Forgiveness, strength in 'The Passion' essential to deal with crisis, says bishop

Forgiveness and strength, as demonstrated by Jesus and Mary in Mel Gibson’s film, “The Passion of the Christ”, are necessary in order to face the sexual-abuse crisis that hit the U.S. Church, said Bishop Samuel J. Aquila in a letter to the faithful of the Diocese of Fargo.

The letter was issued Feb. 27, which the bishop designated a day of prayer for the healing of the victims of sexual abuse. That same day, the John Jay College of Criminal Justice issued its national survey on sexual abuse by clergy in the U.S. Church. The results indicated that about four percent of clergy over a 52-year period were accused of sexually abusing about 10,600 minors.

The bishop said forgiveness is essential in order to face and move beyond the sexual-abuse crisis. The forgiveness demonstrated by Jesus in “The Passion” when he utters, “Father, forgive them,” must also be spoken by the faithful and by those who are victims of abuse if healing in the Church is to take place, said the bishop.

“To the victims of sexual misconduct, by clergy or by others, forgiveness is at the heart of the healing process and it is by far the hardest task of all,” he said. “The act must always be condemned, but the person, if there is to be healing, must be forgiven. That is true in every type of hurt experienced by a human being, even one as serious as sexual abuse.” 

The bishop said, in watching the film, he viewed the Passion through the eyes of Mary, adding that he was struck by her strength, her suffering, and her forgiveness. 

“As I prayed this morning for the victims of sexual abuse by clergy I placed them under the mantel of Mary, our Mother, seeking her intercession for them, seeking her forgiveness, seeking her strength for them and her faith, for she, too, can bring healing for them,” he said. He encouraged the faithful, too, to pray for the intercession of Mary in the healing of all victims of sexual abuse.

“I am convinced, as a bishop, that the only one who can bring healing to any victim of sexual abuse … is Jesus Christ and the love of God,” he said. 

The bishop said the Church is called to insure the proper protection, diligence, and reporting of any type of sexual misconduct. But it is also called to respond to the call to holiness and to teach clearly about sin. The Church can no longer tolerate moral laxity, he said.

“Each and every one of us must respond to the call to holiness, to live as Christ lived,” said Bishop Aquila. “That means for us, too, that we must embrace the truth, the meaning and the dignity of human sexuality, which is grounded in the inherent dignity of the human person.” 

The bishop expressed his willingness to meet with victims of sexual abuse and said a victim’s advocate office has been established in the diocese.

“We must continue to reflect upon this subject [of sexual abuse], as unpleasant as it is, for it calls us to conversion, forgiveness and faithfulness to the Gospel of Jesus Christ,” he said. “It calls us to holiness.”

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