PHILADELPHIA – The Stations of the Cross and the sacrament of reconciliation served as solemn settings for the penitential service that Cardinal Justin Rigali of Philadelphia led to address the clergy sexual abuse crisis March 11 in the Cathedral Basilica of SS. Peter and Paul.
“We know that the expiation of all the sins of the world is accomplished only by Jesus through his suffering, death and resurrection,” said the cardinal in his homily for the evening service.
That is the reason the congregation of close to 100 gathered “in reparation, sorrow and hope to accompany Jesus on the Way of the Cross as he falls beneath the weight of all sins,” the cardinal said.
“We also accompany his brothers and sisters, victims of abuse who, like Jesus, bear the weight of the sins committed against them. We acknowledge that Jesus alone is the savior of the world who has the power to forgive, to restore and to heal us all.”
The cardinal acknowledged “the grave offense to God and the great harm to innocent victims of the evil of sexual abuse of minors, especially by members of the clergy.”
In the name of the archdiocese, the cardinal expressed “renewed sorrow for this evil inflicted on children and young people” and asked God “to forgive those who have committed this sin.”
“I ask God to sustain us in our human weaknesses as we struggle with determination to confront this evil definitively,” continued the cardinal. “And I ask God to make us ever more effective both in promoting the protection of children and in addressing allegations of sexual abuse.”
In the congregation was a contingent of parishioners from St. Philip Neri in the Queen Village section of Philadelphia.
“I was very impressed by the expression of repentance and contrition,” said Jeff Omana, 35, of St. Philip Neri.
He forfeited a night working security at a Philadelphia 76ers home basketball game to attend the penitential service.
Omana appreciated how the church admitted sin and asked for forgiveness on behalf of those who sinned. “By asking for forgiveness and constantly stressing the point of penance – just admitting there was wrongdoing” appeared authentic, he told The Catholic Standard & Times, the archdiocesan newspaper.
“I am confident, going forward, that the church will do what’s right,” added Omana. “My faith is as strong as ever.”
Cayla Cornwell, 13, of Holy Innocents Parish in northeast Philadelphia, said the service brought her relief. She appreciated the fact that the church “recognizes sexual abuse, having gone through it myself,” although not by a member of the clergy.
In bearing her burden, she knows she is not alone, she said.
Her grandmother, Anna Temcheshen, 56, also of Holy Innocents Parish in Philadelphia, said the service aided her in that it provided a familial healing.
“Having had molestation cases in my family – I know that the clergy is not the only one involved,” she said.
To Temcheshen, the cardinal’s homily was “consoling.”
In his homily, the cardinal also underscored the importance of conducting the penitential service during Lent. “Lent is indeed, dear friends, a time for us to acknowledge our sins, a time for personal repentance, a time humbly to ask God’s pardon and mercy for ourselves and for the whole world,” he said.
The cardinal concluded the service after leading the assembly in the Stations of the Cross.
The correlation between the stations and prayers for the victims of clerical abuse and the church is significant, said Monsignor Daniel J. Sullivan, archdiocesan vicar for clergy. “When you look at the cross, you realize the cross is the result of sin – the pain and suffering there is all because of sin,” he said.
“And there’s the paradox of our faith – that cross is also the symbol of our victory and the hope we have in Resurrection. Despite the pain and sorrow that we’re all going through now – and people are all going through it in one way or another – we recognize that and appreciate the fact that we’re basically in this together,” he said. “We’re all looking for the promise of a Resurrection, which is what the cross gave us.”
The penitential service also afforded the attendees to examine sins in their own lives, Monsignor Sullivan said in an interview.
“Even the little things we do – our impatience, our uncharitableness – all those things make our society and our world less because, collectively, we’re making our world less honest, less charitable, less kind, less forgiving,” he said.
Regarding the confrontation of the clerical abuse scandal, “we’ll get through this and we’ll be better for it,” concluded the vicar.