Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

Celebrating his first Mass with 27 of the diocese’s seminarians, many accompanied by their parents, Bishop Barry C. Knestout used the occasion to express his gratitude to the latter while assuring them that safeguards are in place at the seminaries they attend.

The Mass at Our Lady of Lourdes, Richmond, Friday, Aug. 17, was celebrated three days after the Pennsylvania grand jury report revealed widespread sexual abuse of minors by priests in six of that state’s dioceses, and nearly two months after revelations of Archbishop Theodore E. McCarrick’s abuse of power related to sexual improprieties with seminarians during the ‘80s and ‘90s. 

Near the end of his homily, Bishop Knestout spoke of the scandal, acknowledging the “failure in both behavior and response, especially among leadership,” while assuring the parents that the seminaries their sons attend are vigilant in protecting them from harassment and abuse.

“I want to assure you parents that your sons who are entrusted to the Church, as they are making their way through formation, the Church is attentive to the problems that have been expressed,” he said. “And (we are) moving in a positive direction regarding transparency, accountability and the call to holiness for each one of us.”

Bishop Knestout expressed confidence in the seminaries at which the men receive formation.

“The seminaries where we send our men have high expectations of students and faculty,” he said, noting that if there are problems, they will be addressed by the people who have the responsibility to do so.

Bishop Knestout said that like the Diocese of Richmond, seminaries have a process in place through which all policies and procedures for reporting abuse and harassment are regularly evaluated.

He said formation at seminaries includes conferences and other presentations that emphasize the importance of virtue in relationships.

“Seminarians are taught how virtue can be integrated into one’s life in a good and fruitful way,” he said.

Seminary conferences address human sexuality, boundaries and appropriate behavior, as well as chastity and celibacy. 

Quoting the end of the first reading (Ez 16:59-63), “For I will re-establish my covenant with you, that you may know that I am the Lord, that you may remember and be ashamed, and never again open your mouth because of your disgrace, when I pardon you for all you have done — oracle of the Lord God,” Bishop Knestout continued, “We long for that, we pray for that, we give thanks for that grace which God gives to us and which comes to us through Christ’s Paschal Mystery.”

Noting that what he shared “had to be shared in terms of the context” of what had occurred in the Church, Bishop Knestout added that those in attendance could not forget “the focus on the joy of this gathering” as they anticipated the start of the academic year.

He continued, “I express to each one of you parents gratitude for your own life of faith, your encouragement to your sons in terms of their service to the Church.”