Halifax archbishop seeks 'Year of Atonement' in bid for unity amid scandal

Halifax's outspoken Roman Catholic archbishop is calling for a "Year of Atonement," in a bid to unify a church divided over its response to a long-running series of sexual abuse scandals.

In a letter on the diocese website, Archbishop Anthony Mancini says the church "is breaking up into camps of ideologically driven groups, each trying to bring about some change in the church."

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He makes an explicit plea for the church "to become 'one' again."

"Some are trying to return to an idealized past, others are trying to bring about a future which is more reflective of their own agenda than what the Church of Christ should look like," Mancini writes.

Mancini has been vocal in condemning both sexual abuse by priests and the church's "systemic failure of leadership," saying there is an urgent need for change.

He said in August he was "devastated" and "ashamed" by a recent report that found abuse of more than 1,000 children in six Pennsylvania dioceses over a 70-year period, saying the allegations are felt closely in Nova Scotia, where a proposed class-action lawsuit was filed this month against his Archdiocese of Halifax-Yarmouth.

In his new letter calling for a year of atonement, Mancini noted there have been calls for Pope Francis to resign and for some bishops to be removed, and he said Catholics have been writing to him about why they are leaving the church.

"It is understandable that diversity of opinion exists everywhere we find human beings, but diversity can lead to division if it is driven by anger and hurt. Or it can also lead to unity of purpose and mission, if vision, mercy and love is present," he wrote.

"In response to this situation of crisis and the symptoms of our church’s unhealthy state of spiritual life, I am calling all of us to enter into a year of purification, of special prayer and fasting, as Pope Francis has recently asked us to do."

Pope Francis issued a 2,000-word statement in August addressing the Pennsylvania report, writing that the church "abandoned" the children affected. The statement also asked for forgiveness.

Last week, the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops issued expanded national guidelines, titled "Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse."

The report set out procedures for response to abuse, and put forward 69 recommendations, chief among them that "victims must come first," the conference said in a news release.

"The document seeks not only to provide guidance ... but to stimulate a cultural transformation in attitudes about sexual abuse," the conference said.

"All of Canada's bishops hope that survivors of sexual abuse will read 'Protecting Minors from Sexual Abuse' and see in it a real effort to listen and learn from them."

The class-action lawsuit against the Halifax-Yarmouth Archdiocese was filed last month but has not been certified.

In his 11 years leading the archdiocese, Mancini said he's "seen it all" regarding the issue of sexual abuse in the church, including lawsuits, hearing victims' stories and paying victims for damages suffered.

Mancini has said his church will deal with the lawsuit as it unfolds and was open to the process if the resolution eventually contributes to victims’ healing.

"May this Year of Atonement bring about the conviction and resolve that in spite of sin, failure, disgrace and shame, in Christ all is possible and that without Christ, nothing is possible," he wrote.

"Our church needs to be united, purified, and transformed."

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