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Juneau Clergy Issue Pastoral on Strong, Holy Priesthood
Source: Catholic News Service
Published: Sunday, June 20, 2010
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JUNEAU, Alaska (CNS)—To mark the close of the church's Year for Priests, Bishop Edward J. Burns of Juneau and the diocese's nine active priests issued a pastoral letter highlighting the importance of dedicated priests working with one another as well as the Catholic faithful to strengthen the church.

The bishop and priests also apologized for the clergy sex abuse scandal and said they "seek to repair what has been damaged."

Issued June 6, the letter noted some of the challenges priests face today and praised priests who have been strong examples of faith at local parishes and missions along with those who have spoken publicly in defense of Catholic social teaching.

Bishop Burns noted in the introduction that pastorals are usually written just by the bishop but said he wanted to write this one with his brother priests to illustrate the need for them all to work together to strengthen the church.

But that will not happen by their efforts alone, he acknowledged, pledging to work with all Catholics in the diocese, "utilizing the gifts and wisdom of the Holy Spirit in order to focus on the mission of our Lord Jesus Christ through the traditions of our church."

"The priesthood challenges every one of us to grow and change to meet the needs of the people we serve," the pastoral said.

"Celebrating the sacraments gives us the opportunity to enter deeply into people's lives with the light of Christ and the love of God," it said.

A priest is called to follow the example of Christ, as a spiritual father and shepherd, and like a good father, must always put family first and "his own interests last," it said. "A good priest, like a good father, is always ready, if necessary, to suffer and sacrifice on behalf of his people."

The strength of the priesthood comes from living "the fullness of the vows and promises" made at ordination, such as chaste celibacy and "a life lived simply" for God and his people.

Regarding the sex abuse scandal, the pastoral said that "although the great majority of priests have never been involved in such misconduct and regard it with horror, we as a presbyterate are called for pray for forgiveness."

"We are plagued with the continuing reports of scandalous behavior by a few of those who are supposed to be our leaders and mentors," it said. "With you, we, your bishop and priests, experience a deep sense of disillusionment, confusion, mistrust, betrayal, embarrassment and hurt."

The pastoral described the "dark cloud of scandal" as a stumbling block to faith and trust. To best address it, the bishop and the priests pledged to "foster healing, restore confidence, and become a more effective instrument of God's grace and salvation in our age."

They acknowledged that for healing to take place and for the church to grow, church leaders must "apologize sincerely and wholeheartedly to our people for the evil they have suffered, especially to the victims of abuse by priests and to the families of those victims."

They also pledged to continue to ensure the protection of children from such abuse in the future.

In the letter, they offered their "deepest apology to those who have suffered the humiliation and degradation of sexual abuse perpetrated by any priest or other church ministers. We are sorry for the failures of our church leaders, especially its priests, to recognize and acknowledge the lasting harm caused by such abuse."

They also noted that "an apology for the sins and failings of our past is not sufficient to restore justice" which they hoped to begin to do with prayer, continued care for abuse victims in the Juneau Diocese and aggressive efforts to safeguard children.

Bishop Burns and the priests stressed that they would continue to look to God for strength and they urged Catholics in the diocese to do the same.

They noted a decline in Sunday Mass attendance and stressed that "weakened standards of morals thrive in an environment" where Catholics have "given up on" the sacraments of penance and communion.

"Let us renew our Christian commitment to worship God every Sunday, to keep holy the Lord's day, and thereby draw blessings down upon our families, parishes and missions," they wrote.

The pastoral letter expressed hope that "Christ's saving presence" would help the church get through its current challenges just as it aided the church through previous difficulties.

"We pray with confidence that the church in our time will be filled with his saving grace which will strengthen us all," it said.

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