Pastoral Letter of Archbishop Michael Byrnes
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ,
This Easter I am mindful of the many victims of sexual assault and child abuse on our island, and particularly the victims of child sexual abuse perpetrated by members of the Catholic clergy. We see reports of such crimes almost daily in our newspapers; and I know from personal encounters that there are many who continue to suffer in silence and shame.
This is a sobering topic to bring up on a Feast that is usually associated more with lilies, painted eggs, and bunny rabbits. Yet, I think it most appropriate that we acknowledge the darkness, so that we might more readily embrace the light. Sin is a reality, not only in our past but also in our present. The strong taking advantage of the weak is a phenomenon as old as Cain and Abel. It is ugly. It destroys innocence for the sake of selfish desire. And we are all susceptible to one degree or another. Some sins, however, seem unthinkable; but, alas, they are not.
Our Heavenly Father grieves over his children damaged by sin, whether as a victim or a perpetrator. And our Father has taken action. He has sent us his Son to break the power of sin and death. Jesus, by the sacrifice of his life on the Cross and by his Resurrection, opens the way out of the darkness and into the light.
For both sinner and victim, the Resurrection of Jesus demonstrates that the past does not have to define our future. Through the power of his Holy Spirit, he can convict a sinner’s heart and prompt her to repentance. Through the same power he can renew and heal the broken heart of one who has been held captive by a shame that is not of his own doing. But Jesus won’t do this without us. You and I have a responsibility to respond with mercy and charity to the most vulnerable; and to call the sinner to repentance and justice.
I ask you to join with the citizens of Guam in this month dedicated to awareness of sexual assault and child abuse, so that we might bring hope and healing to the victims of such horrible crimes. Of course, I will ask you to pray. But I also ask you to be aware of what is happening in your neighborhoods. Please do not cast a blind eye or a deaf ear to something that you see or hear. Take advantage of the social and legal remedies available to us. And, if you know someone who is suffering silently with the shame of having been abused as a minor by a member of the clergy, please give them the number to the Hope and Healing hotline: 1-888-649-5288.
+Michael Byrnes, D.D.
Coadjutor Archbishop of Agana
April 16, 2016