Bishop Zubik: “I beg you–the church begs you–for forgiveness”

Zubik.jpgThose were some of the extraordinary words of Bishop David Zubik at an extraordinary “Service of Apology” held earlier this Holy Week in St. Paul’s Cathedral in Pittsburgh for anyone hurt or abused by the church.

This is not out of character for Zubik. Pennsylvania’s own Rocco Palmo has been blogging about Zubik since he returned to Pittsburgh from Green Bay (Zubik, that is, not Rocco, who remains a Philly denizen) in 2006 to succeed Archbishop Wuerl, who is now in Washington. As Rocco noted in his very complete coverage, Zubik at the start declined to live in the the 11-bedroom, six-bath Edwardian Tudor bishop’s residence (it was recently put up for sale) and instead went to live at the diocesan seminary. Zubik told local television the church needed to move away from being “attached to buildings.”


Zubik’s columns are friendly and open and he invites Catholics to “give me a call.” At the start of Lent he released a well-received pastoral letter on the economy. Then he announced in this column (very much worth reading) that he would hold this Holy Week penance service for anyone hurt by the church in anyway.

The service took place Tuesday evening with several hundred people. Cameras were barred out of senstivity for those who came, but The Pittsburgh Post Gazette has words:


In an emotional “service of apology,” Bishop David A. Zubik apologized last night for sins including sexual abuse by clergy and other representatives of the Catholic Church in Pittsburgh, and begged for his parishioners’ forgiveness.

Many of them had come to the service with “hurts that you hold and perhaps painfully so,” he said.

“For whatever way any member of the church has hurt, offended, dismissed or ignored any one of you, I beg you — the church begs you — for forgiveness,” Bishop Zubik told several hundred people inside St. Paul Cathedral in Oakland.

Out in the pews, former Catholic and onetime seminarian Tim Bendig took comfort from those words and from the rest of Bishop Zubik’s service. Sexually abused by former priest Anthony Cipolla as a teenager in the 1980s, Mr. Bendig — now 40 — hadn’t entered a Catholic church for 20 years.


He restrained himself from making the sign of the cross, reciting prayers and singing hymns. But he was looking for a chance to forgive the wrongs against him and to renew his life as a Catholic. Last night, he found it.

“I feel uplifted,” Mr. Bendig, who settled a lawsuit against the diocese in 1993, said as he nervously prepared to shake Bishop Zubik’s hand after the service. “I feel real light on my feet. I feel refreshed. What I hoped I would accomplish today, I accomplished.”

The service began on a somber note. In place of the usual organ music and hymns of welcome, Bishop Zubik and his alter servers entered in silence, the only noises the sound of their footsteps and the rustling and muffled coughing of those in attendance.


Reaching the altar, Bishop Zubik prostrated himself before it, lying flat and motionless on the cool marble floor for a full two minutes. He stood up, and soon offered the opening prayer in a ringing voice that filled the huge, vaulted cathedral.

The full text of Zubik’s reflection is titled “I’m Sorry; We’re Sorry” and is posted here.

Bishops are big, easy targets of the anger of many Catholics–righteous anger, indeed, quite often–but we far too often deploy a very broad brush. Nor does every bishop need prostrate himself for our benefit. Some will take issue with Zubik’s refusal in Green Bay to release the names of suspected abusers, others with his stands on behalf of immigrants or his opposition to the death penalty and abortion and same-sex marriage (though he doesn’t advocate denying communion).

But Zubik’s example here seems remarkable and welcome, to me, the kind of episcopal model that is needed for this time in the life of the Church, and for Holy Week.

Comments read comments(6)
post a comment

posted April 10, 2009 at 2:17 pm

As someone who has been hurt by the Church, my faith has been broken and I know I will never come back. In spite of this I found Bishop Zubik’s remarks to be very well put. A small but welcome start perhaps?

report abuse


posted April 10, 2009 at 3:22 pm

Wow! This is so powerful. After reading this post and then Bishop Zubik’s reflections, I have tears in my eyes. May Bishop Zubik continue in his healing and reaching out to those who have been wounded by the Church. This is such a painful thing. We pray for healing for all.
In Christ’s Peace – Mareczku

report abuse


posted April 10, 2009 at 7:50 pm

One man, one apology, for years of mistreatment of many by a whole lot of priests. At least Zubik is trying.

report abuse


posted April 11, 2009 at 1:36 am

The Catholic Dictionary offers up some useful definitions here:

REPENTANCE – Voluntary sorrow because it offends God, for having done something wrong, together with the resolve to amend one’s conduct by taking the necessary means to avoid the occasions of sin. To repent is to be sorry for sin with self-condemnation. (Etym. Latin repoenitere, to be very sorry, regret intensely.)

