20 March 2010

Pope Benedict's Pastoral Letter to Irish Catholics

This is taken from the Vatican Information Service. The text of the full letter is here. I've highlighted parts of the summary and made some [comments]. I have read the full letter.

VATICAN CITY, 20 MAR 2010 (VIS) - Given below is the English-language summary of the Pope's Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, which was made public this morning:

The Pope has written a Pastoral Letter to all the Catholics of Ireland, expressing his dismay at the sexual abuse of young people by Church representatives and the way this was addressed by local bishops and religious superiors. He asks that the Letter be read with attention and in its entirety. The Holy Father speaks of his closeness in prayer to the whole Irish Catholic community at this painful time and he proposes a path of healing, renewal and reparation.

He calls on them to remember the rock from which they were hewn, particularly the fine contribution made by Irish missionaries to European civilisation, and to the spread of Christianity in every continent. Recent years have seen many challenges to the faith in Ireland, in the wake of fast-paced social change and a decline in adherence to traditional devotional and sacramental practices. This is the context in which the Church's handling of the problem of child sexual abuse has to be understood. [Sexual abuse by priests was there before the great social changes in the last three or four decades in Ireland but Pope Benedict is right, I believe, in putting the issue in the context of what I see to be a loss of faith in Ireland. I wonder if some of the priests who abused, especially some ordained in the 1990s and mentioned in the Murphy Report on abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin, had any faith at all. At least two were engaged in the sexual abuse of children they met while doing pastoral work as seminarians. I find this horrific. The Pope goes on to write about problems in the formation of seminarians and novices. But persons of no religious faith who live by a moral code recognise clearly that the abuse of children is morally wrong.]

Many factors have given rise to the problem: insufficient moral and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates, a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures, and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties when needed. [It is ironic that the 'misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church' has dragged the whole Church into the mud and driven many out of the Church. While some have dismissed canon law as having no relevance the Murphy Report was severely critical of three archbishops of Dublin who failed to apply it and thereby aggravated the situation. There is no conflict between canon law and civil law. The State cannot dismiss a priest from the priesthood but it can put him in jail. The church can dismiss him from the priesthood and has the obligation of informing the civil authorities. I have a fear for the Church in the Philippines where the priest is given the kind of deference the Pope refers to.] Only by careful examination of the many elements that gave rise to the crisis can its causes be properly diagnosed and effective remedies be found.

During their "ad limina" visit to Rome in 2006, the Pope urged the Irish bishops to "establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes." [Pope Benedict, in the full text of his letter, recognises very clearly how so many young people have been betrayed. Others are suffering too in a different way. I felt a great heaviness after the Murphy Report came out. Priests living their lives conscientiously in Ireland have, I should think, a difficult time right now. Many people, not only family members of those who have been abused, but thos who have been faithful and upright Cathoics all their lives, have had their faith shaken.] Since that time he himself has met victims on more than one occasion, listening to their stories, praying with them and for them, and he is ready to do so again in the future. [I am disappointed and even dismayed that the Pope wasn't more explicit on this. I think it would have helped enormously had he said that he was going to Ireland with the sole purpose of meeting victims. But he does leave the door open and it is very clear from the full letter that he is not in any way dismissing the pain of those who have been abused. But I do't thin the letter goes far enough on this.] In February 2010 he called the Irish bishops to Rome to discuss with them the steps they are taking to remedy the problem, with particular reference to the procedures and protocols now in place to ensure the safety of children in church environments and to respond swiftly and justly to allegations of abuse. In this Pastoral Letter, he speaks directly to a series of different groups within the Irish Catholic community, in the light of the situation that has arisen.

Addressing the victims of abuse first of all, he acknowledges the grievous betrayal they have suffered and he tells them how sorry he is over what they have endured. He recognises that, in many cases, no one would listen when they found the courage to speak of what happened. He understands how those in residential institutions must have felt, with no way of escape from their sufferings. While recognising how hard it must be for many of them to forgive or be reconciled with the Church, he urges them not to lose hope. Jesus Christ, Himself a victim of unjust sufferings, understands the depths of their pain and its enduring effect upon their lives and relationships. Yet His wounds, transformed by His redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. [St Thomas the Apostle found his great faith in the wounds that the Risen Lord carried - and will for all eternity.] The Pope urges victims to seek in the Church the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ and to find healing and reconciliation by rediscovering the infinite love that Christ has for each one of them. [Pope Benedict in everything he says and writes focuses on the Lord Jesus.]

In his words to priests and religious who have abused young people, the Pope calls upon them to answer before God and before properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed. They have betrayed a sacred trust and brought shame and dishonour upon their confreres. Great harm has been done, not only to the victims, but also to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life in Ireland. While summoning them to submit to the demands of justice, he reminds them that they should not despair of God's mercy, which is freely offered to even the greatest of sinners, if they repent of their actions, do penance, and humbly pray for forgiveness.

