Dear Fathers,

I am pleased to have this opportunity to send a word of deep respect and personal admiration for the service and unique ministry you bring to the Church in our nation.  From sea to sea, the landscape of the United States has been nurtured, and irrevocably altered for the good, in every city, suburb and rural community by the faith, love and leadership that you have given without cost.  The goodness that you unearth strengthens families, refreshes lost lives, unleashes forgiveness (both human and divine), brings dignity and comfort to those near death and brings all of us more deeply into the mystery of God.

I cannot begin to imagine the hurt and pain that you have felt as a result of the abuse scandals of recent years.  I suspect that for many of you the worst of it is endured with a quiet grief that is known to the heart of God alone.  In the face of the most horrific disclosures of wrongdoing by some members of the clergy, your love for God’s people endured, nurtured their pain and skepticism, and displaced a grace that has been heroic.

Surviving this terror, I hope, will bring all the Church closer together.  I pray that it will bring a renewed appreciation for your priesthood and ministry.  In my remarks that prefaced the release of the Report of the National Review Board on February 27, 2004, I wanted the first words anyone heard from me to be about you and the unique place you have in the hearts of the faithful. I will say it again, you are “the Lord’s treasured gift to his people.”  You are “men of holiness and generosity.”  Speaking for the Board, I urged all Catholics to be sensitive to the agony that this crisis brought into your lives.  We see every day throughout America the honor by which you live your lives and the nobility you bring to God’s work.

Throughout the more than two years of effort that our board members have given to the tasks before us, we have engaged in this work strengthened by the countless personal friendships and experiences of priests throughout our lives.  We are a pretty diverse group geographically, but we are unified by the similarities of our common Catholic roots.

We share a common story with each other and with you…lives poplulated with larger-than-life men of faith, like yourselves, who inspired us as children, encouraged us as young adults and stood with us through the troubles and heartbreaks of our adult lives.  All of us are united in our familiarity and respect for priests.  You bring honor to us by your witness of faith and hope.  Please know that you are cherished more than we often take the time to say; remembered more often than we ever acknowledge; and listened to with confidence more than we admit.  Thank you for being a part of our lives and loving us.

Justice Anne M. Burke

Illinois Appellate Court

Acting Chair USCCB’s National Review Board