[Bishop Edward J. Burns delivered the following homily at the Ceremony of Sorrow held at St. Paul the Apostle Church in Juneau on Friday, April 29th, 2016.]
Every one of us makes mistakes. Each of us has faults, failings and blind spots. None of us are perfect and all of us have, in the words of St. Paul, “sinned and fallen short of the glory of God.” (Rom 3:23) That includes me, your bishop, my brother priests and deacons and the lay men and women who are our collaborators in ministry.
But everyone gathered here tonight, in this place, throughout our diocese and in our Church, rightly expects and deserves that those entrusted with shepherding God’s holy people as priests, deacons and lay ministers, and their bishops, will at all times, to the very best of their ability imitate the compassion, humility, kindness, mercy, integrity, and sacrificial love of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.
Unfortunately, we have had, in our Church and sadly, even in our own diocese, shepherds who, in the words of the prophet Ezekiel, have failed to “strengthen the weak, or heal the sick or bind up the injured” but have ruled over the flock “harshly and brutally.” (Ez 34:16) Even worse, by their words and actions they have scattered and divided the flock entrusted to them, and driven many of the faithful out of the Church entirely.
Most shockingly, the sexual abuse crisis of the past decade has revealed that throughout the country, a small but significant number of clerics, mostly priests, have preyed on children and young people. The violation of these childrens’ innocence and betrayal of their trust inflicted life-long emotional and spiritual harm on so many victims as well as on their families and communities. The failure of bishops to protect children by covering the crimes of the perpetrators and minimizing the stories of victims who came forward has scandalized the Catholic faithful and the public at large.
As your shepherd, I apologize, in the name of the Church, for the actions of all those ministering in this diocese who, past and present, have mistreated, betrayed and harmed those entrusted to them pastorally. There is never an excuse for a bishop, priest, deacon or other pastoral minister to act in a way that is uncaring, harsh, vindictive and unkind, nor to take advantage of the trusting and vulnerable, nor to engage in wicked, immoral and in some instances, criminal behavior.
I am grateful for all those men and women who have come forward in the past and during recent days to disclose the harm inflicted on them. They acted not only on their own behalf, but for the common good as well. What you experienced was not your fault! You have done the Body of Christ a great service by courageously disclosing the wrong inflicted on you by those clerics and others who treated you so badly and unjustly. Thank you!
As your shepherd, I expect and require that all the ministers, priests, deacons and lay men and women in the Diocese of Juneau, will in their words and actions pattern themselves after Christ the Good Shepherd. In our gospel today, Jesus, taught us: “I came so that they might have life, and have it more abundantly. I am the Good Shepherd.” (Jn 10:10)
In this Year of Mercy, all of those who share in my ministry as chief shepherd of this local Church, have the privilege and responsibility to zealously search out all those in our parishes and in our communities who are lost and all those who have been scattered or wounded or scandalized by the actions of some of our ministers, past and present.
We are called as the Church’s ministers to love with compassion, kindness, and gentleness the flock entrusted to us by Christ; to listen attentively to the voice of the Good Shepherd and in turn to listen patiently and sympathetically to those we are called to serve; to be servant leaders who in every instance speak the truth, but do so with loving hearts.
Jesus teaches us that the mark of a good shepherd is that he “lays down his life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:11) The willingness to love sacrificially, the people of God and all those we encounter in the name of Christ, and to put their welfare before our own, is the foundation of our ministry of service to you. This is not something that I, or any of my collaborators in pastoral ministry, can accomplish unaided by God’s grace. We rely on your prayers, which I am grateful for: please continue to pray for me and for all the men and women in our diocese who have pastoral responsibilities.
May our merciful Shepherd bind the wounds of all those who have been wounded and harmed. May the One Shepherd gather us, and all who have been scattered, into one flock. May our loving Shepherd heal every division and lead us forward into the future. Amen.
Bishop Burns announced during the Ceremony of Sorrow that the Friday following Ash Wednesday will be observed, in the Diocese of Juneau, as an ‘Annual Day of Sorrow’ — a day in which we pray for forgiveness of the sins of the past within the Church committed by clergy and ministers, and for the healing of anyone who has been victimized, abused and offended.