If you’ve ever felt unwelcome at Church because of your gender, race, or sexual orientation, a Massachusetts bishop has a message for you: I’m sorry.
Bishop Mitchell T. Rozanski of Springfield used the occasion of Ash Wednesday to mark Pope Francis’ Jubilee of Mercy by apologizing to and seeking reconciliation with Catholics in Western Massachusetts.
Rozanski, sent from Baltimore to lead the 217,000-member diocese in 2014, said that ongoing fallout from the clergy sexual abuse scandal, shuttered and merged churches, and less than welcoming parishes have caused a rupture between the Church and some of the faithful.
He says he is seeking forgiveness.
“There are many people hurting in our Catholic community from the pain caused by our past failings as a diocese, as well as the grievous actions of some who ministered in our church,” he wrote in a pastoral letter on evangelization. “The reality of this pain is that it still echoes many years later, as was given witness in our recent diocesan survey.”
Through that survey, completed by 3,000 local Catholics, Rozanski said he learned that some Catholics don’t feel welcome in churches and thus stop participating in the faith.
“Still there are others who have distanced themselves because they feel unwelcomed. The reasons here can vary, but key among them are race and cultural differences, a sense of gender inequality as well as sexual orientation,” he wrote. “Others have been treated unkindly, impatiently, or rudely by clergy, religious, ministers, and staff of parishes — all which is unacceptable.”
“I ask your forgiveness,” he continued.
He said parishes “must be inviting and energetic environments, founded both in our traditions but also the reality of everyday life,” and urged local Catholics to “to evangelize those who were once, but are no longer with us.”
“We need you, we need your presence, your gifts and your talents. We need you to complete our community, to enrich it, to make it better and more effective,” he wrote.
He quoted one of the people who took part in the diocesan survey, who wrote, “The gay community feels that they aren’t welcome. They don’t want to espouse another religion; therefore, they don’t attend church at all. Hopefully, a special outreach could be done to them.”
Rozanski said that revitalizing the diocese through evangelization would be a “daunting task,” but urged Catholics “to walk beyond our parish boundaries, without fear, to demonstrate the faith we celebrate in liturgy takes form in the reality of the world around us.”
Rozanski opened the letter by asking several questions about love and forgiveness, urging Catholics to look to Pope Francis as an example of how to love like God, who “looks beyond our faults and failings and loves us just as we are.”
Pope Francis launched the Jubilee of Mercy in December, opening a special holy year during which Catholics are encouraged to go to confession and walk through designated holy doors in churches in order to have their sins forgiven. The pope has made mercy and forgiveness the hallmarks of his papacy.
“Do you believe in a God who loves you?” Rozanski asked. “Do you believe in a God who forgives? Are you able to offer forgiveness to those who have hurt you? Are you able to ask forgiveness from them?”