|Bishop Zubik Leads Service of Apology
Sins by Clergy, Others in Church Addressed
April 8, 2009
In an emotional "service of apology," Bishop David A. Zubik apologized last night for sins including sexual abuse by clergy and other representatives of the Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, and begged for his parishioners' forgiveness.
Many of them had come to the service with "hurts that you hold and perhaps painfully so," he said.
"For whatever way any member of the church has hurt, offended, dismissed or ignored any one of you, I beg you -- the church begs you -- for forgiveness," Bishop Zubik told several hundred people inside St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.
Out in the pews, former Catholic and onetime seminarian Tim Bendig took comfort from those words and from the rest of Bishop Zubik's service. Sexually abused by former priest Anthony Cipolla as a teenager in the 1980s, Mr. Bendig -- now 40 -- hadn't entered a Catholic church for 20 years.
He restrained himself from making the sign of the cross, reciting prayers and singing hymns. But he was looking for a chance to forgive the wrongs against him and to renew his life as a Catholic. Last night, he found it.
"I feel uplifted," Mr. Bendig, who settled a lawsuit against the diocese in 1993, said as he nervously prepared to shake Bishop Zubik's hand after the service. "I feel real light on my feet. I feel refreshed. What I hoped I would accomplish today, I accomplished."
The service began on a somber note. In place of the usual organ music and hymns of welcome, Bishop Zubik and his alter servers entered in silence, the only noises the sound of their footsteps and the rustling and muffled coughing of those in attendance.
Reaching the altar, Bishop Zubik prostrated himself before it, lying flat and motionless on the cool marble floor for a full two minutes. He stood up, and soon offered the opening prayer in a ringing voice that filled the huge, vaulted cathedral.
"Where sin has divided and scattered, may your love make one again," he said, addressing God. "Where sin has brought weakness and hurt, may your power heal and strengthen. Where sin has brought death, may your spirit raise to life."
But even as he celebrated God's mercy, he acknowledged that the church is made up of men and women who are very human and at times, very sinful.
It was clear from the hundreds of people attending the service that their sins had caused harm, he said.
"Simply by being here, you call me, you charge me, to not only not forget the sins of the church in Pittsburgh, but you charge me to ensure, with our brothers and sisters in the church, that these hurts don't happen again," Bishop Zubik said.
He would do whatever he could, he told his listeners -- many of whom were middle-aged men and elderly women -- to restore their trust in the church "so that as a church, we can live our best, love our best, do our best, give our best."
Bishop Zubik then lit six candles of remembrance and apology to the victims -- children, teenagers and adults -- of abuse by representatives of the church.
"We acknowledge their deep wounds," said a priest, after Bishop Zubik lit the third candle. "We acknowledge the betrayal of a most sacred trust. We acknowledge their courage in speaking the truth. We affirm their dignity as people who are seeking truth and accountability, compassion and redress for the wrong that has been done to them. We support their healing. We offer our prayer for their journey toward wholeness."
Amy McConnell Schaarsmith can be reached at 412-263-1122 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
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