Saturday, March 20, 2010

Pope's Letter about abuse

Pope Benedict signed and released a pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland on the sorry and sordid story of sex abuse in the Isle of the Saints. Already, though,  the media are saying that the Pope is coming "under fire" and that victims' groups are dissatisfied. (The letter was dated yesterday.)

The first part of the letter situates it in the context of the Church of Ireland; its history, its make-up, and then the recent revelations of widespread abuse of children which led to the writing of the letter:
For my part, considering the gravity of these offenses, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral Letter to express my closeness to you and to propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation....the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenseless children...
He addresses various groups, starting with the abuse victims themselves, first acknowledging that nothing can be said or done that will ever suffice to make up for the suffering they have been through:
You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet 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 deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning.
He nails the perpetrators: "you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals" (no "protection" by the Church).
He tells the bishops, frankly, that they failed to obey canon law with regard to "long-established norms [regarding] the crime of child abuse" and he calls them to "self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal."
He also addresses a neglected group: the faithful priests and religious who are treated "as if somehow responsible for the misdeeds of others" and who are "tainted by association," and so "disappointed, bewildered and angered" at the failures of their superiors.

Toward the end of the letter, the Pope calls for (among other things):
  • a year of penance (offering what is supposed to be our usual Friday penances of "fasting,  prayer,  reading of Scripture and works of mercy" for the grace of healing and renewal)
  • frequent confession
  • a nationwide "mission" (retreat) for all bishops, priests and members of religious orders
  • an official visitation of seminaries, religious congregations and dioceses
He also provided the text of a prayer to be offered in families, parishes and communities--this is not to be dismissed casually. An "official" prayer to be said in so many contexts means that the issue will be kept before people's consciousness and not allowed to fade away.

Maybe it's not enough for those who suffered the worst possible betrayal of trust. But it's an honest and very straightforward start, and just about the most undiplomatic, uncompromising text ever seen in official Papal documents.


Anonymous said...

Nothing will ever compensate those who were abused but surely all Catholics believe in the power of prayer as the Pope suggests. This genuine apology seems like a good start to me.

Anonymous said...

The Pope apologises yet he said nothing about the cover up that went on for years by the hierarchy in the church. This is not a full apology, these people do not know how to say sorry.

ex catholic

Connecting Hearts and Minds said...

Pope Benedict XVI,
Apostolic Palace,
00120 Vatican City

Belief in God is one thing. Belief in men who claim to represent God is another.

What are we to do about men in power who act badly because institutions protect them?

The foundations of the church crumble when the faith of children in the Good God is betrayed by these men and the men who protect them.

The Churches of Christ shelter bed men under a roof of wealth and power. These practices didn't begin or end with protecting abusers in residential schools in Canada; reports of churchmen abusing children are common throughout Christendom.

Humanity has been betrayed by these men and by the men who protect them in the name of a church.

What holiness is left to you and yours?

Nancy Christine Merrill

The Laughing Peasant said...

The media in Ireland, which is very anti-Catholic, is generating the impression that this papal gesture has fallen flat, and the story is being taken up all over the world. That is NOT the reaction in the pews. Irish Catholics are immensely moved by the Holy Father's concern and the genuine love one can feel through his words. We feel he has reached out to save us, after months of barracking from a hostile, intemperate media, he has set out the problem squarely and proposed real solutions. These are religious solutions, because we are a religion. Measures of this sort simply 'don't compute' with the media, but they're already making a great difference to the Irish faithful.

Sr Anne said...

Thanks for the view from the Irish pew, Peasant. It is good to be reminded that so many times the media frame things for us...
ex catholic, I wonder if you read the letter in toto. Pope Benedict excoriates the bishops for not following the laws of the Church itself.
It could be that this crisis will lead to a strengthening of Canon Law; up to now, it has addressed the crime itself of child abuse, but not the way a lackadaisical leadership can be complicit with the crime. Maybe we will see Canon Law start to provide specific penalties for bishops who fail in their duty in this regard.
But nothing can replace the simple, upright following of the Gospel. If all kept their eyes on Christ, none of this would have happened; certainly, if the bishops kept their focus on the Lord, they would not have attempted to "protect" the church and its institutions, which have no meaning or value at all apart from Christ.

Anonymous said...

Well said Sr Anne

Anonymous said...

Some folks use the Church as their scapegoat to justify their actions. The "changes in the church about not eating meat on Friday" was the justification for a friend for having a vasectomy.

The Laughing Peasant said...

Hi Sr Anne,
Well yes, I not only read the letter in full. I had it read to me at Mass and was was given a copy to take home and study. I almost know it by heart. You are suffering righteous anger at the bishops. I suffer shame for all the church, people like myself in the pews and people like the bishops in their palaces,and even the Pope on his balcony. There's a whole legal industry apportioning blame here. I'm not going to join it - even though it's the only growth area in our miserable economy at present. I'm going to buckle down to my prayers and my sacrifices and wait to see what happens. I actually see more people at Mass these days, not less. I hear of more young people considering religious vocations. This intense focus on the Catholic faith has come up with some strange results, not least in my own life, where every fresh revelation of hellish practices finds me more hopeful, not less. It's as if we are being cleansed before some great event. Never under-estimate the Holy Spirit. He wil be with us always, Jesus said.

Sr Anne said...

I do agree that the "gates of hell" are working overtime, and that, as St Paul put it, sin will always go the full way as sin by corrupting what is holiest in the Church. ("Corruptio optime pessimus")