The Archdiocese of Milwaukee filed its plan for reorganization last week, a major step forward in the process of ending the archdiocese’s Chapter 11 bankruptcy. The plan is submitted to the judge for consideration. The archdiocese has been in bankruptcy for more than three years and we need to move forward for the sake of all the parties involved.

The plan for reorganization addresses how we, as an archdiocese, will meet our obligations to the abuse survivors by providing therapy and some monetary compensation for those with eligible claims, while continuing to provide means for the necessary educational, spiritual and charitable needs of the community of faithful, fulfilling the mission of the Gospel.

What has placed us in this position is the “sin” of a few clergy who violated their priesthood in abusing minors. Nothing can ever repair the damage to these abused victims and, as archbishop, I express my apology and profound sorrow this abuse ever happened.

I have offered my apology before and will continue to express my sorrow until the day I die. Certainly these individuals committed crimes and violated the law. However, I want to emphasize “sin” because it is “sin” which we as a church must confront.

In truth, there is no such thing as a private sin. Sin always affects the community. It destroys our dignity and dignity due others.

So, although we have filed a plan for reorganization, we must also consider a “spiritual plan” for ourselves as a community.

Throughout salvation history, the Israelites at times broke their covenantal relationship with God. When Moses went to the mountain to receive the Ten Commandments the Israelites grew tired and created the golden calf, worshipping a false god. Every time the community broke the covenant, there was a need to acknowledge the sin and do communal penance.

Even though many persons never participated in the rejection of the covenant and personally sinned, they accepted the penance as their identification with the community in order to restore the proper and rightful relationship with God. The chief ritual that was used was the offering of sacrifice often times a lamb. 

During the Lenten season, the archdiocese offers a Mass of Atonement. We instituted this yearly Mass to bring our communal sense of shame and hurt created by sin to the altar of sacrifice.

At this Mass we offer prayers for healing. As a community we acknowledge the hurt and shame brought to our community by this sin of clergy sexual abuse and we realize it is only God who can bring about healing and restore our relationship.

At the Mass for Atonement, we as a community offer “sacrifice.” We acknowledge the “sin” and our helplessness before God. The only perfect sacrifice that can be rendered before God is that of his Son, the Lamb of God, whose life was freely given for the forgiveness of sin and the destruction of death.

Some may ask why the Mass? Simply because the Eucharist is “the source and summit of all Christian life.” The other sacraments and indeed all ecclesiastical ministries and works of the apostolate, are bound up with the Eucharist and are oriented toward it. For in the blessed Eucharist is contained the whole spiritual good of the church, namely Christ himself, our Pasch. (CCC 1324)   

We have also instituted a “safe environment week” in our Catholic parishes and schools. Through the Safe Environment Office established by the archdiocese, Safe Environment policies, procedures, training and education are a year-round emphasis. The office promotes and educates in the area of sexual abuse of minors in order to foster prevention.

But, during Safe Environment Week, our focus is more acute in raising the awareness of these important and necessary initiatives. The office prepares prayers for Sunday Masses to be used with the prayers of the faithful, holding in our prayers those who have suffered from abuse. Children participate in a poster contest emphasizing their faith and reflecting on the necessity of awareness of the signs of abuse. Bulletin articles are provided in order to educate those in the pews of their personal responsibility in the area of awareness and prevention.

Of course, nothing can be personally more powerful than the development of a spiritual life with the frequent use of the sacrament of reconciliation. All of the recent popes have declared that if true evangelization occurs, it will be through the sacraments of the Eucharist and reconciliation.

All the new apologeticists and apologists have declared that in order to be a fully formed and informed Catholic, one needs to frequent the sacraments of Eucharist and reconciliation. These sacraments are a constant reminder of our responsibility before God, a moral responsibility forgotten and ignored by those who abused minors.

As we move forward in the bankruptcy, the church will use the spiritual tools necessary to eradicate sin and create awareness of our responsibility toward our brothers and sisters.

The “spiritual plan” is prayer, penance, education and formation holding ourselves responsible for our actions before God and our brothers and sisters.