Put Out into the Deep
The Mysterious Gift of Priesthood

By Bishop Nicholas DiMarzio
The Tablet Vol. 103, Nos. 12 &13
June 26, 2010

My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,

Last week, our Holy Father, Pope Benedict XVI, brought to conclusion the Year for Priests which he initiated on the Feast of the Sacred Heart in 2009. This year on the Feast of the Sacred Heart, more than 300 bishops and 15,000 priests joined a vast crowd of the faithful in St. Peter’s Square to close the year of prayer for priests.

Little did the Holy Father know when he declared the Year for Priests that it would be a year in which the Church was challenged with allegations of the sexual abuse of minors by priests in many different countries. For people of faith around the world, the news is a cause of sorrow and is dispiriting. It certainly has not been an easy time for the Holy Father in trying to deal with this scandal in many countries in which the Church proclaims the Gospel.

Unfortunately, this scandal has interfered with the proclamation of the Gospel for the Church.

Most disconcerting was a picture of the Holy Father on the front page cover of Time Magazine several weeks ago showing only his back, with a caption that read “Being Pope Means Never Having to Say You’re Sorry.” That famous line from the book and movie “Love Story” is a line I quote frequently to remind people of a need for repentance and forgiveness.

The irony, of course, is that saying “I am sorry” is exactly what the Holy Father has challenged us to do as he concluded the Year for Priests. He has said many times that he is sorry for the sins of some members of the Church and has called for a special time of repentance and reparation as he concluded this important year for the Church.

Reparation is perhaps something of our faith that has been neglected in recent years. To make reparation means to repair the results of sin and evil that tear apart the Body of Christ, repair the evil inflicted on innocent young people who have in some way been abused by members of the Church. Unless we accept the fact that we are one Church and that one member can make reparation for another, we never will engage in this important work of prayer and penance.

I have met with more than 40 victims of sexual abuse perpetrated by members of our own presbyterate. It has never been an easy task during these six years that I have been diocesan bishop in Brooklyn and Queens. However, it has been a ministry that has taught me much about the evil of abuse and the deep wounds inflicted by any type of abuse. I have had to say many times in the name of the Church that I personally am sorry for what has happened to these victims. It is not merely a profession of sorrow, but rather an offer of counseling and also spiritual healing for those who have been abused.

As a bishop consultant to the John Jay Study on the causes and context study on sexual abuse in the Church, I have learned much about the history of sexual abuse in the Church. As the study draws to a conclusion, some general factors have been discovered.

First, truly it resembles an epidemic which had a beginning, a rise and an ending. The peak years of reporting were in the 1970s. There are almost no reports of abuse that occurred in the last 20 years almost no new reports have occurred in from the late 1990s and into our present century.

Second, the term “cover-up” is inappropriate to describe the phenomena because in most instances the abuse was unknown and never reported.

Third, unfortunately an inadequate response to reported abuse seemed to be characteristic to the Church in general. Although there were some good examples of responses, the needs of victims were not understood and, hence, not addressed.

Finally, the present response of the Church in regard to prevention, reporting and outreach to victims, including counseling, although we cannot change past history, certainly is well on the way to making better history in this unfortunate situation.

The public perception by members of the Church is that somehow the bishops engaged in a cover-up of crimes in the past or even in the present and were unresponsive to the needs of victims. We must all work to change this perception since it is not accurate. This can be done by each individual priest, deacon, religious and lay person in the Diocese of Brooklyn and Queens. Knowing the facts will go a long way toward changing the perception inside and outside of the Church.

On a happier note, this week I was pleased to ordain three men to the priesthood for service in the Diocese of Brooklyn. These three men – Michael Bruno, Alonzo Cox and Nixon Jean Francois – come from different communities that are well represented in the Church of Brooklyn and Queens.

I have come to know them well during their period of preparation. It has been my custom since I have been a diocesan bishop to ask all those who are to be ordained by me to write a concept paper on the priesthood that gives me some insight into their understanding of what the priest is. I use that paper to prepare for a day of recollection, generally the day preceding the ordination, when we spend some time together in prayer and reflection on the priesthood and its tremendous call. Last year because of my surgery, I was not able to celebrate the ordinations, but I was able to have a day of recollection with the ordinands. This day has become for me a wonderful tradition and seems to be very much appreciated by the newly ordained, who sometimes can be overwhelmed by the details of preparing for ordination and do not take time immediately before the sacrament to reflect on the great gift of the priesthood.

As I read the concept papers this year, certain themes are common to them all. First, these young men are dedicating themselves to a life of service and sacrifice, not the least of which is a commitment to celibacy for the sake of the Kingdom. They also see themselves as acting as “other Christs” and in the person of Christ for the sake of the Church. We are fortunate to have three candidates, who after a period of preparation are willing and ready to give themselves for service to the Church in Brooklyn and Queens. They are, indeed, putting out into the deep, with the sacrament of Holy Orders which is filled with mystery from beginning to end. A mystery in its selection of those who come forward, as well as a mystery of how it is lived in each individual life.

Join me in praying for all priests, especially the newly ordained this week, that we might show the priesthood truly for what it is, a gift from God for the service of His Church.

-- Most Reverend Nicholas DiMarzio, Ph.D., D.D.
Bishop of Brooklyn


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