Bishop Zubik ready to release pastoral letter

Friday, March 01, 2019 - Updated: 12:10 pm

By Ann Rodgers General Manager

As this issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic went to press, Bishop David Zubik was making the final edits on his pastoral letter, titled “The Church Healing,” responding to concerns about sexual abuse by clergy and other matters in the Diocese of Pittsburgh. His letter will be released by Ash Wednesday, March 6.

Upon publication, the pastoral letter will be posted immediately at www.diopitt.org/churchhealing. It will be published in the March 8 issue of the Pittsburgh Catholic.

Bishop Zubik had promised to write the letter in response to concerns that Catholics and non-Catholics expressed at four public listening sessions in late 2018. It also reflects what he heard at other meetings he held with individuals and small groups, including those representing lay advocacy.

“People raised important questions, not only about abuse, but about accountability, transparency and leadership within the Church of Pittsburgh,” he said. “I want them to know that I heard their concerns, and am responding with actions. Some of those actions have already begun and some will be implemented in the near future. But this letter will also call us to continuing actions, as the Holy Spirit guides us, so that we are always striving to be the church that Jesus calls us to be.”

In the letter, Bishop Zubik will acknowledge the pain and betrayal that the public felt as they read accounts of abuse committed over more than 70 years by Catholic clergy, with summaries of diocesan responses. However, the letter will go beyond issues directly related to sexual abuse, addressing accountability and transparency in church governance — particularly around finances and leadership — ongoing spiritual and human formation for clergy and seminarians, as well as the need for more channels for parishioners to bring their concerns to the bishop. He will create a new lay commission to hold the diocese accountable for fulfilling the promises in his letter.

The letter will first address the need to work toward healing for those wounded by sexual abuse. Bishop Zubik commits the diocese to sponsor support groups, led by trained facilitators and survivors of sexual abuse, to provide confidential, emotional support. The diocese will also sponsor specialized spiritual retreats for abuse survivors.

Longstanding efforts to respond to victims and prevent abuse will be streamlined and strengthened by bringing them together with new initiatives into a new Secretariat for the Protection of Children, Youth and Vulnerable Adults. A secretariat is the highest division of diocesan government, which would ensure that efforts to help victims and prevent further abuse receive top priority.

The bishop will commit the diocese to broader financial transparency. The diocese’s annual audited financial report — published since 1969 in the Pittsburgh Catholic newspaper — will become easier to locate online.

Bishop Zubik will expand the membership of the Diocesan Finance Council to include representatives from all six counties of the diocese. The Diocesan Finance Council is a lay body mandated by canon law that promotes best practices in financial matters. Its members review all financial reports at quarterly meetings. Their consent is also required before the diocese can make unusually large expenditures.

The bishop will also establish an independent third-party reporting system for suspected financial, professional or personal misconduct by anyone representing the church. It will allow church employees, parishioners and others to report concerns without fear of reprisal.

In order to help clergy live healthy, holy lives, the letter will commit the diocese to strengthen existing programs in spiritual and human formation for seminarians and clergy. “Human formation” is the church’s term for supporting personal, emotional and psychological development.

The final promise in the letter is that Bishop Zubik will continue to provide opportunities for parishioners to address him directly about topics of concern. He will commit himself to four listening sessions every spring and every fall, for a total of eight across the four vicariates of the diocese. Each will focus on a particular topic of importance to the church.

“Everyone is welcome to attend these sessions, which will be opportunities for dialogue about important issues in the church. I want to hear directly from the faithful,” the bishop said in an interview as he put the final touches on his letter.

“This letter will be just the beginning,” Bishop Zubik said. “I am grateful to every person who came and spoke at the listening sessions. With their ideas, and with God’s grace and guidance, I believe this will lead to better ways for all of us to fulfill our calling to be the body of Christ.”

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