This week I gathered with the faithful from the archdiocese at Sacred Heart Parish, Racine, for the Mass of Atonement.

We come together each year to acknowledge the clergy abuse crisis and the impact it has had on the lives of all the faithful. We ask forgiveness for the sins of those who committed heinous crimes against innocent victims.

This, then, is why we gather in fellowship to recall and acknowledge the wrongs and unite in the atonement and reconciliation so that we can continue to rebuild our relationships within God’s family.

Jesus traveled, he walked with crowds, he talked and ate with them – he had fellowship. More than that, he was God who came to earth as man and it was with his blood that he paid the penalty of all of our sins – past, present and future.

Christ cleansed us of our sins by his bodily sacrifice so that we can continue a fellowship with God. It is in Christ that we have an advocate.

It is important for the faith community in the Archdiocese of Milwaukee to not forget what was before us – good or bad or even what we may face in the future. I say faith community because we are never alone.

We walk together and we walk with God. But it is not just a matter of saying one thing and doing another. We need to show God that we walk in the light. By walking in the light, we have a fellowship with God. It is a fellowship that wasn’t just shared at the Mass of Atonement but a fellowship felt within the entire Archdiocese of Milwaukee and beyond.

Fellowship means having something in common. We are all people who have sinned. We carry the sin we inherited from Adam and Eve as well as our personal sins, the sins we committed as kids, teenagers, young adults and as we grow older. We have sinned against our fathers, mothers, brothers, sisters, neighbors. We have sinned against our husbands, wives, friends, enemies.

We gather in communion for the Mass of Atonement to acknowledge that we are a fellowship made up of sinners. We need to recognize that we do not just carry the guilt of our own personal sin, but we carry the sin of our community. It is this stain that has the power to hold us back from the promise of God’s love.

We need to be honest about, come clean with and confess our sin. Only then can we begin to heal and grow in God’s love.

We cannot deny our sinfulness. God wants us to be honest about who we are and who he is in our lives. In order to grow in our faith and have fellowship in God’s family, we must be willing and able to name our sin and then be willing and able to accept God’s forgiveness. We are in constant dependence on him.

We need not despair when we have sinned but we must understand and acknowledge the depth of our sin or we are only deceiving ourselves. When we recognize our own inadequacy and admit we were neglectful and sinful, we can attempt to right our wrongs and ask God for forgiveness.

Only then can we maintain a right relationship with God and a right relationship with one another. In Christ is our hope.

This was the fifth year for the Mass of Atonement. It was obvious we needed to remind ourselves of our primary obligation, which is the spiritual relationship we have to all our actions — especially when it comes to protecting our children.

This year, for the first time, I also issued a proclamation which declared our theme — “Respect” — for Safe Environment Week. It is the lack of respect that becomes the seed of inappropriate actions toward our brothers and sisters. During this week, it is my hope that our parishes and schools reflect on the meaning of respect and how we integrate it into our lives.

It is important for us to understand that the Archdiocese of Milwaukee has taken a number of significant actions in order to correct the mistakes made in the area of child sexual abuse.

We have established an Office for Safe Environment implementation. We require all who work with children to undergo safe environment training. The archdiocesan staff includes a full-time safe environment coordinator and a full-time victim assistance coordinator. We submit ourselves to a yearly outside audit of our Safe Environment Program.

Much of what we have implemented over the years has become part of our everyday experience. Often we take for granted all that has been accomplished. But we must not lose our sense of why we have initiated these efforts.

Errors, crimes and sins were committed in the past that injured the most vulnerable among us. This cannot be tolerated in the community of the church. Therefore, we must maintain our vigilance as a sign of our atonement and trust in the Lord’s mercy.