Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

In celebrating the Diocese of Richmond’s first Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse, Friday, Sept. 14, Bishop Barry C. Knestout apologized to victims of clergy sexually abuse, likening Church leadership to Jesus’ condemnation of the Pharisees.

“Leadership was not listening to the cries of those who had suffered this abuse, who were blind to it, and who were often like Jesus’ own condemnation of the Pharisees as whitewashed sepulchers — clean on the outside, but full of a dead man’s bones within,” he said during his homily at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart.

After proclaiming the Gospel from the pulpit, Bishop Knestout descended, and spoke extemporaneously from the floor of the cathedral. 

“I usually read these homilies, but not tonight,” he said, holding a folded copy of a prepared text in his right hand.

Reparation required, promised 

Bishop Knestout told the more than 300 people in attendance that the Church must confess its sins and express contrition for what it has done and failed to do.

“I am sorry for those who have suffered abuse. I am sorry to your families, who have had to carry that with you,” he said. “I am sorry to this Church of Richmond, the people of God who see the Church torn apart, that we failed so miserably and are shamed before the whole world because we were called to so much more, but we fell short, so far short, of what we should have done.”

The bishop said that if healing is to occur, reparation is required of the Church. Referring to what he stated in his first pastoral letter, “From Tragedy to Hope,” issued earlier that day, Bishop Knestout said he would make public the names of clergy “credibly accused” of abuse because victims “need to see that someone is being held to account for the damage they have done in order for the victims to move forward.”

That list, he said, would be the result of an independent review of clergy personnel files to assure, “We can be held accountable.”   

Bishop Knestout also announced funds were being set aside for an abuse victims’ assistance fund to provide counseling to those who have experienced abuse from clergy.

Prior to the Diocese of Richmond’s Mass of Atonement, Friday, Sept. 14, a participant places a vigil light at the foot of the cross in the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart as a sign of unity with those who have been abused or affected by abuse.(Photo/Michael Mickle)

‘See Christ in victims’

Noting the Church “needs to see Christ” in abuse victims, Bishop Knestout said, “They cry out to God for justice, to be made right, to be repaired. God hears those voices even when leaders in the Church didn’t, and we know of the terrible nature of those sins and the terrible failure of leadership.”

He said all that had been done — and not done — in responding to victims “had to be brought to light.”

“Because it is only in the truth that we can make a passage through that in some kind of repair, some kind of restoration, some kind of renewal,” the bishop said. “In our deepest longing and hope, we seek forgiveness and reconciliation.”Earlier, during the Penitential Rite, Bishop Knestout removed symbols of his office, i.e., miter, crozier, zucchetto and episcopal ring, and prostrated himself in front of the cross. The prostration signified humility, reverence, anguish for the suffering Christ, and the grief and sorrow the Church is experiencing.

Following Communion, exposition of the Blessed Sacrament took place. The cantor and congregation chanted the Litany of Healing, followed by a period of silent prayer, and concluding with chanting of the Chaplet of Divine Mercy. 

‘Pray for those who have been hurt’

Mark Hoggard, a member of St. Pius X, Norfolk, offered multiple reasons for attending the Mass 

“It’s important for the Church to mourn together and for the Church look at the future — where we’re more open and more chaste, and that we have room for forgiveness and healing,” he said.

Beyond the Mass, Hoggard, a member of the board of the National Association for Lay Ministry, which advocates for lay ministry, had other expectations.

“I’m hoping people are able to see the progress we have made as a Church, especially in the U.S.,” he said, noting that NALM is willing to work with bishops in order “to have a system that includes everybody” in addressing the abuse crisis.

For Tom Kane, who has lived in the Richmond area for nearly 29 years, the Mass of Atonement was the first time he had been to Mass at the cathedral.

More than 300 people listen as Bishop Barry C. Knestout delivers his homily. (Photo/Michael Mickle)

“I wasn’t going to miss this Mass. This is a good Mass to be at for the first time,” he said. Kane, a member of St. Michael the Archangel, Glen Allen, said he was there to pray for the victims.

“I love my Church; I love my faith. I don’t understand why we can’t get this behind us,” he said. “We’re not talking about 25-, 30- and 35-year-old priests that are still doing this. These are 70- and 80-year-old people, most of whom are dead. We’re killing ourselves; this is death by a thousand cuts.” 

Patrick Britti and Evelyn Mazloom, sophomores at William & Mary, where classes had been canceled earlier in the week due to potential effects of Hurricane Florence, had learned about the Mass through Catholic Campus Ministry at the university.

