Sermon for the Mass of Remembrance
for the Deceased & Living Members
of the
Industrial Schools in Ireland

Given by
Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland

At St. Finbar’s Cathedral, Cork, Saturday 27th October 2007

My dear friends in Jesus Christ,

I would like to begin by saying what an honour it is for me to be here today. Although the invitation from Right Of Place came some time before I knew the Holy Father intended to make me a Cardinal, I am glad that in God’s providence one of my first responsibilities is to celebrate this Mass of Remembrance for the deceased and living members of the Industrial Schools in Ireland. No issue has dominated the Church in Ireland in recent years more than the painful legacy of the sexual, physical and emotional abuse of children. That this occurred amidst our efforts to provide so many children with hope and care makes it even more perplexing. It could not be more appropriate therefore, that as I take on my new responsibilities within the Universal Church, I am confronted today with the painful, often devastating truth that the community of faith can be a place of hurt as well as of healing. I am confronted with the truth that amidst the most sincere efforts to do good, evil too can grow. In your presence I am reminded that without the absolute determination to remain vigilant, without the willingness to face the whole truth about our lives and about our human institutions, terrible harm can be done to those who most deserve our care.

In our first reading, Moses tells the people that God lead his people through the confusion and trauma of the desert to humble them, to test their inmost heart. If I have any hope for the Church in Ireland at this time, it is that in remembering the pain of those who have been so hurt in recent years, we too will be humbled, that we too will be brought back to our inmost heart as a Church. It is here we will discover the things of which Pope Benedict speaks so frequently, the basic and beautiful truths of our faith: That God is love, that our faith is not a list of do’s and don’t but an encounter with a person, that there is joy in following Christ.

A reporter asked me the other day whether I thought the worst of the child abuse scandal for the Church was over. My answer is that as a Church we can not even begin to think in these terms. Indeed, it can the Church can never think in these terms. The threat of evil, in any of its forms will always be present. What we can do however, is justice to those who have been hurt. What we can do is everything in our power to ensure that it does not happen again. I believe this is what we are now trying to do. In establishing the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Church, by training thousands of volunteers at Parish level, by liaising closely with the statutory authorities North and South we are earnestly trying to do all in our power to create a Church in which children will always cherished and safe. Jesus asks no less of us.

Many will think it is too little to late. As a Church leader, I cannot ever adequately or sufficiently apologise to all those who have been hurt while they were entrusted to the Church’s care. Nothing can ever make up for the terrible wrongs that have been done. But I can assure you of my absolute determination to try to change things for the better, whether here in Ireland or in my new role within the Universal Church. Doing all in my power to make the Church a life-giving, joyful and safe place for children is my deepest desire and a key priority. As an uncle, as someone who cherishes the spontaneous affection, joy and trust of the children I meet at confirmation, in youth clubs, in schools I am still bewildered that anyone could deliberately harm a child. I still find it difficult to understand and feel great shame that some of those who should have been most trusted, some of those who should have been most like Christ to children, committed such horrific evil and crimes against them. The tears that well up within me when I think of what some children have gone through, what some of you have gone through, compel to continue, to the best of my human ability, albeit an always imperfect ability, to understand why these things happened and to work with others to put them right.

This includes asking hard questions. The Catholic Church has an outstanding record of care for children across the world – in education, in orphanages, in youth facilities, in outreach to street children and to children in need generally. So many heroic Irish men and women like Nano Nagle, Edmund Rice, Mary Aikenhead and others to give up all they had to give children every possible chance. How did heroic generosity, this sincere care for the well being of children become so entwined, so tolerant of such great evil in our midst? What was it in our culture as a Church, as a society which contributed to our blindness as the learned and clever to what the children among could more clearly see? Did our desire to serve those in need become an unwitting vehicle to earthly prominence and pride in a country struggling with independence? These are only some of the hard questions that we still have to ask. The journey towards healing for us all will be a long one. In the words of Pope Benedict to the Irish Bishops at the Ad Limina visit last year:

The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is
an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged. In
your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important 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. In this way, the Church in Ireland will grow
stronger and be ever more capable of giving witness to the redemptive power of the Cross of Christ.

The redemptive power of the Cross of Christ is the place where all of us meet in our individual brokenness. It is here and often here alone that we meet a love which is totally selfless and healing. ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’ For those whose minds are tormented, often constantly, with the memory of innocence lost, of abuse suffered, of dignity denied, the Lord offers these words of hope. Hope that at least someone, my own Creator, the suffering servant, the oil of gladness, knows and understands my pain.

My prayer is that all those who have suffered abuse, of whatever kind, will find peace in the love of Christ. I am aware that for some of those abused, part of the pain of what they suffered is a loss of trust in God, a loss of a sense of faith or an ability to participate in the life of the Church. I cannot tell you how much this troubles me, how deeply I wish I knew how to help those to rediscover the love and peace of Christ which is their right to enjoy and to know. Perhaps some of you will be able to help me in this regard. Certainly there is need for a deeper and more humble listening on our part as Church leaders as to how we can help the process of healing.

In our second reading, St. Paul captures that beautiful truth that brings all of us together here around the source of our healing – the paschal mystery, the redemptive love of Jesus made present in the Eucharist. He utters those compelling words – ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.’ Your presence here bears testimony to the truth of those words. For those who have suffered abuse from those who should have been the most manifest face of Christ in their lives as children, to trust again, to participate in any way in the life of the Church must be a complex, if not an insurmountable challenge. I feel humble before your faith, your courage. Pray for me. Pray for all those who try to be good and gentle shepherds of the Lord’s flock that they will be worthy ministers of his love. Pray that together will be able to find the way to forgiveness and understanding, to a new memory cleansed by the truth and justice of Jesus Christ. In organising this Mass, you have shown us this importance of not forgetting. Perhaps it is a model which deserves to be replicated in other parts of the country? Perhaps there needs to be a discussion about the value of having such events of remembering at a national level?

The most important thing of all, however, is to change the culture of what we do. Humility implies a willingness to listen to others. It recognises that no one individual or office in the Church possesses all of the gifts God gives to the Church. We are a family, God’s family. It is only as a family, caring for every child as any good and loving parent would that children will be safeguarded and flourish. This means that as we go forward, every member of the Catholic community must see it as their fundamental duty to care for and safeguard children. As leaders of the Church, we as Bishops and Religious Superiors must do all in our power to facilitate the structures that will support this culture of safeguarding. But every person, in every Parish has a role to play. The future lies in creating communities which safeguard our children, not just those who are specially trained. Such safeguarding communities, acting as good parents will provide the greatest protection for children within the Church. It will also provide the most supportive and caring environment for priests and others who have a vital contribution to make to the formation of children within their particular calling. With the assistance of the new Chief Executive Officer of our National Board, Mr Ian Elliott, former director of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, and the whole Catholic community working as a family together, this is the task which the Bishops, CORI and the IMU seek to take forward in the coming months.

We are compelled to do so by the memory of those for whom this Mass is being offered.

May God’s mercy heal us all.
May God’s love, set us free.
May God’s peace, dwell in our hearts
And may our most painful memories, find rest in the gentleness of God.