Prayers and Penance

Nov. 6-12, 2003
Prayers and Penance
By Connie Cissell/ SUN editor
Bishop Moynihan travels to Oswego for healing service for the Northern Region

OSWEGO — In what was a profound evening of quiet and prayer, Bishop James Moynihan addressed approximately 150 people gathered at St. Mary of the Assumption Church on West Seventh Street on the night of Oct. 30. With simple clerical dress and his head bowed in front of the Eucharist during Benediction, it was obvious that the bishop had come first to pray and then to speak. Most of the pastors of the Northern Region were in attendance as was Bishop Thomas Costello and chancellor, Father Michael Minehan.

The region has felt its share of the priest sex abuse scandal which has meant the removal of eight priests from ministry for the Syracuse Diocese. Besides being the area where some of those priests served, the Northern Region has also been coping with restructuring of parishes. The people who came to the healing service did not come to confront or argue or promote dissension or bitterness. It was clear by the end of the prayerful event that they came to pray and to look for peace.

Bishop Moynihan began to address the crowd with a lesson from St. Matthew. “If you are offering your gift at the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go; first to be reconciled with your brother, and then come back and offer your gift,” the bishop said. The bishop said that each day he can’t help but remember his brothers and sisters who have something against him, and so that day he came to bring gifts to the altar and to be reconciled. He said Jesus makes it plain that it is not the person who brings the gifts to the altar who is against his brother or sister, but the other person who has something against that worshiper. “I am very conscious of the fact that the good people of this Northern Region of the diocese have been hurt and their faith sorely tested by sins of priests and bishops,” Bishop Moynihan said. “In the names of those who have sinned, and to those who have been sinned against, I am here this evening to say that I repent in the name of the former for the sins that have been committed against God and against you.”

After the service, a line of people formed inside the church to speak to the bishop before he went downstairs for refreshments. Some people were hugging and some shedding tears after the service. A parishioner of St. Paul’s Church in Oswego said simply, “I think he’s trying. Maybe it’s a start.” John Blasiak travels 15 miles each Sunday to worship at St. Mary’s. He saw the bishop’s presence as a very positive step towards reconciliation. “He’s got a tough job trying to keep everyone together and I think it’s great he came up here to talk to us on behalf of brother priests,” Blasiak said.

Father Eric Harer is pastor of St. Paul’s Church and he said he felt the bishop’s words were the beginning of reconciliation for the hurt and suffering the people of the Northern Region have experienced. “We’ve all been hurt by this,” Father Harer said, adding that priests have been hurt as well. He also praised the efforts of the diocese to make sure each and every child is safe. Sue Sweet was one of the worshippers at St. Mary’s. For her, the sex abuse issue has come full circle. Sweet is one of the Oswegonians who has called for the end of sexual abuse for a number of years. “For me, having been in the center of this is amazing. This is where it all began for me and hearing this aloud is so healing. To hear the bishop talk about pain and accepting responsibility, that was a tremendous healing for me personally,” Sweet said.

After the service, Bishop Moynihan said he felt he had been remiss for not coming to the area sooner. “I think it helps sometimes to say how mad you are,” the bishop said. “I can absorb a little bit of that pain. I don’t mind doing that.”

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