"In her voyage across the ocean of this world, the Church is like a great ship being pounded by the waves of life's different stresses. Our duty is not to abandon ship, but to keep her on her course."
These words of St. Boniface, eighth-century bishop and martyr of Mainz, came to mind after one of the several news conferences in which I participated in recent weeks. The focus of those media events was, of course, our most recent efforts to address past clergy sexual abuse in our diocese. After answering many questions, I ran out of time. Our communications director called an end to the discussion. One or two reporters pressed me with more questions. I told them that I was sorry, but that I had four other scheduled meetings to attend that day on other important matters. Even in difficult times, the mission of the Church must go on.
Please don't misunderstand me. The outreach to and healing of victims is a priority for us now. It will be for some time. The Independent Reconciliation and Compensation Program for victims is underway. Moreover, we will continue to respond to new complaints and offer counseling and other assistance as we have always done in a sensitive, pastoral manner. But the everyday work of the Church goes on. It is my sacred task as bishop, together with all of you, to see that it does.
While the vast majority of priests who have served and now serve in our diocese are innocent of the kind of scandalous and destructive acts that have caused such pain to victims, the horrific behavior of priest perpetrators harms not only victims and their loved ones, but the entire community of faith. Catholics have every right to trust the priests who serve them. When that trust is violated, the whole Church suffers. Believe me when I tell you that we bishops and priests are feeling as betrayed and angry as you are. We also bear a kind of communal shame that our priestly witness has been marred by the evil actions of some of our brothers - men we, too, trusted.
But the work of the Church must go on, and it does, thanks to the good clergy, religious and lay faithful who constitute the 600,000 member Catholic family that is the Diocese of Buffalo. In our parishes, schools and colleges, the people of God are gathering for worship, handing on the faith, and reaching out in service. Hundreds of young people are receiving the Sacrament of Confirmation each week. Our Safe Environment training is being continually strengthened and updated as we train more and more people to be watchful eyes for children in our community. Catholic Charities and our other human service ministries are daily responding to people with various needs. Catholic Health is serving the sick. Four new priests will be ordained in a few weeks.
I can truthfully say that it is not easy for me to go about my normal activities as bishop with the storm of hurt, anger and disappointment that swirls around us. I am so grateful for the outpouring of prayer and support that I am receiving daily from laity, clergy and religious. It makes a difference. My priests tell me the same. But it's a tough time for us all, first and foremost for the victims.
Someone asked me last week why I am even able to smile these days. My best response is to echo the words of the 16th century bishop St. Francis de Sales:
"If I were not a bishop, yet knew what I know, I would not want to be one. But being one, not only am I obliged to do what this annoying office requires, but I must do it joyfully, and I must take delight in it and accept it."
And that is why I can smile, even in a time of tears. Please keep praying.