‘Abuse of power’ at root of crisis

WESTON—Bishop Frank J. Caggiano delivered a somber message about the abuse of power within the Church at the Mass of Hope, Healing and Reconciliation at St. Francis of Assisi Church held on Sunday in Weston.

“There is one thing at the root of all the sins suffered by our brothers and sisters at the hands of the priests and bishops—they are victims of power that was misused. What should have been self-sacrifice was twisted into the abuse of innocence for decades,” said the bishop at the annual Mass.

“Their exercise of power was not lived in the mind of Christ,” said the bishop who added that true power is only found in accepting the Cross.

“Following the Cross is the exercise of life-giving power… It’s not about the desire for privilege or honor. True power is only exercised when life is given over in love. Too many people have forgotten and forsaken that lesson.”

“We pray for the reform and purification of the Church and that we may find a way forward in this crisis,” the bishop said in his welcome to the survivors, family members and all those who attended the afternoon liturgy.

Members of the survivors planning committee performed the readings, led the Prayers of the Faithful and spoke briefly after Mass. In spite of their suffering and the current crisis, they said they were hopeful and also grateful for the leadership of Bishop Caggiano.

The bishop began his homily by reflecting on last week’s gathering of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) in Baltimore.

He said that the 280 bishops in the room in Baltimore were speechless when they were told the accountability steps approved by the action committee had been put on hold by the Vatican.

“I know how much that moment has re-wounded many and also caused confusion in many,” he said.

The bishop said stunned silence following the announcement left the bishops “staring at each other in the face,” and it brought him to a realization as he searched for grace in the unexpected moment.

Photos by Amy Mortensen

“There is no policy, commission or structure that can guarantee that people with power will use it in the mind of Christ if there is not a conversion of the heart one person at a time,” the bishop said.

“You can pass a proposal but that’s not a fix. It’s a starting point. Such healing needs to be reconciled with the Cross,” he said, turning his back to the congregation and facing the crucifix over the altar. “We must kneel  before the Cross of Christ and allow him to strip away all pretenses.”

The bishop called for healing and reconciliation for survivors and all those who are broken and  “hurt by betrayal, disappointment, failure, poverty, injustice, discrimination and simply forgotten.”

“We come here to allow Christ’s love to touch our brokenness. We are all called to bring healing, by allowing to Christ’s love to get into the cracks of our broken heart first so we can help others.”

“This journey will continue throughout our lives. We must work to become messengers of hope in a broken world,” the bishop said, adding that his friendship with victims and survivors has been a very great gift to him.

Bishop Caggiano concelebrated the Mass with Father Jim McDevitt, a member of the survivors group;  Father Jeff Couture, pastor of St. Francis Parish and Father Michael Boccaccio, director of Pontifical Mission Societies. Deacon John DiTaranto, a member of the diocesan Safe Environments team, served as master of ceremonies.

The Mass was offered in memory of Joseph Cann, Jr., and John Dwyer. The beautiful music was provided by Don Rickenback and the musicians of St. Francis Parish.

“The Church has had much bad news lately,” said Peter Philipp, a member of the survivors group in his welcome, but I’m looking ahead to what we can do to rebuild this Church of ours,” he said.

Philipp said that members of the survivors group have worked to protect children and to reach out to others who have been abused but who have not yet come forward.

Joseph Cann, a member of the survivors group, delivered a powerful post-Communion reflection. As he choked away his sorrow, he remembered his son Joseph Jr., who passed away in June 2016 of an accidental overdose. His son’s death occurred shortly after the diocesan review board found that the priest who abused him was credibly accused.

“My son is not a survivor. Members of my family are. He suffered in silence for 16 years and came forward in September 2015,” Mr. Cann said,  noting that his son, who always reached out to help others, agreed to go to rehab on the night before he died.

“I’m not here to point a finger at the Church. My family and I remain faithful,” said Mr. Cann who is in the diocesan deacon formation program. “We’ve been tested but we remain faithful.”

Mr. Cann urged the Church and all those present to “stay close” to the victims of abuse and work to be their advocates.

Peggy Fry, one of the leaders of the survivors group, thanked members of the diocesan Safe Environments team and others who have worked to bring healing and reconciliation.

“As survivors we had challenges in dealing with the diocese of the past. It’s a blessing to have the diocese we have now and to have Bishop Frank who does the right thing regardless of the cost.  We are grateful for that,” she said.

(For information concerning the survivors group and Victim Assistance, please contact Erin Neil by email at: or phone at: 203-650-3265.)