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:
He nails the perpetrators: "you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals" (no "protection" by the Church).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 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
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.