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Bishop Paul Sirba: This Lent has a providential significance for our diocese

“Way up North” in the Diocese of Duluth includes parishes like Our Lady of the Snows in Bigfork, St. Michael’s in Northome, and St. Catherine’s in Squaw Lake. The parish cluster straddles Itasca and Koochiching counties and demands a 100-mile round trip for the pastor, Father Thomas Galarneault, to provide Mass and confessions each weekend. Like other places around the Diocese, the faithful are amazing!

Bishop Paul Sirba
Bishop Paul Sirba
Fiat Voluntas Tua

This Lent, I had the privilege of holding a Prayer Service of Atonement and Healing at St. Catherine’s parish in Squaw Lake. It is the place where the sexual abuse by Father J. Vincent Fitzgerald, OMI, took place many years ago. His actions were criminal and horrific. He betrayed his sacred trust as a religious priest. A young boy was abused there, and this court case (Doe 30) led the Diocese to enter into bankruptcy, so as to compensate the 125 victims of abuse who came forward as fairly as possible.

At the service, like others I have been privileged to pray across the Diocese, I offered my sincere apology to the victims on behalf of the Church, we prayed before Our Lord in the Blessed Sacrament, and we had an open forum and fellowship. Available to the participants were two advocates from the Crisis Response Team from Grand Rapids. I am so grateful they were there.

I asked those present: Who can bring healing, reconciliation, and hope to victims of sexual abuse? Who can bring peace? There is only one Person I know, and that Person is Jesus Christ. It is Jesus who came to heal broken hearts. He will never let us down. His mercy is His love where we are hurting. Jesus is never afraid of approaching us, no matter what shape we are in.

Faithful came forward and spoke about abuse that had happened to them at the hands of a Christian Brother, a policeman, a doctor, and a family member. The wounds of sexual abuse have been caused by priests, teachers, coaches, lawyers, and family members. No profession or relation is exempt. The faithful demanded accountability and transparency and expressed gratitude for the prayer service and our recent efforts to bring healing.

Our Diocese has fought insurance companies these last three and a half years to contribute to a fair settlement for victims. We settled with the last insurance company, Liberty Mutual, on March 7. Now we are in mediation for the contribution of economic and non-economic demands to exit the bankruptcy for which our Diocese will be responsible.

While this process has been purifying and painful, I have hope that we can help victims who have been hurt to heal and that we can educate about and prevent abuse, making our parishes, schools, religious education programs, and youth activities the safest places for our young people to be, and to hold accountable those who have harmed children, including bishops. Out of this terrible tragedy, Jesus brings hope, healing, and peace.

Like other Lents we have entered into, this one has a providential significance for our Diocese. God is ever faithful to His pledges and will guide us into our future purified and renewed.

As we make our final preparations for Easter, I invite your ongoing prayers for a resolution to our bankruptcy. If you have not already done so, go to confession. I invite you to the Chrism Mass, Monday of Holy Week. I encourage your participation in the Sacred Triduum at your parish. Please attend the Holy Thursday Mass of the Lord’s Supper, Good Friday’s liturgy of the Passion of the Lord, and the Easter Vigil. We are welcoming new Catholics into our family this Easter because Jesus Christ is Risen!

Bishop Paul Sirba is the ninth bishop of Duluth.