By Bishop James Conley
The last few weeks have been painful to endure. The report of the Pennsylvania Grand Jury, the revelations about the crimes of Archbishop Theodore McCarrick and, just days ago, new, highly charged allegations about the Church’s leadership all the way to the top levels in the Vatican have left us reeling. These reports have caused all of us pain, anger, shame and grief. It is hard to fathom how such things could happen.
My first feeling in every one of these revelations is deep sadness for the pain and suffering of all those who have been sexually assaulted. What I do in these moments is surrender myself to prayer, at the foot of the Cross with Mary, solely focused on these hurt people.
The suffering and pain, the loss of trust and shattering of faith in those who represent Jesus Christ as priests, and the betrayal by some Church leaders is unimaginable. Priests are called to be spiritual fathers for their people, and bishops are called to be shepherds of their flock, to protect the souls in their care. We know now that some priests and some bishops have failed in their fidelity to Jesus Christ.
We sometimes forget the spiritual roots of evil, and we often forget that our sacrifices — our prayers, our fasting, and our mortifications — can bring the grace of Christ’s suffering on the cross into a situation of evil. But when we offer sacrifices, in union with Christ on the cross, we share, by his grace, in the power of his redemption. Christ makes all things new — and he purifies, transforms, and redeems.
My focus must be here, in the Diocese of Lincoln. As your bishop, I am called to do more than pray and fast. I must take tangible steps to build a culture of purity, integrity, and accountability — a culture that, starting with me, puts the safety and holiness of children and families above any other interest or need.
I have had meetings with the faithful in various parishes, and last week I met with my priests. The focus of all of this is caring for victims and the challenging work it will take to bring about real change.
From the outset I have required new objectivity to make sure all the decisions are right and just. I have relied on advisors from the Archdiocese of Omaha and other lay advisors. I am announcing staff changes.
Specifically, Msgr. Mark Huber will become our new vicar general, Father Steven Snitily will become judicial vicar, and Father Christopher Goodwin will become our vicar for clergy. I have asked these new advisors to challenge our policies and practices, and I know they will do so.
As I have been listening to people in the diocese, as well as experts across the country, about how to properly investigate the issues that have come up, I have learned that we will need the laity to take an active role in this whole process. The consistent response from people in our diocesan community is that laity and priests from this state are the best resource to get to the truth. We are presently in the process of enlisting the assistance of local laity and clergy from our diocese, and the Archdiocese of Omaha, to be part of a task force. This independent group will review these matters, look at how these issues were handled in the past, and help me move forward with the very best practices. I am also cooperating with all ongoing investigations and any requests of law enforcement. All who are involved in any part of this work will be focused on the truth.
This will be a painful time, but know that there will be openness and we will all become stronger and purified by this fire.
I ask for your continued patience and prayers, and please remain open minded and know that I will serve the diocesan community with all my heart. Be assured of my prayers for all of you.