazed at how the house has really been transformed and come out to be a beautiful venue to begin this new order.
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Each year around Christmas we have a special Mass for the priests and the residents of Regina Cleri and other visitors who join us.
I’m always impressed by the Christmas decorations prepared by the Sister Disciples of the Divine Master. They always decorate the Chapel and the residence in such a beautiful way. I’m always impressed by their wonderful work.
I always look forward to this opportunity to be with our retired priests.
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Among the twenty-two Cardinal-designates named today by Pope Benedict XVI, Archbishop Timothy M. Dolan and Archbishop Edwin F. O’Brien will provide the Holy Father valuable guidance and assistance through their long-standing dedication to the work of the Church.
In his leadership as Archbishop of New York and at the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops, where he serves as President, Cardinal-designate Dolan has always held the good of the Church and her people as the highest priority. He has been an important advocate for the Church with regard to religious freedom, the protection of life at all stages, and promoting human dignity for all people, especially those in great need.
For many years Cardinal-designate O’Brien led the Archdiocese for the Military Services, USA, providing for the pastoral and spiritual care of the men and women who serve our country in the Armed Forces. Following his tenure as Archbishop of Baltimore, in 2011 the Holy Father appointed Archbishop O’Brien the Pro-Grand Master of the Equestrian Order of the Holy Sepulchre, recognizing the Archbishop’s international experience and his commitment to peace, social justice and the mission of the Church in the Holy Land.
We join the Catholic community throughout the United States in congratulating Cardinal-designate Dolan and Cardinal-designate O’Brien and assure them of our prayers and best wishes as they prepare for the upcoming consistory.
- Cardinal Seán