From the Bishops Message of Divine Mercy Offers Healing

The Catholic Church celebrates Divine Mercy Sunday on the Second Sunday of Easter, and the message of Jesus Christ’s mercy could not be timelier. Let us begin our reflection by recalling the origins of the Divine Mercy devotion. In the 1930s, Jesus appeared to a consecrated religious nun in Poland named Sister (now Saint) Faustina. Through her diary entries, Saint Faustina left us with a very vivid picture of this apparition, writing that Jesus was clothed in white with two rays coming from His heart, one red and one pale. Christ told her to paint this image and inscribe it with the words, “Jesus, I trust in you.”

Just five small words, “Jesus, I trust in you,” and yet they contain the summation of what it means to be faithful and open to the will of God. As we place our trust in Jesus, it leads us to a closer relationship with Him. These words should also give us peace in times of great unrest and worry: we can always and in all ways place our trust in Jesus Christ, Who loves us unconditionally.

Recently, we have heard much about the horror of child sexual abuse by priests in the Church. Nothing is more devastating or more reviling than the thought, let alone the reality, of sexual abuse. Such abuse is made all the more disturbing due to the fact that, in some cases, it was perpetrated by a priest, a man who is specifically consecrated to model Christ. As a priest, I can tell you that I have also struggled with feelings of betrayal and anger when considering how these men have brought dishonor on the beautiful vocation of the priesthood.

When we read news reports on this difficult topic, we must search for the whole truth, which is often difficult to obtain through the anger and sadness many justly feel. In order to seek the truth in its entirety, it is important to discover the facts about both the past and current responses to child sexual abuse. And while these facts make the crime of child abuse no less evil, they should be addressed within the proper historical contexts. For example, most cases took place decades ago, when the societal understanding of child sexual abuse involved counseling and rehabilitation, with the end goal being a “cure.” It is obvious to us now that abusers must be removed permanently from any contact with children. Further, the handling of these cases within the Church has also dramatically changed, due in large part to Pope Benedict XVI, earlier while he was the Prefect of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and now as our Holy Father. No one person has done more to reorder the processes which deal with delinquent priests and to protect future victims from experiencing such horrendous abuse. As you may remember from his visit to the United States, Pope Benedict is also the first pope to meet with victims of abuse, demonstrating a pastor’s heart. By the grace of God, the Church in the United States seeks to provide healing for victims and to put safeguards in place for all of God’s children.

Yes, there was abuse. And yes, priests and bishops have grown in their understanding of how to handle these cases as have other groups within our society. Recognizing the gravity of these mistakes, in 2002, the Church in the United States dedicated herself to protecting all of God’s children through mandatory training and background checks for all priests, diocesan employees and volunteers. Our employees are informed that the very first thing they should do when presented with a possible case of child abuse is to notify the civil authorities. The Diocese of Arlington also offers counseling services, retreats, opportunities for prayer and support groups to all victims of abuse, be it at the hands of a family member, a member of the Church or a stranger. I invite you to learn more about this outreach at If, by chance, there is a victim of abuse reading this, please know that this abuse was not your fault, and that the Church has resources and programs to help bring you healing and peace. The burden you carry may never disappear completely, but with support, it can become lighter and lighter still.

Let me be clear: one case of child sexual abuse is too much. That this abuse occurred is most lamentably a reality that we cannot change. However, we can be agents for safety, hope and healing today. I personally have had the opportunity to meet with a number of victims of abuse to hear their stories and express my sorrow over their suffering. When I consider this suffering and the healing that we are seeking to accomplish, I again return to Christ’s message to Saint Faustina, “I pour out a whole ocean of graces upon those souls who approach the fount of My mercy.” The image of an ocean seems so appropriate today, as we often feel overwhelmed by, and perhaps drowning in, the pain that accompanies victims throughout their lives. And yet, Christ tells us through Saint Faustina, there is an ocean of graces waiting for those who encounter Him in the sacraments! In our prayers and in our actions today, especially when we or those we know are suffering, we must persevere in our endeavors to protect the precious souls in our care. Yes, we echo the words of Saint Faustina, “Jesus, I trust in you,” because His mercy endures forever and He wills us, in turn, to be the instruments of His mercy to others.

Printed with permission from the Arlington Catholic Herald.

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