The Pope encourages parents to persevere in the demanding task of bringing up children to know that they are loved and cherished, and to develop a healthy self-esteem. Parents have the primary responsibility for educating new generations in the moral principles that are essential for a civilised society. The Pope invites children and young people to find in the Church an opportunity for a life-giving encounter with Christ, and not to be deterred by the failings of some priests and religious. He looks to the younger generation to contribute to the renewal of the Church. He also urges priests and religious not to be discouraged, but rather to dedicate themselves anew to their respective apostolates, working in harmony with their superiors so as to offer new life and vitality to the Church in Ireland through their living witness to the Lord's redeeming work.

Addressing himself to the Irish bishops, the Pope notes the grave errors of judgement and failure of leadership on the part of many, because they did not correctly apply canonical procedures when responding to allegations of abuse. [He echoes the criticism the Murphy Report made about this.] While it was often hard to know how to address complex situations, the fact remains that serious mistakes were made, and they have lost credibility as a result. He urges them to make determined efforts to remedy past mistakes and to prevent any recurrence by fully implementing canon law and co-operating with the civil authorities in their areas of competence. [I had been noted by some commentators that the Vatican hadn't explicitly endorsed the new regulations the Church has worked out with the civil authorities in the Irish Republic and in Northern Ireland but this seems to do just that,] He calls upon the bishops, moreover, to rededicate themselves to the pursuit of holiness, setting an example themselves, and encouraging the priests and the lay faithful to play their part in the life and mission of the Church. .

Finally, the Pope proposes some specific steps to foster the renewal of the Church in Ireland. He asks all to offer up their Friday penances, for a period of one year, in reparation for the sins of abuse that have occurred. He recommends frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the practice of Eucharistic adoration. [Get back to basics! He is calling every Catholic in Ireland to renewal, to a year-long 'Lent' if you like.] He announces his intention to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses, religious congregations and seminaries, with the involvement of the Roman Curia, [Here is a chance for the Vatican to work side-by-side with the Irish civil authorities, something it has failed to do till now, as the Murphy Report shows, ignoring letters form the Murph Commission on flimsy grounds of protocol. The Vatican could replace the current Papal Nuncio who clearly doesn't see the problem. Unfortunately, there are no 'seminaries' to be visited, only St Patrick's National Seminary in Maynooth. All the others have closed.] and he proposes a nationwide Mission for bishops, priests and religious in Ireland [I hope that the Catholics of Ireland will bakcd this up by their prayer and by healthy friendships with priests and religious. When I was young priests and religious were kept at a distance by many, a misplaced awe, to some degree. Maybe that's one of the reasons why we've had so many priests trying to 'prove' that they were like everyone else.] This being the international Year for Priests, he holds up the figure of St. John Vianney as a model and intercessor for a revitalised priestly ministry in Ireland. After thanking all who have worked so hard to deal decisively with the problem, he concludes by proposing a Prayer for the Church in Ireland, to be used by all the faithful to invoke the grace of healing and renewal at this difficult time.

Pope Benedict added this to his pastoral letter:

Prayer for the Church in Ireland

God of our fathers, renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation, the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal, the charity which purifies and opens our hearts to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ, may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide, inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears, our sincere effort to redress past wrongs, and our firm purpose of amendment bear an abundant harvest of grace for the deepening of the faith in our families, parishes, schools and communities, for the spiritual progress of Irish society, and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace within the whole human family.

To you, Triune God, confident in the loving protection of Mary, Queen of Ireland, our Mother, and of St Patrick, St Brigid and all the saints, do we entrust ourselves, our children, and the needs of the Church in Ireland.


shadowlands said...

It's a shame the innocent Priests have to take the flak for the guilty silent ones.
I suppose that's what Christ did on the Cross for us all, in reality.

epsilon said...

Father, (sorry this is so late but my internet access has been impossible in the last week) I have read the complete letter too and your comments here and at Fr Ray Blake's as well. Please do wear your collar when you go home to Ireland! If there is one thing that still shocks me it is when religious priests or brothers eschew their robes for civvy clothing. It's like as if they are saying they are free to possibly have the kind of relationships they are supposed to have given up by entering the religious life.

I think all practising catholics in Ireland (and Irish catholics in other parts of the world) should now wear some symbol of solidarity with holy priests - as part of the whole church's penitence for the wrong done to children both by religious and lay people. Considering that 96% of the abuse in Ireland was done by lay people and the population of Ireland still claims mainly to be "catholic" we can't just continue to point fingers at the clergy and religious.

I would go even further and say we should combine this one-year symbolic “sackcloth and ashes” with drawing attention to the nothing-short-of-child-sexual-grooming that is modern-day sex “education” in all schools both catholic and state, certainly in the UK.

And if it means we are ridiculed, spat upon or worse then it only means we are following in the footsteps of Our Lord and Saviour.