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To Start the Healing Process, the US Bishops Should Consider Doing Public Penance

Whether with a Holy Hour or sackcloth and ashes, prelates can make reparation for the sins of their brother bishops

Something very important is missing from every statement issued by US bishops thus far in the wake of the allegations against ex-Cardinal Theodore McCarrick. It is something needed not only for the restoration of the bishops’ credibility but also, and more importantly, for the healing of the Church.

Given that the bishops form a college in continuation of the Apostles’ own, they need to take the initiative in summoning themselves, as a body, to public acts of penance for (1) the sins of bishops and all clerics, and (2) those who enabled or failed to act against such wrongdoers.

It is true that all the faithful need to examine themselves and repent of their role in failing to protect others, whether minors or adults, from clerics who abused their power. But if such repentance is to have its proper effect, leading to reparation and conversion of life, it needs to be modelled by those entrusted with governing the faithful.

Our shepherds, who exempted themselves from their own charter against abuse, are now a locus of scandal. Bishop Shawn McKnight of Jefferson City, who was elevated to the episcopate six months ago, recently lamented “the silence of so many bishops who knew about” McCarrick. And of course the abuse crisis is far broader than those particular allegations.

The US bishops have the responsibility to show all the members of the Body of Christ what true contrition and reparation looks like. If the US Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) announced it was summoning every one of its members to a public act of personal and collegial reparation, the bishops would thereby show they understand that (1) the sins of shepherds have a particularly destructive impact upon the entire Church and (2) if even one bishop is guilty, the entire college owes reparation to God, that He may heal the wound their brother inflicted upon His holy people.

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