In a Mass of Atonement on Sept. 14, Bishop Robert Gruss offered the Holy Sacrifice of the Mass in atonement for the sins of clergy whose actions allowed children to be harmed. In this Mass, the faithful joined Bishop Gruss in praying for healing of those who have been hurt and a renewal of vigilance and compassion.
During the penitential rite, Bishop Gruss set aside the symbols of his office— his episcopal ring, zucchetto, mitre, crosier and pectoral cross— and lay prostrate before the altar “as a symbolic action recognizing my own sinfulness as a creature of God and the sinfulness of our entire community,” Bishop Gruss said.
This prostration signifies contrition, humility, reverence, and deep anguish for the suffering Body of Christ, and the grief and sorrow of the Church,” he said.
Bishop Gruss wrote in April that during this Mass, he would “lay before God the Father the sorrow of all victims of child abuse and neglect, and in particular the victims of child sexual abuse by clergy.”
“... We as a Church, shamefully and remorsefully acknowledge that there were those clergy and others who abused our children, the most vulnerable entrusted to our care; there was also cover-up and silence, dismissing the cries of those who were suffering, only to magnify their pain; there was ignorance on the part of many and a lack of understanding of the gravity of this sin – all of which inflicted deep wounds on the body of Christ,” Bishop Gruss said in his homily.
“As a wounded and broken Church, as wounded and broken members of the Body of Christ, we are invited to gaze upon the cross of Jesus Christ – that place healing and mercy and love. In doing so, we will clearly see the wounds of Jesus. These wounds of Jesus are a rendezvous place where God and man meet, a place where hope and healing become our new reality,” he said.
Full Video of Mass
Bishop Gruss’ homily is copied below.
The Diocese of Saginaw, working with a review board, will issue a revised Policy for the Protection of Children, Young People and Vulnerable Adults in the near future. This policy describes safe environment requirements and expands protective measures for adults unable to protect themselves from abuse, neglect, or exploitation because of mental or physical impairment or because of advanced age.
Bishop Gruss’ homily message
Good evening everyone, and welcome. My heartfelt welcome to those present here as well as to those who have joined us via livestream. Thank you for joining us for this Mass of Atonement. It is of the utmost importance that we are here for this Mass.
As we gather for this Mass, we do so as a sign of repentance, making reparation for the sins of priests and bishops who have abused their power and authority, allowing children to be harmed. We lift up in prayer in a special way all victims – children, young people and adults – who have suffered any abuse at the hands of priests and bishops and any other church personnel. This has been and is a tragic period in the life and history of the Church — many would say the greatest scandal in the history of the American Catholic Church.
We join in support of the survivors, family members and communities that have spoken or unspoken stories of survival and pain. Let us remember all those who suffer from the wounds of abuse, praying for peace, healing and justice.
In this Mass of Atonement this evening, we as a Church, shamefully and remorsefully acknowledge that there were those clergy and others who abused our children, the most vulnerable entrusted to our care; there was also cover-up and silence, dismissing the cries of those who were suffering, only to magnify their pain; there was ignorance on the part of many and a lack of understanding of the gravity of this sin – all of which inflicted deep wounds on the body of Christ.
I want to express my deepest sorrow to those who have been victims of abuse by members of the clergy. Please accept my sincere apology for the pain and suffering you have had to endure as a result of your own experiences. I am deeply saddened by it all and I apologize to you on behalf of the Church.
Yes, much has been done in changing this culture in the Church, and protecting our children. But we also know that the evil of abuse continues in our society. We must accept our personal and a collective responsibility, remaining vigilant, continually seeking ways to bring into light those sins and crimes against our children and others.
As you saw, as bishop and shepherd of our local Church in the Diocese of Saginaw, I set aside the symbols of my office (my episcopal ring, miter and crosier, my zucchetto) and prostrated before the cross and altar as a symbolic action recognizing my own sinfulness as a creature before God and the sinfulness of our entire community. This prostration signifies contrition, humility, reverence, and deep anguish for the suffering Body of Christ, and the grief and sorrow of the Church.
Atonement for our sins can only come through a posture of humility – a posture that cries out for God’s mercy – seeking healing of the wounds that have been created by our sins, especially those of clergy sexual abuse. We entrust ourselves to the only One who can accomplish true healing - that is, Jesus – the One who was made sin for us so that we could be saved and reconciled through Him. We cry out, “Be merciful O Lord, for we have sinned.”
Today, we also celebrate the Feast of the Exaltation of the Cross. The Church gives us the opportunity to reflect upon how Christ has chosen freely, to enter completely into the deprivation of humanity.
