Prayer for Repentance and Hope

One of the more unfortunate things about the recent major problems involving Dr. Robert Haddad, his alleged sexual harassment, and Cardinal Sean's poor initial response to the seriousness of the matter (obviously the harm done to the women victims being the worst thing), is the way in which the timing is likely to overwhelm O'Malley's most creative, and potentially most positive, effort to heal the church here in Boston to date. (Information on the Haddad case, and his removal this week as head of the Caritas Christi Health Care System, is all much more thoroughly reported by the Globe.)

Starting last night at the Cathedral, O'Malley began a "Pilgrimage of Repentance and Hope", a pilgrimage to ten different churches gravely affected by sexual abuse by priests. A litany, composed by a survivor of abuse, was chanted as the clergy lay prostrate (a gesture normally seen only at their ordination and once a year at Good Friday): "Forgive us for the sins of your bishops. Forgive us for the sins of your priests. Forgive us for burdening your people. Forgive us for the failure to act." The Cardinal now takes the show on the road, to churches throughout the archdiocese (schedule and more info at the diocese's website).

Rituals don't solve anything without inspiring and being contextualized by action. But action without ritual, in the Catholic sacramental sense, makes the action seem somehow removed from our life as prayerful, liturgical Christians. By bringing both the survivors of sexual abuse as well as the clergy whose brothers gravely wounded those survivors front and center liturgically, the church's repentance for its past sins might be made real for the church here in Boston in a way that the (just-as-necessary) statements of apology or programs to respond to past and prevent future victimization never could on their own.

And we as lay people, though obviously in different measure, share in our responsibility and our need to ask forgiveness of the victims of sexual abuse. While not popular to say, the abusing church isn't them, it's us. We were also asleep at the till, letting our leaders do as they thought best without calling them to accountability, turning a blind eye to reports throughout the 1980s and 1990s on clerical sexual abuse that might have inspired us to act more forcefully on behalf of victims earlier and more effectively. While not everyone is a Cardinal Law or a Bishop Lennon, the theology of church which joins us with the saints in their holiness also joins us with our fellow-sinners in their mistakes, their failures of judgment, in their sinfulness.

We Catholics in the church here in Boston and throughout the United States might do well in this novena of prayer for the Holy Spirit to make this prayer for repentance, also composed with the help of survivors of clerical sexual abuse for O'Malley's pilgrimage, our own:

Divine Spirit of light and love,

we consecrate our minds and hearts and wills
to you today and for all eternity.

The Church of Boston has been broken by
sin and scandal.
Shameful acts have harmed innocent children,
betrayed a sacred trust and offended You, our God.
Accept this act of homage in reparation for those offenses.

We beg you:

Holy Spirit – send the fire of your purifying love.

Holy Spirit – water our dryness with Your rivers of new life.

Holy Spirit – breathe on us the sweet refreshment of your mercy.

Holy Spirit – restore hope and faith that we may be one in You.

May our whole lives faithfully imitate the life and virtues
of Christ our Lord.
To the Father, through Christ, in you, Holy Spirit,
be honor and glory forever. Amen

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