Bishop releases respect life message

We must always bring ‘life to light’

I have said it before and I say it again. There is one thing we all have in common, my brothers and sisters. Regardless of our race or place of natural origin; regardless of our religion or absence of it; regardless of our age or status or station in life: God gave us the gift of life which our mothers carried until the day of our birth. We were allowed to live!

Every human being who has ever walked the face of this earth shares that one thing in common. And from the moment of our conception until the day of our natural death, we celebrate with gratitude our God-given right to life. Nothing is more fundamental and more precious than that one basic human right.

We must remain conscious of and vigilant about this basic human right, we must remain committed to that basic human right in the face of those who seek to deny that basic human right to the most vulnerable in our society: the unborn child in the womb.

There are those --- our fellow human beings who themselves possess and enjoy that basic human right thanks to the God who gave them life, thanks to their mothers who decided that they should have it --- there are those, our fellow human beings who seek with everything in their power to deny that basic human right to life to children in the womb because the Supreme Court of the United States made it possible through their infamous decision “Roe v. Wade” 46 years ago, the beginning of a “national nightmare” that continues to this present day.

Nightmares, however --- although terrifying --- are not real. “Roe v. Wade” is very real. Since its pronouncement in 1973, over 53 million legal abortions have occurred in the United States --- that is, over 53 million human lives! For our perspective, that number is larger than the population of any state in our country. “Roe v. Wade” was and ever remains a one of the darkest days in the history of our nation. And other nations were quick to follow.

Thomas Jefferson said it well: “The care of human life and happiness, and not their destruction, is the first and only object of good government (“Address to the Republicans of Washington County, Maryland,” March 31, 1809).”

The basic human right to life is not simply a religious right as some often suggest, no. It is a basic human right without which no other human rights can be, no other human rights can exist, no other human rights can prevail no matter how clever or deceptive we may disguise our opposition.

We who are religious, however, we who are people of faith, who believe in God who created us, embrace that basic human right to life in the deepest parts of our very being first, as humans, and right behind that, as Catholics and people of faith.

Our Holy Father Pope Francis, as his predecessors before him, has spoken clearly:


Human life is sacred and inviolable. Every civil right is based on the recognition of the first, fundamental right, the right to life, which is not subject to any condition, of a qualitative, economic and certainly not of an ideological nature (Pope Francis, “Address to the Italian Movement for Life,” April 11, 2014).


It is “necessary,” he continued,

… to reaffirm our solid opposition to any direct offense against life, especially when innocent and defenseless, and the unborn child in its mother's womb is the quintessence of innocence. Let us remember the words of Vatican Council II: 'Therefore from the moment of its conception life must be guarded with the greatest care while abortion and infanticide are unspeakable crimes.’


Less than a month ago, Christians everywhere celebrated the birth of the Lord Jesus Christ, long anticipated in the writings of the prophets of old. We believe that Christ was/is the plan of God for us and so he entered and assumed our humanity! And he did so to save us from our sins, to save us from ourselves and the human judgments and decisions we make --- human judgments and decisions against human life, human judgments and decisions against Christ, human judgments and decisions for death.

Jesus’ own words, “I have come that you may have life (John 10:10),” Jesus’ own reason for being, must become our own as his followers. They are the banner we carry as we “March for Life;” they are the banner we will lift high in this Diocese, in Washington, DC, and throughout the world this January.

“Our Savior Jesus Christ has destroyed death and brought life to light through the Gospel (2 Timothy 1:10).” We must continue to bring “life to light” in every choice we make, every decision we uphold, every right we claim and affirm as human beings not only on January 18 or January 22, but every day!

Light pierces darkness; death gives way to life. Christ’s light is love. And love saves lives.

There will always be those who mock or denigrate us; those who ridicule or seek to dismiss us as “culture warriors” though warriors against a culture we may be: a “culture of death;” those who try to shame us as “anti-woman” in the name of so-called “reproductive rights” or “rights over their own bodies.” Much more is at stake than their opposition.

