Bishop Vann explains the importance of praying Psalm 51 during this time of penance of reparation

By Bishop Kevin Vann     8/23/2018

As most of you know, I wrote a letter to you last week on the Feast of the Assumption expressing my sorrow not only for the victims of abuse, but also at the failure of some of my brother bishops. The Body of Christ deserves better.

I also asked our priests here in our diocese to help me spread the word by reading the letter at Mass, along with the prayer of Psalm 51. Some priests offered their own thoughts on the current abuse crisis and I’ve heard from many of the lay faithful that they were happy to hear a conversation beginning. Obviously, more has to happen. What we do, who we are, and how we live has to be congruent with that we say we believe.

At the same time, some people were confused as to why I asked our congregations to pray Psalm 51. After all, the faithful sitting in the pews are not the members of the clergy who are under international scrutiny for serious offenses.

It is a fair question and brings up the question of why I asked this. To clarify, I asked that the prayer be led by the priest, either alone or with the congregation. I was explicit that a lay person or a deacon was not to lead the prayer because I want our clergy to witness with me that as priests we are called to serve as Christ did. Also, Psalm 51 is known as a “penitential psalm” because it is prayed in the Liturgy of the Hours by the entire Church each Friday as a sign of penance and reparation.

I know it is difficult to think about our own sins, many of which might seem insignificant compared to what we’re hearing in the news of the sins committed by Christ’s own bishops and priests. But the very foundation of our religion is the God-made man who was sinless, and yet died a criminal’s death so as to make reparation for our sins.

As Christians, we are members of the Body of Christ, of which the Church is the visible sign. In other words, we are all deeply connected to one another. In fact, as we find time and time again, there’s really no such thing as private sin. Even if a sin is not made public, it still impacts us and who we are, which in turn impacts how we are in relation to others.

Consider, for example, a corporation. Suppose a corporate official is guilty of a serious criminal activity. That employee would be terminated immediately. That said, the corporation remains responsible in justice to make up for damages and to make reparation.

If we consider this example and in an analogous way apply it to the Church, the Body of Christ is the corporation. Some of its highest-ranking officers have betrayed trust, victimized people, and broken laws. And yet the whole corporation has to answer for these individuals. You know as well as I do, that many people in the corporation would be rightly angry. Nevertheless, the corporation would have to pay damages, etc.

Certainly, here we’re dealing with more than a corporation. It’s the Church which involves profound vulnerability on the part of the faithful. Trust, and even faith, have been shattered.

So when I ask for us to take steps of reparation, I’m not asking for anyone to own the sins of another. But I am asking us all to help rebuild the Church, to help repair the Church, not unlike the call of the Lord on the San Damiano Cross to St. Francis of Assisi in the 1200s.

It’s worth remembering again that we are not solely a corporation. Public relations campaigns have certainly shown themselves to be ineffective, at the very least. Rather, reparation means making amends for offenses (sins) against God. At this critical time, much like the 12-step programs, we first focus on keeping our side of the street clean. We address our own sins, no matter how insignificant they may seem, so that we become stronger members of the Body of Christ. When we do this, we are then able to participate in the supernatural grace whereby Christ, the unblemished victim, was able to make reparation for all of us.

St. Paul reminds us, “For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so by one man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5,19) Reparation, a long-held practice and concept, but rarely used in recent years, helps to make us stronger. It makes us more Christlike.

In no way do I want to emphasize the personal sinfulness of the faithful. Rather, I want to point to the effective tool that each person can be in the Body of Christ, to make it stronger, to help it heal, to make her a Church worthy of the people of God – worthy of you.

As we move forward each day with the help of the Lord, I will be confirming plans for a monthly hour of adoration, complete with rosary and a brief reflection here at Christ Cathedral. Confessions will also be offered. I want the focus to be quiet time in adoration when the Lord speaks to each of us privately, heals and strengthens us. I pray and hope that you will join me as we each become more Christlike to build up the Church that the Body of Christ deserves.

Make no mistake, there certainly needs to be other juridical and canonical actions taken to address the injustices we are facing. But reparation is what restores the Body of Christ to the strength that nurtures us all.

With continued gratitude, I ask you to please join with me to pray that our Church be purified, that all the people who have been wounded by abuse on the part of the clergy experience healing, and that I, along with the rest of Church leadership, act with wisdom, courage, and humility to fulfill the office that the Lord has entrusted to us. Thanks to all of you for your helpful and thoughtful reflections and reactions this past weekend.


Bishop Kevin W. Vann, Diocese of Orange

10 Responses to “Why Psalm 51?”

  1. Margiethompson98@gmail.com

    Thank you for your article. I can’t understand why the Church is going through this humiliation again. I thought steps were set in place to stop this quick. I’m so sad for our good, holy priests and bishops.

  2. David Reilly

    Your letter uses analogies to a corporation one of which people would be fired . But no where in your letter do you come out and say somewhere in your letter, as well likely in similar letters other bishop have written , in clear language that you will remove from the priesthood any priest found to be an abuser and the bishops who turned a blind eye to the problem. Remove them from duty and turn them over to the courts!

  3. Dennis Jilot

    Bishop Vann,
    Very well said. Thanks for your leadership in working with your fellow Bishops to put some very clear directives in place that insure any abuse uncovered is dealt with zero tolerance for this evil conduct. I pray that working together with wisdom provided by Our Lord, our faithful community of Catholics can restore much needed confidence in our Church leadership.

  4. LIz

    Hello –

    Quick questions – Has the letter and any other information related to the scandal (from Bishop Vann) has been translated or is available in Spanish? if so, let me know where i can access it.

  5. Robert L. Kohler Sr.

    Yes sir, Bishop Vann:

    I heard you and sent out a copy of Psalm 51 to members our parish veterans ministry.
    Something I mentioned to you at last years Veterans Mass at St. John the Baptist Parish in Costa Mesa.

    Also, I sent out yesterday’s message on why you cited this Psalm for all the priests in the OC Diocese to read at mass.


    Robert Kohler Sr. aka Sgt. Bob
    Parish Recruiter

  6. Frank Huntsman

    When my non catholic “friends” are critical of the crisis we now face, I ask for their solace, reminding them of the 99.99% of our dedicated clergy who are now suffering because of th 00.01% who have sinned.

  7. Pat

    “Let (S)he who is without sin cast the first stone.”
    I am not a sex offender but I am certainly a sinner and only God knows the relative severity of my sins, those sins I commit over and over again, despite my repeated post confession resolutions to do better. I do believe in my Church, and that I am a valued member- but I can be better. Thank you, Bishop Vann, for reminding me that participation in the sacraments will help me to be a stronger member of my Church community. I pray for the victims. for the Church leadership and for the perpetrators who are victims of their own addictive chemistries. May God have mercy on us all. Jesus dined with sinners and He forgave them. May we humbly follow Christ’s example and aspire to one unified, holy and apostolic Church . Only then can the healing begin.


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