St. Paul speaks of this in the beautiful hymn to the Philippians describing for us what Christ has freely chosen – “he emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, coming in human likeness; and found human in appearance, he humbled himself, becoming obedient to death, even death on a cross. Because of this, God greatly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name…”
But when we look upon the cross, things aren’t always what they seem to be. Are they? When we look at the cross of Jesus Christ, is it just a depiction of suffering and death? Of course not! The cross by itself is not holy. It is a terrible instrument of torture, humiliation, and death. When we look upon “the Son of Man lifted up,” while the world sees only defeat and death, you and I, as people of faith, see our God at work. Only God could make the cross of Jesus Christ a means of healing and eternal life.
In this most humiliating event, God offers each of us a new way of life… a new way of living… a new way of responding to all of life’s difficulties and pain. Yes, there was much suffering endured upon that cross. But God’s glory was equally displayed through the victory the cross has won for us… that God has so loved the world that He reached down all the way into the depths of humanity, not to judge us, but to rescue us, triumphing over sin and death and reconciling the whole world to himself.
As a wounded and broken Church, as wounded and broken members of the Body of Christ, we are invited to gaze upon the cross of Jesus Christ – that place healing and mercy and love. In doing so, we will clearly see the wounds of Jesus. These wounds of Jesus are a rendezvous place where God and man meet, a place where hope and healing become our new reality; a place where we are loved forever despite our sinfulness, despite our brokenness.
Rather than a sign of weakness, it is there where we find new life! In other words, Jesus’ wounds are a place of receptivity for us. St. Faustina wrote in her diary that Jesus told her these words, “When it seems to you that your suffering exceeds your strength, contemplate my wounds.”
Sister Maria of the Crucified Love, a German Carmelite mystic, was given this revelation: “Where will you turn to, when in the coming time, the difficulties grow still greater? My Sacred wounds will be your surest refuge. Nowhere are you better protected.”
This place of union with Jesus is where we place our hurts, our pain, our sufferings, our sins, our disappointments, etc. We place them into the wounds of Jesus. We push them into the side of Christ so that our wounds are meeting his wounds. By placing/pushing our small wounds into the great, open wounds of Jesus, we find healing. The wounds of Christ are filled with his divine mercy. “By his wounds, we are healed.”
The Church was born out of the wounds of Jesus. It will also be healed out of his wounds as well. As we see in his post-resurrection appearances, Jesus Christ does not appear to his disciples without his wounds. We are invited to enter into those wounds so that all of us may experience the power of his love, “the source of life gushed forth from the Heart of Jesus as a fount of mercy for us.”
But Christ also sends us into the world to enter into the wounds of others, wherever we find ourselves and to whomever Christ sends us. Like Jesus, we can never be afraid to enter into the wounds of others – in order to bring love there, Christ’s love, the merciful love which Christ alone can give. This is how Christ heals his Church.
Friends, in conclusion, no single statement or event like this Mass can ever make up for the painful abuse of our most vulnerable brothers and sisters. But as people of faith, we know that through Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection, we can find hope beyond measure as we move toward a brighter future.
It is clear that we are a different Church today because of those who have and continue to courageously share their stories, so that the sins and crimes which damaged the Body of Christ could be addressed. But we also mourn those who have been abused and have been driven from the Church because of what has happened to them. We continue to pray for their healing and return.
As we turn to gaze upon the Cross of Jesus, we also turn to our Sorrowful Mother, who sustains and loves us when we are overcome by the distressing trials of life. Mary stood and gazed upon her Son on the cross. She experienced that pain and suffering as only a mother can. Whenever Mary loves us, she gives us Jesus. We ask her today, in a special way, to bring her love to us – to give us Jesus.
Just as she held the broken body of her son, we ask her to hold the broken Body of Christ, the Church. We entrust to her maternal love and mercy, all victims of sexual abuse by clergy and others. We entrust to her maternal love and mercy all those who have committed these heinous crimes.
The grace that strengthened Mary at the cross is the grace for which we must pray for every day, trusting in divine providence. We trust that God is not abandoning us – that He is ever present to his Church in this difficult time.
But we also live in faith and hope that Jesus, as we surrender ourselves to him, keeping our gaze upon this “crucified One” as did Mary, will lead us to a new place where the Gospel can be preached and lived with faithfulness and love, thus bearing new life in the world.
Prayer for Healing Victims of Abuse
God of endless love, ever caring, ever strong, always present, always just: You gave your only Son to save us by his blood on the cross. Gentle Jesus, shepherd of peace, join to your own suffering the pain of all who have been hurt in body, mind, and spirit by those who betrayed the trust placed in them. Hear the cries of our brothers and sisters who have been gravely harmed, and the cries of those who love them. Soothe their restless hearts with hope, steady their shaken spirits with faith. Grant them justice for their cause, enlightened by your truth. Holy Spirit, comforter of hearts, heal your people’s wounds and transform brokenness into wholeness. Grant us the courage and wisdom, humility and grace, to act with justice. Breathe wisdom into our prayers and labors. Grant that all harmed by abuse may find peace in justice. We ask this through Christ, our Lord. Amen.