As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I call upon all parishes and all the faithful to join thousands of our Catholic sisters and brothers throughout the country to pray for the respect of human life during the “9 Days for Life” sponsored again by the United States Conference of Bishops, January 14 through 22, 2019 (www.9daysforlife.com).

It is in Jesus’ name that we pray as we prepare to go on our “March for Life,” that we pray for the most vulnerable at the beginning of human life “unique from day one” and for the legal protection of the unborn. We cannot surrender to the “culture of death” in our nation, not for one day more.

The Pope Video For January

The Pope Prayer Intentions This Month

Let us pray that young people, especially in Latin America, follow the example of Mary and respond to the call of the Lord to communicate the joy of the Gospel to the world.

Pope Francis – January 2019

You young people have, in the Virgin Mary, a reason for joy and a source of inspiration.
Take advantage of the World Youth Day in Panama to contemplate Christ together with Mary. We will pray the Rosary together for peace, each of us in our own language.
And ask for strength to dream and to work for peace.
Let us pray that young people, especially in Latin America, follow the example of Mary and respond to the call of the Lord to communicate the joy of the Gospel to the world.

National Vocation Awareness Week

National Vocation Awareness Week is November 4-10, 2018

What is National Vocation Awareness Week?

It is an annual week-long celebration of the Catholic Church in the United States dedicated to promote vocations to the priesthood, diaconate and consecrated life through prayer and education, and to renew our prayers and support for those who are considering one of these particular vocations.  NVAW began in 1976 when the U. S. bishops designated the 28th Sunday of the year for NVAW.  In 1997, this celebration was moved to coincide with the Feast of the Baptism of the Lord, which falls on January 13 in 2013.  Beginning in 2014, NVAW was moved to the first full week of November.


A Pray for Vocations

Loving God, you call all who believe in you

to grow perfect in love by following in the footsteps
of Christ your Son.

Call from among us more men and women
who will serve you as religious.
By their way of life, may they provide a convincing sign
of your Kingdom for the Church and the whole world.
We ask this in Jesus' name. Amen.

Gracious and loving God, help the
men and women of our parish to hear the
call to serve in the Diocese of Trenton.
Our needs are great and our people
thirst for your presence.

Open the hearts of many, raise up
faithful servants of the Gospel, dedicated,
holy priests, sisters, brothers and deacons,
who will spend themselves for your people and their needs.

Bless those who are serving now
with courage and perseverance.
Grant that many will be inspired by their
example and faith.

We ask this through Christ our Lord.
Amen.

2018 Parish Unity Mass

Dear: Parish Family,

I am so grateful for the wonderful day God gave us to celebrate our united family. One Church. One Faith.

I want to thank all of you from the bottom of my heart for the overwhelming response to our call for unity.

Your presence at the Mass and the breakfast made the event powerful and beautiful!
Special thanks go to the Co-Chairs of the Unity Mass Committee- Tom Gaffey and Muriel Smith, who worked tirelessly with me on every detail for the Mass. I want to also thank the St. Vincent de Paul societies, the Knights of Columbus, the Parish Council, the Parish Office staff especially Kevin Conroy, the combined voices of our Choirs, Msgr. Sam Sirianni, Father Quinlan, Father Martin and Deacons Ray and Robert for their support, prayers and guidance throughout the planning and implementation of our first outdoor Unity Mass.

I am also thankful for the support and friendship of Bernie and Kathleen Sweeney at the Shore Casino for the excellent breakfast they provided.

This marks the beginning of many more Masses together as one parish. The bulletin this week if full of the wonderful pictures from this event which has made history in our parish life.


God Bless You All!

Fr. Fernando Lopez
Pastor of OLPH-Saint Agnes Parish

A Message from Bishop O'Connell

A Message from Bishop O'Connell about the call to investigate sexual abuse claims

September 7, 2018

by Bishop David M. O'Connell, C.M.

On this past Thursday, the Attorney General of New Jersey, Gurbir Grewal, announced that he will establish a task force to investigate allegations of sexual abuse of minors by clergy in the five Dioceses of the State of New Jersey as well as any indications of cover-up by their bishops and leaders in the Catholic Church. 

