Catholics share heartbreak, ask questions, demand action

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In between each utterance of sadness, declaration of outrage, word of encouragement and proposed solution, the 150 parishioners of Church of the Nativity in Burke said a short prayer: “We entrust this to you, Oh Lord, send us your spirit.” 

Though the evening was a painful one, the recitation of the prayer set a good tone for the parish’s listening session on the abuse crisis, said Father Robert  C. Cilinksi, pastor. “It's healthy to tackle (this issue) head on, but to do it in the spirit of love and faith and respect,” he said.

“I thought it was a very important step in the healing and renewal that our church needs. People need to know that they're being heard and respected. It provided that forum for people to speak and share with one another,” he said. 

Notes from the meeting were then sent to Bishop Michael F. Burbidge, who told Father Cilinski he read them all. 

Nativity was one of many diocesan parishes that held listening sessions, including St. Ann Church and the Cathedral of St. Thomas More, both in Arlington. Bishop Burbidge held listening sessions with parish leaders at the cathedral, St. Joseph Church in Herndon and St. William of York Church in Stafford, among other gatherings with clergy, Catholic school leaders and youths. 

Two overarching themes emerged from the numerous questions posed at these sessions: how could this have happened and what went wrong?

During the dialogue, Bishop Burbidge reiterated what has been done in the diocese to keep children safe, such as background checks and VIRTUS training for clergy, staff and volunteers, and a zero-tolerance policy for clergy credibly accused of child abuse. 

He shared that investigators hired by the diocese are combing through clergy personnel files and a comprehensive list of priests and deacons credibly accused of sexual abuse of a minor will be published. The diocese also is working with the attorney general’s investigation of the commonwealth’s two Catholic dioceses. 

Another refrain was for greater lay involvement in church leadership. In October, Bishop Burbidge created a seminarian admission advisory committee that includes lay men and women who will review seminary applicants. Bishop Burbidge said he is exceedingly proud of the diocese’s seminarians and feels confident that the seminaries they attend will keep them safe. Since 2004, laity have been part of a diocesan review board that examines accusations of child abuse.

Many participants of the Bishop’s listening session asked what they could do to help and how they could best support priests during this trying time. 

“As you can imagine, I’m very worried about our priests,” said Bishop Burbidge during the listening session at the cathedral Oct. 24. “It is very difficult for these good priests to be looked at with suspicion when (they’ve) done nothing wrong. It’s very alarming to me. If I could ask all of you to renew that commitment (to pray for clergy) tonight, it would be a great gift for the spiritual well-being of them and our diocese.”

© Arlington Catholic Herald 2018

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