“I don’t like the way (the abuse scandal) has reflected on the Church. It’s not what we believe in as Catholics, as Christians,” said Mazloom, a member of St. Anthony Maronite Catholic Church, Glen Allen. “It is beautiful to pray for those who have been hurt by those they should have been able to trust.”

Britti, from Denver, said he was angry about the way the Church was approaching the abuse crisis “especially from Rome. But I appreciate that Knestout is attacking it head on.”

Editor’s note: The Mass of Atonement can be viewed at watch?v=ONfK5glIJZU.

Hope will overcome tragedy, bishop says in first pastoral letter

Brian T. Olszewski, The Catholic Virginian

In his first pastoral letter, titled “From Tragedy to Hope,” Bishop Barry C. Knestout called upon the people of the Diocese of Richmond to have hope in the midst of the abuse scandal that has ensnared the Church.

Issued Friday, Sept. 14, the same day the bishop celebrated a Mass of Atonement for victims of abuse at the Cathedral of the Sacred Heart, the letter instructed the faithful not to “be mastered by” the tragedy of abuse.

“As the People of God, we must atone for the sins that have caused it in order that we can be healed from it. We will do that through hope — hope found in Jesus, hope we receive from his Word and from the Eucharist,” Bishop Knestout wrote. “It is with hope that we — individually and as faith communities — will mend from the damage caused by this tragedy. As we do so, let us embrace the words of St. Paul to the Romans: ‘Rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation, be constant in prayer’” (Rom 12:12).

The bishop expressed regret for “all and any injury” that has occurred, adding, “I also regret that you must bear the burden of the damage done by so many who were called to a higher standard of activity and behavior.”

‘Sign of commitment’

Calling them “a concrete sign of my commitment,” Bishop Knestout listed specific steps that will occur in the Diocese of Richmond.

“Our diocese is committed to making public the names of those priests from our diocese who have received credible allegations of abuse,” Bishop Knestout wrote. “I believe this to be an important step in helping survivors with their healing; it also gives me, as your newly installed bishop, the assurance that no one who has been credibly accused remains in active ministry.”

He said a “full, extensive audit of files by an independent entity, with oversight by the Diocesan Review Board,” will be undertaken and completed as expeditiously as possible. 

That board will also oversee “an abuse victims’ assistance fund for counseling aid to those who have experienced abuse from clergy,” the bishop wrote.

Bishop Knestout reiterated that the diocese would, among other things, continue to require VIRTUS Training of all who worked with children and young adults, reinforce “ongoing, mandatory training for priests and deacons related to the protection of minors and best practices for working with children,” and strengthen the Diocesan Safe Environment Office.  

He also addressed the need for accountability of church leaders.

“Leadership is best practiced in a transparent way which includes accountability,” the bishop wrote. “All clergy must accept the accountability that comes from being called to such a vocation as the care of God’s children.”

‘Reclaim beauty of chastity’

In a section titled “Human Sexuality and the Practice of Chastity,” Bishop Knestout wrote that the Church needed to “preach and teach the beauty of married love, procreation, and family life.”

He continued, “We must have courage to speak about the harmful effects that the widespread effect of contraception and its use has on dating, relationships, and intimacy. We must help people understand that Catholic moral teaching is not an affront to personal freedom but a desire to place the gift of human sexuality and intimacy in the context of life-long relationships.” 

In order to counter a culture that “hides the beauty of chastity,” the bishop wrote, “We must reclaim the beauty of chastity in all of its expressions in every state of life. We can’t let the abhorrent sins of those clergy obscure the beauty of the vocation of celibacy for the Kingdom of God.”

‘Be a force of good’

Bishop Knestout asked all people of the diocese, including himself, “to renew our commitment to live the faith fully, to claim this common priesthood of baptism, which calls us to holiness.”

He continued, “As we find ourselves in a new period in which the teaching authority of the bishops is greatly weakened, we need you, by the witness of your lives, to offer a compelling testimony to the love of Jesus Christ and the ability of our Church and its many ministries to be a force of good in the community.”

The bishop asked the faithful to pray for victims of sexual abuse and for “the spiritual renewal of episcopal leadership,” and to receive the Eucharist and to avail themselves of the sacrament of reconciliation.

“We must take every opportunity to practice acts of charity, to be the visible sign and witness of Christ’s love for our sisters and brothers who are poor, vulnerable and at the peripheries of our communities,” Bishop Knestout wrote. “Only in this way can we rebuild people’s trust in the spiritual and charitable life of the Church.” 

Editor’s note: The complete text of Bishop Knestout’s pastoral letter, “From Tragedy to Hope,” can be found at