His decision follows on the heels of the release of a Pennsylvania Grand Jury Report investigating similar claims there over a seventy-year period and the revelations earlier this summer by the Archdioceses of New York and Newark of credible and substantiated allegations of such abuse by former Cardinal Theodore McCarrick of a minor and several adult seminarians.  All of these reported allegations are indefensible, revolting and horrific.  They have done irreparable harm to their victims, their families and to the Church.  Clergy and faithful alike have rightfully reacted with anger, outrage, disgust and disillusionment.  It has profoundly shaken their faith and devastated the credibility of the Church’s leadership.  

As a bishop, I hang my head in shame knowing that even my deepest apology is inadequate.  Still, I offer it again. 
  
A Church — any organization or agency, community or occupation, religious or otherwise, even a family for that matter — where innocent children and vulnerable adults are not protected or provided a safe environment has lost its way.  The crucifixion of Christ continues in their suffering.  Our faith assures us there must be a resurrection ... and that resurrection will occur through our renewed and dedicated work to ensure that all children and vulnerable adults are safe in our Churches, our ministries, our schools, our communities, our families. 

It is my hope and prayer that an objective, honest and independent investigation will confirm what I wholeheartedly believe to be true …. that all allegations received by the Diocese of Trenton have been turned over to the prosecutors in accordance with our commitment made to them in 2002 along with the other dioceses in the state. Even so, we need to prepare ourselves for the possibility that accounts from the past – despite being handled correctly and responsibly – may be reported and will be difficult to hear.  It will be a trying process, but one that is necessary when the stakes – the well-being and safety of those entrusted to our care – are so high.  As Bishop of the Diocese of Trenton, I pledge my full cooperation and attention in every way necessary with the Attorney General and his task force.  It will not change the past, nothing will.  Hopefully, it will help us shape a future free of the sexual abuse of minors and vulnerable adults. 

I would also like to share a report from the New Jersey Catholic Conference outlining both our efforts to prevent this abuse and our responses to allegations: 

  
NEW JERSEY CATHOLIC CONFERENCE STATEMENT 
  
The Catholic Church in New Jersey has committed substantial resources to prevent any abuse of any child at any time by any person.  Each diocese has comprehensive policies in place both to respond to complaints and to prevent the sexual abuse of minors.  These safety policies and practices are regularly verified by an external audit of each diocese.  

  
PREVENTION OF ABUSE

  • Safe Environment:  All New Jersey dioceses have fully implemented comprehensive “safe environment” education programs and have together, over the past fifteen years, trained more than 2.3 million adults, children, employees, clergy and volunteers.  Prior to his anticipated ministry, every priest seeking to minister in every diocese must present a letter of suitability from his bishop/religious superior testifying that he has never been accused of sexual abuse of a minor or vulnerable adult.

  • Background Checks:  The dioceses conduct background evaluations for all diocesan and parish personnel who have regular contact with minors.  Over the past fifteen years, some 380,000 criminal background checks have been completed. 


RESPONSE TO ALLEGATIONS OF ABUSE

  • Prompt reporting to Civil Authorities:  All of the New Jersey Catholic dioceses have entered into a Memorandum of Understanding with the Attorney General and the County Prosecutors to facilitate the immediate intervention of law enforcement whenever there is any allegation that a minor is being sexually abused.  The dioceses also promptly report all past allegations of abuse to public authorities, whether the person bringing the complaint is now an adult, no matter how long ago the abuse is alleged to have occurred, and whether or not the accused is living or deceased.  

  • Zero Tolerance/Permanent Removal from Ministry:  When sexual abuse of a minor by a priest, deacon, employee, or volunteer is established, diocesan policies provide that the offending priest, deacon, employee, or volunteer is to be permanently removed from ministry, employment, or volunteer service and that any such offending clergy may not be transferred to another diocese. 

  • Therapeutic and Pastoral Response:Each diocese has a Victim Assistance Coordinator, who facilitates the provision of counseling and other professional assistance to help those who have been abused.  In addition, all victims have the opportunity to meet with the bishop in order to facilitate healing. 