Bishop Zubik certainly has shown repentance in a very moving and public manner, and may God bless him for that. He certainly is to be commended for that. However, was he authorized to offer repentance on behalf of the Church by the Holy See? Absent the authorization from the Vatican, his repentance is simply a personal one.

PENANCE – The virtue or disposition of heart by which one repents of one’s own sins and is converted to God. Also the punishment by which one atones for sins committed, either by oneself or by others. And finally the sacrament of penance, where confessed sins committed after baptism are absolved by a priest in the name of God. (Etym. Latin paenitentia, repentance, contrition.)

Any matter of penance that the Bishop might need to take care of is rightly a private matter between him, the one hearing his confession, and God (and, if needed, the victim(s)). The Church as a whole, however, must offer some sort of penance as the sin (in this case, abuse of children by priests and cover-ups by those in authority over them) is organization-wide. Bishop Zubik cannot offer penance for the Church as a whole. There have been some steps taken towards this by the Church, but hiding behind secular law to protect itself from the full extent of legal punishment does NOT sound like an organization that is truly repentant.
Now, no doubt the defenders of the church will come forward and, once again, say that no amount of repentance will satisfy someone like me. I simply ask them this: can one abortion doctor repent for the entire Planned Parenthood organization? Further, would you accept as genuine that act of repentance if the organization were maneuvering behind the scenes in the courts to keep from facing up to civil or legal responsibility for its actions?
Bishop Zubik seems like a good man, and someone who is sincere in his words and actions. I wish him all the best in his efforts to guide the flock in Pittsburgh.

report abuse

Iris Alantiel

posted April 13, 2009 at 1:17 pm

MarcM, it may just be personal repentance . . . but I’ll take it. Maybe it will start things moving in the right direction for the whole Church. Who says only the Pope can be Spirit-led to guide us in the right direction? (Well, other than the Pope, that is.)

report abuse

Patrick OMalley

posted September 30, 2011 at 3:08 pm

Dante has a special circle in hell for Zubik and other bishops like him that fought the victims of child rape by Catholic pedophile priests.

He is one of the “false idols” God warned you about, and if you didn’t support the victims of child rape in God’s church, you can explain that to God on your judgement day. Explain to God, surrounded by the child rape victims, that you thought the church should keep their big churches rather than pay for therapy for Michael Unglo and tens of thousands of children like him. You have eternity to come up with an explanation.

report abuse

Post a Comment

By submitting these comments, I agree to the terms of service, rules of conduct and privacy policy (the "agreements"). I understand and agree that any content I post is licensed to and may be used by in accordance with the agreements.

Previous Posts

More blogs to enjoy!!!
Thank you for visiting Pontifications. This blog is no longer being updated. Please enjoy the archives. Here are some other blogs you may also enjoy: Faith, Media and Culture Prayer, Plain and Simple Happy Blogging!!!   ...

posted 2:38:01pm Aug. 27, 2012 | read full post »

Moving on, and many, many thanks... recent vacation and related absences also coincided with an offer from to cover religion for them, as editor Melinda Henneberger announces here in her roundup on the site's very successful first 100 days. That ...

posted 8:29:24pm Aug. 02, 2009 | read full post »

Calvin at 500, Calvinism 2.0
If you thought you knew John Calvin--who turned 500 last week--you probably don't know enough. For example, that he was French, born Jean Cauvin. And if he was in fact scandalized by dancing, he was also a lot more complex than that. I explored ...

posted 11:53:35am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

Apologia pro vita sua...Kinda
 In my defense, I've had computer outages and family reunions and a few days of single-parenthood, which is always a bracing reminder of what many parents go through all the time. And this weekend it's off for a week's vacation. Anyway, ...

posted 10:51:36am Jul. 16, 2009 | read full post »

When Benny met Barry: "I'll pray for you!"
The first word via Vatican Radio and first image (that I saw) via Rocco: Speaking to Vatican Radio, Press Office Director Fr. Federico Lombardi said "moral values in international politics, immigration and the Catholic Church's ...

posted 12:54:28pm Jul. 10, 2009 | read full post »


Report as Inappropriate

You are reporting this content because it violates the Terms of Service.

All reported content is logged for investigation.