Editor’s note: Bishop Cunningham celebrated Ash Wednesday Mass at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception Feb. 14, 2018, the day the diocese’s Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program was announced. The following is the prepared text of the homily he delivered at that Mass.
With familiar words and quiet gestures, the Church beckons us once more to enter the Holy Season of Lent -— a period of time we know well that invites us to reflection on our relationship with the Lord, reconciliation where needed, and a humble recognition and gracious acceptance of God’s mercy. Thank you for being here today as together we begin this journey of life and faith.
In his message for Lent this year, Pope Francis reminds us that each year God in His providence offers us this season as a “sacramental sign of our conversion” (Lenten Message, 2018). Lent summons us and enables us to come back to the Lord wholeheartedly in every aspect of our life.
The good news about this day is that on some level all of us understand our need to be better people. Each knows internally that this is the time to make some positive changes in our lives. The ashes that we receive are a sign of penance, biblical in origin, which express our human condition as affected by sin. In this sign, we outwardly express our guilt before God and we are prompted by the hope that the Lord is kind and compassionate, patient and abounding in mercy, and express our desire for inward conversion.
To assist us on our Lenten journey the Church places before us the age-old practices of prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. These three traditional Lenten practices are meant to prepare not only our minds and hearts, but also our bodies to celebrate Easter in a better fashion. Embracing these traditional Lenten practices, I invite all in the diocese to live this season as a time of hope and healing.
With that in mind, I announced this morning an initiative which continues our efforts to bring a measure of healing and hope to some who have been affected by the sins of some of my brothers in the priesthood here in the Diocese of Syracuse. After appropriate consultation and prayerful consideration, I have established an Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program to assist victims of clergy sexual abuse in their journey to wholeness and peace.
While the diocese has always assisted such victims with counseling and spiritual direction, some victims have asked for a further sign of the Church’s concern for them. I am hopeful this initiative will assist in the healing process.
The total cost of the program will be paid from the Diocese of Syracuse self-insurance general liability program. The diocese will not use any money given by the people of the diocese to support parishes or schools, the annual HOPE Appeal, the Foundation of the Roman Catholic Diocese, the Cathedral Restoration Fund, Catholic Charities, or any other charitable fund in the diocese.
I hope you will join me in praying and fasting for healing for those affected by this sin. I am asking each parish in our diocese and every priest to celebrate a Mass during the Lenten season for victims of abuse, asking God’s forgiveness for past sins of sexual abuse and the opening of a door of healing and hope for victims. Pray too that this terrible scourge will be removed not only from the Church but from all society.
In our second reading today, St. Paul reminds us that we are ambassadors for Christ, as if God were appealing through us. May I ask you to be an ambassador for Christ and, by prayer, fasting, and good works, lead others, especially those most hurting, to reconciliation and peace for “. . . now is a very acceptable time, now is the day of salvation” (2Cor 6:2).