Settlement of Claims:  Claims of victims involving priests, deacons or others where the abuse has been established, are settled by all New Jersey dioceses.  Altogether, the dioceses have paid out almost $50 million in settlements to victims.  It should be noted that the “confidentiality agreements” reported by the media are never mandated or required by a diocese as part of a settlement.  They are agreements made with victims and their attorneys to protect the privacy of victims. 

We regret that in decades past, some in the Church failed in their responsibility to protect children.  However, today, no institution, public or private, has done more to prevent abuse than the Catholic Church in New Jersey. We will remain vigilant to ensure a safe environment for every child we serve. 
 

An Excellent Video from Bishop Robert Barron

Why Remain Catholic? (With So Much Scandal)

From Bishop Robert Barron, Youtube Channel. 

Friends, in light of the recent scandals, I know many people are wondering whether they should remain in the Catholic Church. And I totally get that; the outrage is warranted. But in this time of crisis, I beg you not to flee, but to fight--not violently, with the weapons of the world, but with the weapons of the Spirit. We need you.

Pope Francis: Letter to the People of God

Pope Francis: Letter to the People of God (full text)

Pope Francis has responded to new reports of clerical sexual abuse and the ecclesial cover-up of abuse. In an impassioned letter addressed to the whole People of God, he calls on the Church to be close to victims in solidarity, and to join in acts of prayer and fasting in penance for such "atrocities".


Letter of His Holiness Pope Francis
To the People of God
 

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it” (1 Cor 12:26).  These words of Saint Paul forcefully echo in my heart as I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.  Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.  Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient.  Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.  The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.

1.      If one member suffers…


In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years. Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims.  We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away. The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.  But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.  The Lord heard that cry and once again showed us on which side he stands.  Mary’s song is not mistaken and continues quietly to echo throughout history.  For the Lord remembers the promise he made to our fathers: “he has scattered the proud in their conceit; he has cast down the mighty from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent away empty” (Lk 1:51-53).  We feel shame when we realize that our style of life has denied, and continues to deny, the words we recite.

With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives.  We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.  I make my own the words of the then Cardinal Ratzinger when, during the Way of the Cross composed for Good Friday 2005, he identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]!  How much pride, how much self-complacency!  Christ’s betrayal by his disciples, their unworthy reception of his body and blood, is certainly the greatest suffering endured by the Redeemer; it pierces his heart.  We can only call to him from the depths of our hearts: Kyrie eleison – Lord, save us! (cf. Mt 8:25)” (Ninth Station).

2.   … all suffer together with it


The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way.  While it is important and necessary on every journey of conversion to acknowledge the truth of what has happened, in itself this is not enough.  Today we are challenged as the People of God to take on the pain of our brothers and sisters wounded in their flesh and in their spirit.  If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history.  And this in an environment where conflicts, tensions and above all the victims of every type of abuse can encounter an outstretched hand to protect them and rescue them from their pain (cf. Evangelii Gaudium, 228).  Such solidarity demands that we in turn condemn whatever endangers the integrity of any person.  A solidarity that summons us to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption.  The latter is “a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness.  Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness, for ‘even Satan disguises himself as an angel of light’ (2 Cor 11:14)” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 165).  Saint Paul’s exhortation to suffer with those who suffer is the best antidote against all our attempts to repeat the words of Cain: “Am I my brother's keeper?” (Gen 4:9).

I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable.  We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.

Together with those efforts, every one of the baptized should feel involved in the ecclesial and social change that we so greatly need.  This change calls for a personal and communal conversion that makes us see things as the Lord does.  For as Saint John Paul II liked to say: “If we have truly started out anew from the contemplation of Christ, we must learn to see him especially in the faces of those with whom he wished to be identified” (Novo Millennio Ineunte, 49).  To see things as the Lord does, to be where the Lord wants us to be, to experience a conversion of heart in his presence.  To do so, prayer and penance will help.  I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command.[1]  This can awaken our conscience and arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says “never again” to every form of abuse.

