Statement of the Most Reverend Christopher J. Coyne, Bishop of Burlington, responding to scandal and sin in our Church
My brothers and sisters in faith,
Over the last six weeks, new revelations of scandalous and even criminal activity by bishops and priests have deeply angered and shaken all of us. While this fresh moment of crisis calls us firstly to a spirit of prayer, it also demands action: both to work toward justice and healing for victims, and toward a broader commitment to renewal and change in how the Church’s leaders serve you, the People of God.
In that spirit, I wish to inform you about several initiatives that I have recently begun to undertake in the hope of responding adequately to the challenges of these days. These efforts are taking place on a number of levels:
Input from the priests: Starting this afternoon, I will be gathering with the priests who serve in the Diocese of Burlington for our annual Presbyteral Days. Normally, the discussions and presentations are planned months in advance, as they were for this year’s gathering. However, last week I met with the pastors and parish administrators for a regularly scheduled “business day.” While we did deal with all the necessary administrative matters that were on the agenda, the majority of time was spent discussing the recent scandals within the Church that have been made public over the last six weeks. As a result of last Tuesday’s discussion, we decided to set aside this week’s planned program at Presbyteral Days (9/4-9/6) and focus exclusively on how we as a Diocese should respond prayerfully, pastorally, and administratively to the scandals.
Input from the Laity: Following up on this, I will bring the deliberations and initial recommendations from the priests to the synod delegates at this Saturday’s (9/8) Synod Planning Session. As you may be aware, the delegates represent one lay person from every parish or parish cluster in the Diocese (about 75 lay men and women). A number of “at large” lay delegates as well as clergy will also be present. While we will continue the work of preparing for the upcoming Synod, we obviously must address the problems that have come to light in the recent scandals and how we move forward, together, as a Church.
Discussion on a national level: Next Tuesday and Wednesday (9/11-12), I will be in Washington DC for a meeting of the Administrative Board of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB). This will be my last meeting with the administrative board as my term as Chair of the USCCB Communications Committee will end with this year’s USCCB meeting in November. I have received the agenda for next week’s meeting and it is packed, much of it with matters pertaining to the national and international scandals within the Church. While my voice is only one among the 25-30 in the room, please know I plan on bringing to the discussion what I will have received from my clergy and lay people over the course of this week’s meetings.
I have received a number of emails and letters from many of you regarding how best to respond to this crisis. I have kept your recommendations and plan on bringing them to both the Presbyteral Council and the Diocesan Pastoral Council at our next scheduled meetings to evaluate and implement as considered.
I was away this past weekend with my bishops’ support group. There are seven of us in the group (all of us ordained bishops post-2002) and we always set aside Labor Day weekend for our three-day gathering. More than any other time, we felt a real call to prayer and penance in front of the Cross. It was a clear reminder to us that we are called “to serve not to be served.” Relying on the mercy and grace that flows from Our Crucified Lord, Jesus Christ, I commit myself to all of you, doing all that I can to proclaim the “Good News” even when it is difficult to do so. Please pray for me and your priests as I pray for you.