Bishop Zubik: “i Beg You–the Church Begs You–for Forgiveness”

By David Gibson
April 10, 2009

Those were some of the extraordinary words of Bishop David Zubik at an extraordinary ”Service of Apology” held earlier this Holy Week in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh for anyone hurt or abused by the church.

This is not out of character for Zubik. Pennsylvania’s own Rocco Palmo has been blogging about Zubik since he returned to Pittsburgh from Green Bay (Zubik, that is, not Rocco, who remains a Philly denizen) in 2006 to succeed Archbishop Wuerl, who is now in Washington. As Rocco noted in his very complete coverage, Zubik at the start declined to live in the the 11-bedroom, six-bath Edwardian Tudor bishop’s residence (it was recently put up for sale) and instead went to live at the diocesan seminary. Zubik told local television the church needed to move away from being “attached to buildings.”

Zubik’s columns are friendly and open and he invites Catholics to “give me a call.” At the start of Lent he released a well-received pastoral letter on the economy. Then he announced in this column (very much worth reading) that he would hold this Holy Week penance service for anyone hurt by the church in anyway.

The service took place Tuesday evening with several hundred people. Cameras were barred out of senstivity for those who came, but The Pittsburgh Post Gazette has words:

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.

The full text of Zubik’s reflection is titled “I’m Sorry; We’re Sorry” and is posted here.

Bishops are big, easy targets of the anger of many Catholics–righteous anger, indeed, quite often–but we far too often deploy a very broad brush. Nor does every bishop need prostrate himself for our benefit. Some will take issue with Zubik’s refusal in Green Bay to release the names of suspected abusers, others with his stands on behalf of immigrants or his opposition to the death penalty and abortion and same-sex marriage (though he doesn’t advocate denying communion).

But Zubik’s example here seems remarkable and welcome, to me, the kind of episcopal model that is needed for this time in the life of the Church, and for Holy Week.


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