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Baton Rouge Bishop Designate Michael Duca gives the Homily at the lectern during an evening prayer, Thursday, August 23, 2018, at St. George Catholic Church in Baton Rouge, La.

Baton Rouge Bishop Michael Duca said Thursday he hopes the Way of the Cross ceremony he's hosting Friday in reparation for sexual abuse by Catholic clergymen will add a more spiritual aspect to the church's response to the crisis, a dimension he hopes will acknowledge the pain of abuse and lead toward healing.

Duca will pray the Way of the Cross at 7 p.m. Friday at St. Joseph Cathedral, a service that marks Jesus’s walk toward crucifixion. Each of the 14 stations of the cross will include specific prayers about sexual abuse within the Catholic Church and healing for those who have been hurt by it.

“Hopefully, the prayer will be a way for me to become more aware of the sin of the church, more sorrowful, more a need to ask God for forgiveness and love,” Duca said Thursday in an interview with The Advocate. “What it’ll do for the people there — that’s all grace.”

Not long after becoming bishop of Baton Rouge, Duca in late January released a list of 37 clerics who served in Baton Rouge at some point in their careers and who were credibly accused of sexual abuse. The list has since grown to 41. Since releasing the names, Duca said he has spoken to multiple people who have also wanted to share their stories of betrayal and abuse by trusted priests.

Duca said releasing the names has been liberating for the church, but he has been searching for a way to also address the abuse crisis from a spiritual standpoint. He said the prayer service Friday night will be a chance for anyone affected by abuse, inside or outside of the church, to heal as well.

“It’s my hope that this prayer is one of those first steps where we can take our sufferings and join them with Christ and say, 'OK, there is a first step toward healing,'” Duca said. “We have to feel the pain in our hearts so that we’re moved by love.”

In late February, Pope Francis convened a worldwide summit on sexual abuse within the Catholic Church, and called for an all-out battle against sexual abuse.

Still, some abuse survivors’ advocacy groups, particularly those from the United States, said the pope did not go far enough. Bishop Accountability, which for years has tracked the movement of priests accused of abuse, said they hoped the pope would have announced a more forceful zero tolerance policy, accompanied by the tools to enforce it.


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Duca said he expects Pope Francis to announce an international response to the abuse crisis within the next few months. But in the U.S., he said bishops should convene this summer to craft guidelines for their own accountability. Duca said he was happy with the accomplishments from the pope’s sex abuse summit because he expected change to come slowly.

Duca studied canon law in Rome from 1994 to 1996. While other parts of the world are just starting to grapple with Catholic sex abuse, the church in the U.S. has been suffering from the fallout at least since The Boston Globe's 2002 series exposing the extent of the abuse and cover-ups. Duca said the old presumptions — that bishops should handle abuse allegations in secret — are changing and will continue to evolve.

“It’s very hard to make these changes on a world stage; that’s what we’re seeing,” the bishop said. “And slowly, I think we’re now beginning to get a handle on this. And releasing lists is a big step in the process, but it’s just one step of many.”

Bishops from each of the seven Catholic dioceses in Louisiana have pledged to release names of credibly accused priests. The Diocese of Lafayette and the Diocese of Lake Charles are the only two that have yet to do so. More than 100 clerics who served across Louisiana now stand accused of abuse. 

Duca invited all people — Catholics and non-Catholics alike — to the Way of the Cross prayers.

“We can’t forget there is a healing that comes from our faith in Jesus,” he said.

Follow Andrea Gallo on Twitter, @aegallo.​