Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger sent the following letter on Friday afternoon to members of the clergy (vicars, priests, deacons) as well as Parish Life Directors and Parish Life Coordinators.
My dear brothers in Christ,
First of all, I want you to know that I stand by you and with you as we face together what will be a long and challenging crisis of faith, leadership and identity. Who we are and who God and our people need and expect us to be must be one and the same. I know you are hurting. Among our family of faith, many are angry and dismayed at revelations of ongoing duplicity and unchastity among priests and bishops. They want swift justice for the victims of sexual abuse by clergy and accountability for those who perpetrated and enabled it for so long.
Most of our people, however, are also remarkably compassionate and forgiving. While they understand the need for justice and transparency, they also love Jesus and his Church and will not abandon us, if they can only have the assurance we will shepherd them, hear their voice and share their journey of faith.
We must now pledge ourselves, our love, our support and our whole lives, to our people – God’s people – as their spiritual fathers and as the shepherds we were called to be on the day of our ordination. The Holy Spirit, as always, unites us around the abiding presence of Jesus, through the Immaculate Heart of Mary, to stand with us like pillars at each end of this barque of Peter as we navigate troubled waters. We rely on this same Holy Spirit today to rekindle in us the fire of God’s love and the seven gifts we received at our Confirmation.
Over the past five Sundays we have read, prayed and preached on Chapter 6 of the Gospel of St. John, containing the Bread of Life discourse. Jesus offers us himself as the living bread come down from heaven, his body broken and his blood outpoured on the Cross for the salvation of the world. On September 22, on the occasion of our Hearts Aflame Eucharistic Congress, clergy, religious and laity of the Diocese will convene at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville, united with their Bishop, to rejoice in the Eucharist, the source and summit of the Christian life. I write to ask you to be present there, with me.
Corruption of the holiness of the priesthood is essentially an attack on the Eucharist, on Jesus himself, who is the Sacrament of the Encounter with God. Our priestly ordination calls and commissions us from among God’s people to lead valiantly, standing boldly and courageously with them at the foot of the Cross. When we are weakened and demeaned by the ravages of sin, we betray our people’s trust and God’s commission. The “Signs of the Times” now demand a renewal of our commitment that is united, bold and compelling. Our people deserve nothing less.
Following the example of Jesus, we stand now before our people, in fact, the world, humbled and called to an uncompromising holiness, poured out like a libation in love for all, especially the most wounded and vulnerable. This is what we pledged at our ordination, this is what our people expect from us and this is what they need us to be. I firmly believe it is what God have given us the grace and courage to be. As men of honor we must live by our word.
Yes, we are humbled, humiliated by our own sins and those of our brothers and spiritual fathers, often imputed to us as well for reasons we are reminded of every day. Jesus himself, though without sin, suffered the scourge and consequences of all our sins. Led like a lamb to the slaughter, he did not complain. Dare we?
We are called to holiness, no less than all the baptized, but more publicly through the daily sacramental ordination of our lives, which embraces our every thought, word and deed. The Church is holy in its witness to the whole truth of the love it is called to proclaim. So also our preaching, teaching and personal conduct must be one, and beyond compromise or reproach. Sound doctrine and moral praxis, as handed down through the magisterium, must inform us, lived each moment in authentic love. We encounter Christ in each and every relationship with our brothers and sisters, our spiritual sons and daughters, made in God’s image and likeness, and we must honor them as we honor Christ. There can be no hidden corners. Our commitment to the Truth and our moral integrity, by the grace of God in the sacramental life of the Church, must be as real as the presence among us of the Lord whose name we proclaim.
As a libation, our lives must be open and poured out sacrificially, even heroically, towards Jesus our Lord who lives in all whom we encounter. The hands that offer up the pure and unblemished body, blood, soul and divinity of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, must not be soiled by sinful indulgences, the misappropriation of temporal goods or the abuse of any power to despoil the freedom or the innocence of every person God’s providence sends our way.
As a public witness, to God’s people and the world, of our wholehearted and undivided commitment in the priesthood to which we were called and ordained, I request and require your presence at the Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs in Auriesville to concelebrate Mass with me at 10:30 Saturday morning in the Coliseum.
May I ask that you arrive in sufficient time to vest and assemble, bringing your own alb, white stole and chasuble. At Mass we will renew the promises we made at our ordination along with a public restatement of commitment to all that we have been ordained to preach, teach and live by.
I want to reiterate that the presence of each and every member of the presbyterate is essential and mandatory, so I ask you to make this sacrifice, notwithstanding any difficulties foreseen in accommodating for Masses or weddings previously scheduled, for which our deacons and non-diocesan clergy will stand ready to assist you.
As human beings, and men who really want to serve our Lord and our people as good and holy priests, even while faced with our own brokenness and, in some cases, unjust oppression and even victimhood at the hands of others, the onslaught of these repelling revelations threatens at moments to overwhelm us. We wonder whether we will be able to bear even the burdens of the good days.
We may be confident that God will use our pain and suffering to bring about much good, perhaps a great renewal of our Church and a new energy to our own faith life. Our diocese is consecrated to the Divine Mercy and the Immaculate Heart of Mary. We will not be deprived of any grace we need – if we put our lives 100 percent on the table before the Lord and accept the transforming power of his love.
It has been an honor and a privilege to serve alongside you in the Lord’s vineyard these past four years. I look forward to many fruitful years ahead. And I am confident that this witness of solidarity and support to our faithful and to one another will open the doors of heaven for an outpouring of all the blessings we will need for the journey ahead. We may even be incredibly surprised by what our Lord can do miraculously if we let him. There are precedents.
With fraternal love and deep gratitude,
+Edward B. Scharfenberger
Bishop of Albany