Bishop's SEAC Articles

A Church in Need of Healing

by Most Reverend Edward J. Burns

Like many of you, I look around and see the people who are hurting and in need of healing. Images in the paper, online, or on the nightly news show the faces of those affected by war, famine, suffering and evil. There is such a need for healing. When looking at the people in the Church, I see the same need – a need for healing in their personal lives, for family members, for their community, and most disconcerting, for the Church.

The Church is wounded. I just returned from Ireland after being on the team for the Apostolic Visitation of Seminaries in Ireland, a process requested by Pope Benedict XVI as a result of the reports of clergy sexual abuse that had taken place there. Archbishop Timothy Dolan of the Archdiocese of New York was the appointed visitor and he selected a team of five of us to help him in the process. During my ten days in Ireland, I saw a wounded Church. It was my first trip to Ireland and I had always imagined it as the bedrock of faith. Growing up, I experienced the wonderful gift of the Church in Ireland here in the United States. It seemed as though we always had a number of priests and religious from Ireland living out their religious vocations in the various dioceses and communities in this country. Archbishop Dolan, in his opening remarks to the seminary community of St. Patrick’s in Maynooth, said, “It pains us [the visitors from the US] to see the Church in Ireland suffering so much because of the clergy sexual abuse scandals. We have always looked to Ireland as a great source of strength in the faith.”

The Church is wounded and weary. These stories continue to come and we wonder when it will end. It is important for us to know the truth, and the truth hurts. It hurts when we are asked about this by non-Catholics and it hurts when we lose confidence in Church officials. But it is important to hold on to the truths of our faith. At the last supper, Christ sat with one who had betrayed him. We, too, have been betrayed by some in the Church, just as Christ was betrayed by Judas, and some in the Church continue to act out of their own selfishness.

It is necessary for us to pray for God’s grace, wisdom and healing. Through the Sacraments we are able to know and experience God’s grace. As I celebrate the Mass in our parishes and missions, I cherish the ministry of proclaiming God’s word and celebrating his presence in the Eucharist and of witnessing the great expressions of faith found in the people of Southeast Alaska. It is by the grace of God that I continue to see people solid in their faith even after the news of scandals breaks.

The wisdom of God is what I pray for most frequently. Coupled with God’s grace, I need to know that we are doing God’s will and not our own. We all have the tendency to add our own egos and desires into our decision making process, but within the Church, we are called to surrender our will to that of Christ. The Church is the Body of Christ and as members of his Body, we should seek to conform our thoughts, words and actions to that of Christ.

As Christ was wounded at the scourging at the pillar, as he received the crown of thorns, as he carried his cross to Calvary – the Body of Christ, the Church, continues to experience serious wounds as a result of those who have betrayed us – especially through the cases of sexual abuse by those who were to be trusted. Through the rich tradition of our prayers, in particular the sorrowful mysteries of the rosary and the Stations of the Cross, we can come closer to Christ who is with us through these moments, recognizing that he calls us to be one with him. Christ remains the source of our strength and he alone can heal us.

The healing process will be a long one. In fact, I do not see the end in sight, but I surely do see signs of healing. First of all, the firm faith of the people of God has been an inspiration to me and to the priests of this diocese. We wrote about this in our pastoral letter to you last year ( It is encouraging to see this, especially in our young people. Secondly, I continue to see quality men discerning the vocation to priesthood. Many of them step forward recognizing that they are not part of the problems in the Church, but they want to be part of the solution and to help the healing process. Lastly, our focus on Christ will be our only hope. When we take our eyes off Christ, much like St. Peter on the water (Mt. 14:27-32), we begin to falter. Members of this Church have failed us, but our faith in the Lord will save us and heal us.

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