If one member suffers, all suffer together

In a 2018 letter, Pope Francis addressed the faithful following the difficult news of clerical sexual abuse. He invited the people of God to be close to victims/survivors of sexual abuse and to join in acts of prayer and fasting in penance for such crimes. Citing St. Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, the Pope challenged us to see the reality of suffering and its effects. “If one member suffers, all suffer together (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. Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims/survivors, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.”

This weekend Fr. Marcin Garbacz was sentenced for the additional crime of illicit sexual conduct of a minor. As your spiritual father, so new to the Diocese and its recent history, I grieve with all of you who are impacted by Fr. Marcin and his personal decisions. There can be so much pain for those who knew and trusted him, including his brother priests who have been faithful in their service to the Church. I am thankful that the investigation of this theft led officials to uncover the details of the abuse of a youth in his care. We continue to pray for healing for all those he harmed because of his actions and for his own conversion. We condemn all forms of sexual exploitation and abuse. There is no place in the church for those who would harm the young or the vulnerable.

I want the faithful to know that I am here to answer your questions and encourage you to contact me or your pastors to talk and receive any healing the Lord wants to provide through this situation. The Diocese is committed to being transparent, vigilant in doing what is in our control to prevent abuse of all forms, and to working with pastors to create parishes that are stronger and healthier. As your spiritual father, know of my commitment to healthy and holy priests and parishes that can flourish and fulfill their God-given mission to help people receive the healing love of Jesus Christ. We know the effects of this go beyond the faithful in the pew to those who already look with suspicion on the Catholic Church. We cannot change that, but we can offer up our acts of prayer and fasting so that the Church can be a source of healing here in West River South Dakota and throughout the world.

As Pope Francis encouraged in his letter, so I encourage you: “I invite the entire holy faithful People of God to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting, following the Lord’s command. 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. 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 the Holy Spirit already at work in our hearts bring us to a deeper communion, to a stronger faith, and to a more intense love for the vulnerable in our midst.

+Bishop Peter M. Muhich

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