SPRINGFIELD — The Most Rev. Mitchell T. Rozanski has apologized to and seeks forgiveness from Western Massachusetts Catholics pained by the clergy sex abuse scandal, church closings and any disconnect from their local parishes.
In an open pastoral letter titled "The Wideness of God's Mercy," the bishop for the Roman Catholic Diocese of Springfield also called upon diocesan priests to get out among parishioners and work to make them a vital part of their churches.
Rozanski issued the letter on Ash Wednesday, the start of Lent, which he says is a time of mercy and evangelization. The epistle also coincides with the Jubilee Year of Mercy, which was declared by Pope Francis in December and lasts through the end of the liturgical year on Nov. 20.
In the letter, the bishop called for clergy and lay people to continue the healing for the church's "past sins and offenses."
"There are many people hurting in our catholic community from the pain caused by our past failings as a diocese, as well as the grievous actions of some who ministered in our church," he writes. "The reality of this pain is that it still echoes many years later, as was given witness in our recent diocesan survey."
The 3,000 survey responses received — many with written comments — set the tone for the letter, Rozanski said in an interview from the diocese's chancery in Springfield.
"The survey is the linchpin for all our parishes to make a pastoral response," he said.
Rozanski cited some of the remarks in the letter as evidence that many in the diocese are hurting, especially the victims and families of clergy sexual abuse.
"There is no question that the damage to the church that these scandalous actions caused will take a long time to overcome," one person wrote.
Rozanski's letter also acknowledges the closing of churches — several in Berkshire County — in recent years caused some to distance themselves from their faith or leave it altogether. However, the bishop believes the consolidation of financial and ministerial resources into remaining parishes is rejuvenating the diocese.
"Having visited so many parishes already, including many impacted by pastoral planning, I can assure you there is much new growth taking place within our community," he wrote.
The Rev. Christopher Malatesta, pastor of St. Agnes Catholic Community in Dalton, welcomed the poignant letter, calling it humbling and contrite.
"The bishop reminded all of us, no one is perfect," he said.
Malatesta also appreciated Rozanski's call for clergy to reach out directly those Catholics disenfranchised by the scandal, closings or the perceived lack of communication between priests and parishioners.
In order to change that perception, parish priests need to heed the bishop's message of making their churches all inclusive, according to Monsignor Michael Shershanovich, pastor of St. Joseph's Catholic Church in Pittsfield.
"The bishop reminds us that we are all in this church together," Shershanovich said. "It's not just Father So and So's church or parish, its our church."
Rozanski also practiced what he preaches, visiting as many parishes as possible throughout the year, a pastoral approach he developed during his 20 years as a parish priest.
"The template I bring to my ministry is as a parish priest and parish priests should be among the people," he said.
Despite the decline of churchgoers in the diocese, in part due to a declining population, Rozanski pointed out in the interview weekly church attendance isn't the barometer for pastoral success.
"Measuring success by numbers, no, measuring by faithfulness, yes," he said.
Faithfulness that still includes observing the Sabbath.
"We've gotten into Sunday being a catch-up day with shopping and sports — remember, Sunday is God's day," Rozanski said.