Priests from around the Diocese of Buffalo came together to attend their annual three-day convocation at Christ the King Seminary June 4-6. This year's session included a presentation from a representative of the Movement to Restore Trust, an independent group formed by concerned Catholics that is now working with Bishop Richard J. Malone in implementing organizational changes to prevent further abuse.
The sexual abuse crisis, and the diocesan response to it, was on the mind of priests, as there was a recognized need to improve and provide better support for those affected. On Wednesday, June 5, John Hurley, president of Canisius College and member of the Movement to Restore Trust, spoke to the assembled priests on the issue, and the need for laity to be given a stronger voice in the diocese, building a structure that allows for co-responsibility.
There needs to be a transformational cultural change. There is a need for the institutional church to have a (partnership) with the laity.
Hurley outlined nine foundational themes developed by the Movement to Restore Trust to the assembled priests.
Msgr. Robert Zapfel, pastor of St. Leo the Great in Amherst, thought the presentation by the Movement to Restore Trust was helpful because it gave priests information and invitation to participate in the work needed at parishes.
"The trust that needs to be restored is both a trust between lay people and the diocese in general, but also restored among the people of the diocese, the leadership and the priests," he said. "It's a time to be reaffirmed in the truths of our faith, but it's also a time to look beyond the crisis to see where we want to be. We have the promise of the Lord to be with the Church always, that the grace of His spirit enables the Church to continue to move on. The Church goes on, but it's never the same. It moves through the crisis having learned, guided by the spirit, grown and purified, but we'll go on. That's the basis for our hope."
Bishop Malone told the priests that he's in support of the Movement to Restore Trust, and feels the Holy Spirit guides the partnership.
The three day convocation was filled with some presentations, but also breakout sessions between the priests for further dialogue, as well as prayer and Mass. Following the breakouts, various priests offered ideas on how they can improve their ministry during this crisis, including listening sessions in each vicariate, building a more forgiving environment, boosting parish councils, better communication and bringing in new voices.
When asked how he dealt with a year filled with painful stories of abuse, Father Zapfel said he was recently encouraged and reaffirmed while hearing confessions.
"It's a mix of emotions, feeling hurt, angry, embarrassed and sorrow for what other brother priests have done, especially to innocent children," Father Zapfel said. "(In the confessional), I had the overwhelming sense that I am doing now what my other brother priests are doing: We're listening to the sins of others, we're bringing God's forgiveness and peace, we're celebrating Mass everyday, we're visiting the sick, we're renewing the Church. That's what gets me through. I'm united with my wonderful brother priests, who are holy and growing in holiness, who seek the Lord in their lives and trying to make Christ real and present in others.
The convocation concluded with a Jubilation Mass and banquet at the seminary.