It is impossible to think of a conversion of our activity as a Church that does not include the active participation of all the members of God’s People.  Indeed, whenever we have tried to replace, or silence, or ignore, or reduce the People of God to small elites, we end up creating communities, projects, theological approaches, spiritualities and structures without roots, without memory, without faces, without bodies and ultimately, without lives.[2]  This is clearly seen in a peculiar way of understanding the Church’s authority, one common in many communities where sexual abuse and the abuse of power and conscience have occurred.  Such is the case with clericalism, an approach that “not only nullifies the character of Christians, but also tends to diminish and undervalue the baptismal grace that the Holy Spirit has placed in the heart of our people”.[3]   Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.  To say “no” to abuse is to say an emphatic “no” to all forms of clericalism.

It is always helpful to remember that “in salvation history, the Lord saved one people.  We are never completely ourselves unless we belong to a people.  That is why no one is saved alone, as an isolated individual.  Rather, God draws us to himself, taking into account the complex fabric of interpersonal relationships present in the human community.  God wanted to enter into the life and history of a people” (Gaudete et Exsultate, 6).  Consequently, the only way that we have to respond to this evil that has darkened so many lives is to experience it as a task regarding all of us as the People of God.  This awareness of being part of a people and a shared history will enable us to acknowledge our past sins and mistakes with a penitential openness that can allow us to be renewed from within.  Without the active participation of all the Church’s members, everything being done to uproot the culture of abuse in our communities will not be successful in generating the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.  The penitential dimension of fasting and prayer will help us as God’s People to come before the Lord and our wounded brothers and sisters as sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion.  In this way, we will come up with actions that can generate resources attuned to the Gospel.  For “whenever we make the effort to return to the source and to recover the original freshness of the Gospel, new avenues arise, new paths of creativity open up, with different forms of expression, more eloquent signs and words with new meaning for today’s world” (Evangelii Gaudium, 11).

It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.  Let us beg forgiveness for our own sins and the sins of others.   An awareness of sin helps us to acknowledge the errors, the crimes and the wounds caused in the past and allows us, in the present, to be more open and committed along a journey of renewed conversion.

Likewise, penance and prayer will help us to open our eyes and our hearts to other people’s sufferings and to overcome the thirst for power and possessions that are so often the root of those evils.  May fasting and prayer open our ears to the hushed pain felt by children, young people and the disabled.  A fasting that can make us hunger and thirst for justice and impel us to walk in the truth, supporting all the judicial measures that may be necessary.  A fasting that shakes us up and leads us to be committed in truth and charity with all men and women of good will, and with society in general, to combatting all forms of the abuse of power, sexual abuse and the abuse of conscience.

In this way, we can show clearly our calling to be “a sign and instrument of communion with God and of the unity of the entire human race” (Lumen Gentium, 1).

“If one member suffers, all suffer together with it”, said Saint Paul.  By an attitude of prayer and penance, we will become attuned as individuals and as a community to this exhortation, so that we may grow in the gift of compassion, in justice, prevention and reparation.  Mary chose to stand at the foot of her Son’s cross.  She did so unhesitatingly, standing firmly by Jesus’ side.  In this way, she reveals the way she lived her entire life.  When we experience the desolation caused by these ecclesial wounds, we will do well, with Mary, “to insist more upon prayer”, seeking to grow all the more in love and fidelity to the Church (SAINT IGNATIUS OF LOYOLA, Spiritual Exercises, 319).  She, the first of the disciples, teaches all of us as disciples how we are to halt before the sufferings of the innocent, without excuses or cowardice.  To look to Mary is to discover the model of a true follower of Christ.

May the Holy Spirit grant us the grace of conversion and the interior anointing needed to express before these crimes of abuse our compunction and our resolve courageously to combat them.

                                                                        FRANCIS

 

[1] “But this kind [of demon] does not come out except by prayer and fasting” (Mt 17:21).

[2] Cf. Letter to the Pilgrim People of God in Chile (31 May 2018).

[3] Letter to Cardinal Marc Ouellet, President of the Pontifical Commission for Latin America (19 March 2016).