As dusk fell Friday on Baton Rouge, Bishop Michael Duca faced the stained glass windows inside St. Joseph Cathedral and compared the agony Jesus felt carrying the cross to the suffering of those abused by Catholic clerics.
Around 70 people joined Baton Rouge’s bishop as he prayed the Stations of the Cross. The prayers included requests for forgiveness for the church’s failures to protect children; requests for healing for abuse survivors and for those who have lost their faith amid the worldwide scandal; and resolve to restructure and rebuild the church in a better way.
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Duca implored those who sat in the pews to join those who have been abused on their journey to healing.
“The true Christian accompanies those who are suffering, walks at their pace,” Duca said. “We must keep our hearts open and vulnerable and not try to move too fast through this pain.”
Duca released a list earlier this year of 37 clerics who had served in the Diocese of Baton Rouge at some point in their careers and who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. One of them was a predecessor of his as Baton Rouge bishop, Joseph Sullivan.
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The list of accused has since grown to 41, and Duca said in a recent interview that multiple abuse survivors have come forward to meet with him since he released the list.
The special Way of the Cross — which came from Boston’s Weston Jesuit School of Theology — did not shy away from the Catholic Church’s own problematic practices of allowing abuse to continue while ignoring victims. In multiple cases decades ago in Louisiana, clerics were quietly removed from ministry in one diocese and allowed to minister in another diocese elsewhere in the state.
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“We ask your forgiveness for our complicity in a culture of silence and secrecy,” Duca recited at the ninth station, when Jesus fell for the third time while trying to carry the cross. “We ask your forgiveness for the mistrust and suspicion that weighs on your faithful ministers. We ask your forgiveness for undermining the faith of your people through this time of scandal.”
Duca said he has sometimes thought of the harm of the abuse crisis within the church like Humpty Dumpty — he wondered if it could ever be put back together again. But a famous Mother Teresa quote has reassured him. The saint said people should never become so sorrowful that they forget the joy of Christ’s resurrection.
During the final station of the cross — when Jesus has died and is laid in the tomb — Duca specifically asked God to help those “whose faith has been filled by secrecy and lies, those whose hope has been killed by refusal to hear their voices.”
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And during a series of prayers at the end of the service, the attendees asked God to make reparation “for sin that judges victims and excuses offenders.”
Every bishop in Louisiana has promised to release a list of clerics who served in his diocese and who was credibly accused of abuse. More than 100 clerics have been named thus far, and the Diocese of Lafayette and the Diocese of Lake Charles still have not released their lists of those who were accused.
Duca has said releasing the list of accused abusers has been a major first step for the Diocese of Baton Rouge, and he said the release was freeing. But he cautioned attendees Friday night that the release of the list was simply an early step in a long journey.
The second time Charles Bishop served as an altar boy at St. Pius X in Baton Rouge, he started to cry.
“Give us the resolve to restructure our church in truth and integrity,” Duca prayed. “So that the sound of weeping may be heard in it no more.”