The special Service of Lament on Sunday was a positive, public step toward healing from decades of sexual abuse by priests within the Catholic Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph.
It follows long-needed efforts by the Vatican last year to crack down on bishops who cover up for priests who molest children.
Under that pressure, Bishop Robert W. Finn finally resigned as leader of the diocese in April 2015. That action was too long in coming; it was three years after he was convicted of failing to report suspected child abuse by a priest, Shawn Ratigan.
Ratigan, who has been removed from the priesthood, pleaded guilty in 2013 to federal charges of producing and attempting to produce child pornography and was sentenced to 50 years in prison.
In addition to the civil cases involving Ratigan, the Kansas City-St. Joseph diocese has settled multimillion-dollar legal cases, involving many sexual abuse victims and their families.
Pope Francis in 2015 named Bishop James V. Johnston Jr. as Finn’s replacement.
Johnston, who led the service at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception downtown, announced to priests and others from nearly 100 parishes in the diocese during the packed service that he was there to “confess, apologize and repent for the sins of those who held a sacred trust in the church and who betrayed that trust.”
The service was a remarkable gesture, considering the long, ugly history of cover-up of child sexual abuse by priests throughout the Catholic Church. The vile acts ruined the lives of many individuals and their families and seriously damaged the trust that people had in the church.
Johnston announced positive steps toward healing being taken in connection with the church’s Office of Child and Youth Protection. They included:
▪ Form a multidiscipline team to review diocesan policies and make improvements.
▪ Develop a training program to better help victims and survivors tell their stories.
▪ Declare an annual day of prayer for the protection of children, beginning April 26, 2017.
Those are steps in the right direction. But the church has to show beyond any doubt that it now has a zero tolerance policy of any sexual abuse or innuendo by priests or other persons in the church.
Statements from victims and survivors that were read Sunday must serve as unforgettable reminders of the pain that individuals and families have suffered and how everything must be done to prevent such abuse from happening again.
Children have to feel safe and sheltered, especially in a house of worship.