Despite the fact that we are now in Holy Week, the volume of recent media coverage leads me to think that some comment on the abuses is appropriate:
Like many of you, I have been both saddened and sickened by many of the cases we have read about. The clerical abuses and their subsequent cover-up by bishops has been one of the greatest evils in the Church in our lifetime. Any attempt to deny this would be misguided. The Pope’s recent letter to the people of Ireland is an attempt to rectify a grave and longstanding problem. He apologises, says, “I openly express shame and remorse”, and announces a major level investigation called an “Apostolic Visitation”. Such a letter is unprecedented and indicates the seriousness with which the Pope sees the matter. As Catholics we should be glad that such causes for shame are being addressed, even if much belatedly. In England, our bishops have put very extensive measures in place to protect children with the aim of preventing such occurrences in the future –the police checks that many of our own congregation have undergone are a part of this. This said, vigilance and transparency are needed for the future.
I know that many of you have had your own faith weakened by seeing reports of clergy and bishops behaving in this manner. Perhaps I should add that my own confidence in our bishops has also been seriously weakened. Nonetheless, I know that all Catholics sin, including bishops and priests. Further, I know that Christ has established His Church such that it serves us even despite sin: the sacraments come to us just as truly from a sinful priest as from a holy one. The essence of the Church is about something that reaches beyond the sinfulness of its current members. It is the fact that the Church was founded by Christ that gives us confidence to believe His promise to remain with His Church, even in the midst of sin.
While recent reports have focussed on the Church it is important to remember that such cases of abuse have occurred in many other institutions: state schools, social services, child care, foster homes, and others. The pattern of cover-up that moved offenders to other institutions where they offended again was common in all these non-Church institutions. In judging Church leaders it is important to note that they followed a pattern of behaviour common to all these institutions. It is also important to note that the rate of abuse by clergy is no higher than that among teachers, or among parents, or among other family members. This does not excuse but it does help to understand how this happened.
You will all have read the hostile media coverage of these events. It would be remiss of me if I failed to point out that the anti-Catholic bias in these reports has further compounded a grave problem. Such bias makes it difficult for us to see the truth because the truth is not clearly set before us. Concerning the Pope’s recent apology letter, it must be noted that many news reports condemned the Pope’s letter even before they read it. For example, the morning before the letter’s publication The Times ran a story saying that “the pastoral letter has already been judged a failure”. Other reports inaccurately complained that the Pope’s apology failed to refer to similar scandals elsewhere, or failed to call for priests to face normal police prosecution, ignoring the contents of his own letter which explicitly state these things. Meanwhile still other reports have been attempting to distract attention from his apology by two different attempts to directly connect the Pope with failures to remove abusing clerics –both smear attempts have lacked any substance but have sadly succeeded in further damaging the Church’s reputation. Surely we should ask ourselves why such media attacks ignore other institutions and disproportionately focus on the Catholic Church. Yes, they may complain when we fail to practice what we preach, but do they attack us for this or simply use this as an excuse to attack us for continuing to teach unfashionable truths about sexual morality?
Concerning the most recent media attacks on the Pope, alleging that he personally failed to remove an abusing Milwaukee priest: Detailed comments can be read from the Vatican www.zenit.org/article-28746?l=english and from Archbishop Vincent Nichols: www.rcdow.org.uk In summary: In the 1970s, Fr Murphy, a Milwaukee priest, was reported to the police for the abuse of children. Later, in the 1990s, the Vatican was asked to start an additional procedure against the cleric for the specific (past) offence of “solicitation in the Sacrament of Confession”. At this stage the cleric was elderly and had long been removed from priestly ministry. The Vatican informed the Archdiocese of Milwaukee of “penal” steps to take against the cleric but he died before these were fully implemented.
For ourselves, in addition to continuing to implement the recent child protection procedures of the dioceses of England and Wales, we would do well to join the Pope’s call for prayer to “make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm”, for “fasting”, as well as heeding his call that “particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration” for this intention.
I would urge you to read the Pope’s sensitively written letter. While the letter does not change the fact that these abuses have take place it does at least indicate that the Pope is seeking to address these abuses.
Fr Dylan James, 26th March 2010
PASTORAL LETTER OF THE HOLY FATHER POPE BENEDICT XVI, 19th March 2010
Some excerpts from his 7 page letter, the full text available online:http://www.vatican.va/holy_father/benedict_xvi/letters/2010/documents/hf_ben-xvi_let_20100319_church-ireland_en.html
1. Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.
2. ... considering the gravity of these offences, 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. ... I must also express my conviction that, in order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children. Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future. ...
4. [The Pope criticises] "a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal".
6. To the victims of abuse and their families: 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. ...
7. To priests and religious who have abused children: 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 and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders ... Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy. ...
11. To the bishops: It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. [...] it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness [...] cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence. Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives...