March 21, 2023 at 8:00 a.m.

We’ll leave the light on

Whatever may be the progress and outcome of Chapter 11, we will be here for all who seek comfort


Bishop Edward B. Scharfenberger 

Since 1986, Tom Bodett has been spokesman for the Motel 6 chain, ending their familiar commercials with the phrase, “… we’ll leave the light on for you.” After our filing for Chapter 11 reorganization last Wednesday in the Northern District United States Bankruptcy Court, I thought it appropriate to signal that not only are we not going away, but that our mission to provide hope and healing — a safe place and refuge for all who seek consolation and support on their spiritual journey — remains firm and committed. 

Having accompanied many survivors over the years, not only those who have suffered sexual abuse from clergy misconduct but so many others who have experienced sexual, emotional and physical abuse in domestic, work and various institutional settings, I have learned that accompaniment and, hopefully, restoration involves much more than financial and other solely material remedies. While I am very happy to say that we have been able to assist some survivors, who had access to the provisions of the CVA (Child Victims Act), through settlements, there are so many others whom we have not been able to reach, due to the limits of our monetary resources and the legal process itself. 


We had hoped to find a way to assist all survivors without the expense of time and resources in the Chapter 11 process. We are the fifth diocese in New York State to seek this remedy. It is, however, only a small part of our mission and plan to assist all survivors and victims of abuse. Our Hope and Healing Ministry is ongoing as it has been and will continue to be. Whatever may be the progress and outcome of Chapter 11, we will be here for all who seek comfort and assistance in our communities of faith and prayer, and especially the sacramental life of the Church (https://www.rcda.org/hopeandhealing).


I do not expect that everyone who seeks accompaniment or assistance will feel open to what we offer, let alone comfortable. Yet this is what we are commanded to do, as we read in the gospels. The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10:25-37) has stood out for centuries as a model for Christian service. Many hospitals bear that name. Recall in that narrative how the man who had been beaten by robbers and left to languish at the side of the road, is ignored by the priest and the Levite, the community officials. Only the Samaritan takes pity on him and looks after him. He does not give a thought as to whether the robbers were Jews or Samaritans or from some other group. He does not ask the man for his credentials or whether he had insurance. If we seek to follow the gospels, then our first concern will always be how can we help, no matter who may have injured a person or how they came to that fate.


People tend to avoid areas that have a reputation for being dangerous or unsafe. In many cities, particularly large ones, there is at least one section of town commonly referred to as the “red light” district. Every Catholic church has a red light near the sanctuary area that signifies the presence of the Blessed Sacrament, typically placed next to the tabernacle. It is sad and disgraceful that the red light burning in our churches should have become for some a signal of fear and danger because someone representing the church abused them in some way. I know many survivors who simply cannot even enter a church without experiencing great anxiety and even revulsion, particularly at the glimpse of a roman collar or some other recognizable ecclesial vestiture. Such a sighting might trigger horrific memories which traumatized the survivor.


I also know that it can be comforting to know, at least for some, that there is a place, a space, where good people of faith come together, to pray to a God who is loving, merciful and kind, and worship the Lord whose entire life was given over to living the life of the Beatitudes, healing the sick and wounded, driving out demons, and finally sacrificing his own life in order that every person might be saved. They also pray to follow Christ’s example themselves. Even if it is not possible to enter into that space at the moment or anytime soon, it offers a glimmer of hope that the door is not closed and that the light is on. Maybe someday …


It is a good thing that survivors of sexual abuse by clergy and others have a chance not only to come forward — and with great courage! — but also that each one has an opportunity to tell their story, to be heard, respected and believed. I hope that this will happen throughout the process that we have entered, but that it does not end there. Whether or not someone has chosen to seek legal options — which, unfortunately, are not accessible to all — or whether he or she begins a canonical process, there are ways in which we can, do and will continue to accompany those who have suffered in so many ways through our prayer, support and the sacramental life of the Church. We will never abandon the victim-survivor, whom we will meet at whatever stage in their journey toward recovery and healing they may be. No matter how wounded, there is always hope, and we will be there.


Parishes will continue to reach out through opportunities for prayer, adoration, reconciliation and counseling. Many of them are conducting round-the-clock services. On April 2, Palm Sunday afternoon, for example, at 4 p.m., I will be celebrating Mass in the Church of St. Edward in Clifton Park, after which will follow several hours of Eucharistic Adoration with opportunities for penance and for receiving the grace of being prayed over personally. This will be a judgment-free zone and all are welcome, no matter how long it may have been since the last confession or the last Mass attended. 


One of the most astounding things about the mercy of God and the healing power of the Lord is the extent to which Jesus Christ reaches out to those who are regarded as sinners, outcasts or in the margins of society. There is no pit, no dark valley, no depth of depression into which we may have descended or been thrown that is too deep, too far or too dark for the light of his love to reach. Not only does Jesus bring his light into our lives, but he promises to make of us lights for the world once we have been touched by it. We see this in the narrative of the Samaritan woman, whose story we heard recently and the man born blind who is given sight and becomes a witness to the world. God is all about making the impossible possible.


Whatever your story may be, it is a story worth being told and whatever healing or blessing you seek, it is the promise of the Lord of all hope to help you find a path to his heart. As long as there is anyone who seeks the way to this divine mercy, our hearts must remain open like his, our doors must not be shut and, yes, we’ll remember to leave the light on.


Follow Bishop Ed on Twitter @AlbBishopEd.


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