PASTORAL LETTER OF THE HOLY FATHER, POPE BENEDICT XVI,
TO THE CATHOLICS OF IRELAND
GIVEN AT 11 A.M. TO THE CONGREGATION AT MORNING MASS
IN ST PATRICK’S CATHEDRAL, ARMAGH
SUNDAY, 20 MARCH 2010
My dear people of the Cathedral Parish of Armagh:
Today is a very historic day for the Catholics of Ireland.
Pope Benedict has written a pastoral letter to express his closeness to us at this challenging time. He says ‘with words that come from my heart… I wish to speak to each of you individually and to all of you as brothers and sisters in the Lord’. He speaks of the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body by child sexual abuse and of the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them. He talks of the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and renewal.
I welcome this letter. I am deeply grateful to the Holy Father for his profound kindness and concern.
It is evident from the Pastoral Letter that Pope Benedict is deeply dismayed by what he refers to as ‘sinful and criminal acts and the way the Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.’
He says the Church in Ireland must acknowledge before the Lord and others the serious sins committed against defenceless children.
He addresses various groups within the letter, but the first group he addresses are the victims of abuse and their families. He says to them, ‘You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity violated.’ Pope Benedict acknowledges that when many survivors were courageous enough to speak of what happened to them, no one would listen. He says it is understandable if they find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. But he also hopes that they will find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace, by knowing how close Christ is to them in their pain, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin.
In the name of the Church, Pope Benedict openly expresses the shame and remorse that we all feel about the abuse that has occurred. He expresses his readiness to meet victims of sexual abuse in the future, as he has done in the past.
In addition, the Pastoral Letter has particular words addressed to young people, parents, priests and religious, as well as the Bishops of Ireland.
To us Bishops he says we must admit ‘that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred’ which have seriously undermined our credibility and effectiveness. He calls on us to continue to cooperate fully with the civil authorities. He exhorts us to fully apply and keep updated our child safeguarding policies. ‘Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency’, Pope Benedict says, ‘will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church.’ He asks us as Bishops to renew our sense of accountability before God.
The Holy Father offers very stern words to priests and religious who have abused children. He says directly to them: ‘You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God.’ He says they must also be accountable to the processes of civil and canon law. He tells them that their crimes brought shame, dishonour and damage to the Church. ‘Openly acknowledge your guilt,’ he says, ‘submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy.’
Throughout the letter Pope Benedict talks about the need for healing, repentance and renewal. He expresses the depth of the pain that has been caused and acknowledges that some people find it difficult even to go inside the doors of a Church after all that has occurred. He recognises the deep shock of parents at the ‘terrible things that took place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of all.’ Yet he believes in the healing power of Christ’s love, even in the darkest and most hopeless situations.
The Holy Father calls on us to face the future with courage and determination. No one imagines that the present painful situation will be resolved quickly. Yet with perseverance, prayer and working together in unity, the Holy Father says we can be confident that the Church in Ireland will experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.
Central to this renewal is the lay faithful playing their full part in the life of the Church. Specifically addressing the children and young people of Ireland, he invites them to bring their ‘much needed enthusiasm and idealism to the rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church.’ He calls on all the faithful to find new ways of passing on the beauty and richness of friendship with Christ. ‘A new vision is needed,’ he says, ‘to inspire future generations to treasure the gift of our faith.’
The Holy Father then goes on to signpost some concrete initiatives to assist the grace of healing and renewal in the Church in Ireland. He calls on all the faithful to make reparation for the sins of abuse. Some initiatives suggested include offering up Friday penances for the coming year, fasting, offering up works of mercy and reading of Scripture. We are invited to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and in particular the practice of Eucharistic adoration. Another proposal is that a nationwide Mission be held for all Bishops, priests and religious.
To assist the Church in Ireland in the process of renewal, Pope Benedict has announced that there will be an ‘Apostolic Visitation’ of some Dioceses, of Irish Seminaries and of Religious Congregations. This will involve Representatives of the Holy See visiting, reviewing and offering support to all concerned.
My dear people, as Pope Benedict said at his General Audience this week on St. Patrick’s Day, I ask you that you read this letter with an open heart and in a spirit of faith.
Ladies and gentlemen of the Communications media, I warmly welcome you to Armagh today. I thank you for your dedication to duty, your commitment to truth and your work for justice. I thank your producers and editors who asked you to come here this morning. I am pleased to present each of you with a copy of the Pastoral Letter – in the hope that you will have time to read it and to reflect its spirit and content. The Pastoral Letter is but one of many steps on the road to healing, repentance and renewal. I wish you well in your work of communicating this special message of national and international importance.
The Holy Father concludes his Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, which he composed himself. He asks us to make use of this prayer in our families, parishes and communities.
Let us pray that the Holy Father’s Pastoral Letter will be the beginning of a great season of rebirth and hope in the Irish Church, under the protection of the Blessed Virgin Mary. In a spirit of faith – and in conclusion – let us pray together Pope Benedict XVI’s Prayer for the Church in Ireland.
Let us stand and pray.