This week I have spent a lot of time listening to survivors of sexual abuse tell their stories.  They spoke of what they have suffered at the hands of clergy and religious.  

I am very grateful to them for sharing their experience with me. I realise that this was not easy for them.  I think that this listening will have to continue.  I believe that there are many others who want to tell their story and they have a right to be heard also.  It is all part of acknowledging the sinful and criminal acts which have taken place and which must be addressed.  

We also have to consider seriously the way the Church authorities dealt with what happened.  Yesterday at the Chrism Mass in St. Patrick’s Cathedral in Armagh, in the presence of the priests and people, I accepted that we bishops failed, sometimes grievously, in our response to the crime of child abuse.  I said I was sorry that this had happened and how this sorrow must move us to find ways to repair the damage that has been done and to right the wrong that they endured.  

We have heard calls for material help and for spiritual help.  Those calls must be considered and responded to properly.  That process of making reparation for the past must continue.  Part of it will mean a deepening concern for all the members of the Church – especially survivors of abuse – as Pope Benedict asks us in his Pastoral Letter.

The Holy Father also asks us to confess the serious sins committed against defenceless children.  He asks us to express our sincere sorrow for the damage caused to those victims and their families.  

This I do today, once again, in the hope that it will help to repair the damage that has been done.  Yet, much more needs to be done.  The Church in Ireland needs to continue to identify what exactly is required to make reparation for the past and to build solid foundations for true renewal in the future.  

We are doing all of this in the light of what we are celebrating these days – the suffering of Christ.  Like the survivors, Jesus Christ was the victim of injustice and sin.  Like all victims, Jesus Christ still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering.  Jesus Christ understands the depths of the pain of victims.  All of us must try to understand that pain also.  Jesus understands the enduring effect of abuse on the lives and relationships of so many victims.  We must all learn to understand that effect.

In his words to victims of abuse and their families – Pope Benedict writes:

“Christ’s own 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”.  “I believe” Pope Benedict adds – “deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning”.   

The self-sacrificing love of Jesus Christ is our only hope.  Christ’s own wounds have the power to set us free from the power of evil.  They get that power from the suffering which Jesus Christ endured in his passion and death.  By his bruises we are healed.  By his wounds we are reborn to new life and new hope.

The Pope appeals to victims to draw nearer to Christ.  He prays that by God’s grace, the wounds afflicting so many individuals and families may be healed.  

In his recent Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland Pope Benedict strongly advises all of us to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body by the abuse and the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them.

He recommends five concrete initiatives:

1.    A time of prayer to implore an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in Ireland – perseverance and prayer are needed with great trust in the healing power of God graces.
2.    Friday penances for one year, between now and Easter 2011, to make reparation.  
3.    Fasting – Reading of Scriptures and works of mercy.  
4.    A rediscovery of the Sacrament of Reconciliation
5.    Adoration of Jesus – present in the Blessed Sacrament.

In fact, we must all try to draw nearer to Christ.  He feels how weak we are when faced with temptation and that we often give in.  He himself has been tempted in every way that we are.  We have every right to be confident as we approach Jesus.  

Think of what he said to those who put him to death:
“Father forgive them for they know not what they do”
He wasn’t thinking of himself despite it all.  Think of the good thief and what Jesus gave in answer to his frantic plea:
“Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom”
And Jesus said:  
“Indeed I promise you, today you will be with me in Paradise”.

What a promise to hear on the day of our death – a promise from Jesus – who always keeps his promises.