We have just blessed the Easter fire and lit the paschal candle.  They symbolise the light of the Risen Christ breaking into the world to scatter the darkness of sin and death. During the blessing, five grains of incense, in honour of the five wounds of Christ, were placed into the candle in the form of a cross.  Then I prayed: “By his holy and glorious wounds, may Christ our Lord guard us and keep us. Amen.”

On this holy night we celebrate Christ’s resurrection from the dead.  We recall his victory over the powers of evil that had long held humankind captive. We rejoice in the freedom that Christ has won for us. We look to the future with hope. As the great Easter hymn, the Exsultet, proclaims: “The power of this holy night dispels all evil, washes guilt away, restores lost innocence, brings mourners joy; it casts out hatred, brings us peace, and humbles earthly pride.”

St Paul echoes this Easter joy in tonight’s epistle reading. There he proclaims that Christ, having been raised from the dead, can never die again. Death has no power over him any more. If this is so, if we can rejoice that Christ is truly victorious, why do we focus so much on his wounds that we even mark them on the Paschal candle as a permanent reminder?

We do so because Christ did not simply rise from the dead: he rose with his wounds. On the evening of that first Easter Sunday, he appeared to his disciples and showed them his wounded hands and side.

We might well ask: if God the Father could raise Jesus from death, why could he not do the relatively simple job of healing the wounds of his Passion? The wounds of Christ remain on his glorified body as a simple but powerful reminder that although the sins of the past can be overcome and atoned for, they cannot be wiped from the page of history.

God takes sin and its consequences seriously. He does not pretend that evil never happened or that it doesn’t really matter. Too often, those who have been hurt by others are casually told to ‘forgive and forget’, or ‘to let bygones be bygones’. The physical resurrection of Jesus teaches that we cannot choose to simply forget the past, skip by it, pretend that it never happened. We must fully face the truth of what occurred in the past. We should not try to flee the consequences of those offences, which can continue to mar the lives of those who suffered because of them.

The lives of survivors of child sexual abuse, the faith of members of the Church, and the credibility of Church leadership, have all been wounded grievously by the evil deeds of priests and religious who exploited their position to wreak havoc on the lives of helpless children. Those wounds were aggravated by serious mismanagement on the part of bishops and other leaders in the Church. Those wounds, like the wounds on the body of the risen Christ, will not go away. We must take them seriously. We can only move on into the future if we first own our own personal misdeeds.  We have to recognise the harm they have done and be resolved to do whatever is necessary to atone for the crimes that have happened and prevent their reoccurrence.

Once again, I apologise with all my heart to all survivors of clerical child sexual abuse. Yesterday, at the Good Friday ceremonies in Dundalk I pledged that proper reparation would be made for the harm that has been caused and I renew that pledge tonight.

This week I met with individual survivors of abuse and with representatives of survivors’ groups. Having listened to their accounts of the terrible hurt they have endured, I am resolved to continue to keep the safeguarding of children central to the Mission of the Catholic Church in Ireland. We all have a critical part to play in safeguarding children.

I am convinced that by committing ourselves fully to the challenges of reform, healing and renewal, the wounds of the past, like those of the risen Jesus, have the greatest chance of being transformed. By destroying all arrogance, pride and corruption in the Church, by becoming the humble, just and caring community of disciples that Christ intended us to be, we may look back at this historic moment and see in it God’s life-giving and transforming grace.

But, if we are to engage in the work of reform successfully we must first undertake an honest and incisive investigation of the causes of the scandals of the past.

The Holy Father has suggested various contributing factors to this crisis, such as:

•    A misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal that led to a failure to bring offenders to justice.
•    A tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures, and;
•    Inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life, as well as;
•    Insufficient formation in seminaries and novitiates.

We have to reflect deeply on these dimensions of the current crisis and act on them with determination. The voice of catholic lay-people needs to be heard on these and other aspects of this crucial matter.  

Pope Benedict referred to a tendency in Irish society to favour the clergy and other leadership figures above the laity.  He calls it one of the elements that gave rise to the present crisis.  To remedy the situation, the lay-faithful need to be supported in becoming more aware of their equal dignity in the Church by virtue of their Baptism.  

While the ordained priesthood has a specific character and role, Baptism makes us all sharers in the office of Christ, priest, prophet and pastor.  All baptised people are called to be co-responsible for the well being of the Church.  Co-responsibility requires that lay-people be equipped to live out their baptismal calling and commitments and to be aware of their rights and duties in the life of the Church.

Therefore, to build up knowledge and a sense of self-worth among the faithful people of God, in whatever way I can, I will continue to promote improved programmes of religious instruction for our schools and better faith formation for adults in our Diocese.  Together we can rebuild Christ’s Church and make this a time of new beginning, of true resurrection for us all.

Finally, the Pope refers to a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal.  The result was failure to follow proper procedures and, until more recent times, to bring abusers to justice in the civil courts. I realise that, however unintentionally, however unknowingly, I too allowed myself to be influenced by that culture in our Church, and our society.  I pledge to you this evening that, from now on, my overriding concern will always be the safety and protection of everyone in the Church – but especially children and all those who are vulnerable.  We have already committed substantial resources to devising and implementing world-class safeguarding policies. Some of you may have lingering concerns that nothing has changed in the Church.  I promise you, it has changed radically.  There is now no hiding place for abusers in the Church.  Our policy is to do whatever is necessary to protect the vulnerable and ensure justice for all.

I also welcome the Apostolic Visitation announced by the Holy Father in his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland. It will play a vital part in the process of rebuilding and renewal. I pledge to co-operate fully with it and to implement all its recommendations. It is my intention to propose to the Holy See that the Diocese of Armagh would be one of those Dioceses which will be visited as part of the Apostolic Visitation announced by Pope Benedict.

I also welcome the proposal of a nation-wide mission to be held for all bishops, priest and religious in Ireland.  May it help us to draw nearer to Christ, crucified and Risen. I am well aware of the feelings of the priests and religious as a result of all that has happened.  I hope that despite everything, they will experience the joy of Easter in the sure knowledge that Christ is truly risen.

In the process of renewal, healing and reform that lie ahead, we must take the person of Jesus Christ as the role model we should follow.  In this way we arrive at a vision of the virtuous life – the sort of life we ought to live if we are to fulfil the goal of our vocation.  

We take heart from St. Peter in tonight’s Gospel – he believes the women, acts on what they say, and goes to see the empty tomb for himself.  After his denial of Jesus three times, he surely had the deepest sense of shame at his past failings.  Yet he knew that Jesus had given him a big responsibility when he said to him – “But I have prayed for you Simon that your faith will not fail.  And when you turn back to me you must strengthen your brothers”.  

Peter was determined to fulfil his responsibilities.  I realise that I have many past failures and inadequacies – for which I am sorry and apologise.  I realise that I also have been given a great responsibility to God and to you, for leadership and renewal in the Church.  I take that responsibility very seriously, a responsibility which, with the help of God, I hope to fulfil at all times to the best of my ability.  I am immensely grateful for the support of your prayers at this time as I implore God’s grace and wisdom for the work that lies ahead.

By the grace of the words of the Risen and glorified Lord, may the Church in Ireland be truly transformed; may our past scars lead us to a more humble service of the One who gave his life in service of us all.  May we never forget our past but learn from it, learn, in particular, from its most painful lessons.  

The Risen Christ broke through the dark dungeon of evil and death.  Tonight he calls us to arise with him – for the first sign of dawn is at hand.  With St. Paul we say – ‘Awake O sleeper, rise from the dead and Christ will give you light’.