Pope Benedict XVI wrote a Pastoral Letter
to all the Catholics of Ireland on March 20, 2010. In this very important message, the Holy Father expressed his great dismay and sorrow at the sexual abuse of young people by Church representatives and the way this was addressed by local bishops and religious superiors. He asked that the Letter be read with attention and in its entirety. Benedict spoke of his closeness in prayer to the whole Irish Catholic community at such a painful time, and he proposed a path of healing, renewal, and reparation.
Addressing the victims of abuse first of all, he acknowledged the grievous betrayal they suffered, and he tells them how sorry he is over what they have endured. He recognizes that, in many cases, no one would listen when they found the courage to speak of what happened. The pope urged victims to seek in the Church the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ and to find healing and reconciliation by rediscovering the infinite love that Christ has for each one of them.
Benedict called on the Irish people to remember the rock from which they were hewn (cf. Is 51:1), particularly the fine contribution made by Irish missionaries to European civilization and to the spread of Christianity in every continent. Recent years have seen many challenges to the faith in Ireland in the wake of fast-paced social change and a decline in adherence to traditional devotional and sacramental practices. This is the context in which the Church’s handling of the problem of child sexual abuse has to be understood.
In his words to priests and religious who abused young people, Pope Benedict called upon them to answer before God and before properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed. They betrayed a sacred trust and brought shame and dishonour upon their confreres. Great harm has been done, not only to the victims, but also to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life in Ireland.
The pope encouraged parents to persevere in the demanding task of bringing up children to know that they are loved and cherished, and to develop a healthy self-esteem. Parents have the primary responsibility for educating new generations in the moral principles that are essential for a civilized society. The pope invited children and young people to find in the Church an opportunity for a life-giving encounter with Christ and not to be deterred by the failings of some priests and religious. He looked to the younger generation to contribute to the renewal of the Church.
Addressing himself to the Irish bishops, the pope noted the grave errors of judgement and failure of leadership on the part of many because they did not correctly apply canonical procedures when responding to allegations of abuse. While it was often hard to know how to address complex situations, the fact remains that serious mistakes were made, and they lost credibility as a result. The Pope urged them to continue their determined efforts to remedy past mistakes and to prevent any recurrence by fully implementing canon law and cooperating with civil authorities in their areas of competence.
Benedict concluded his 2010 letter with this prayer for the Church in Ireland:
God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness,
holiness and generous service to society.
Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.
May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes, schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.
To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland. Amen.
The sin and stigma of sexual abuse is not unique to Ireland, nor is it unique to the Catholic Church. It is a sin found in all societies and nations. Let us work together and pray for the healing and reconciliation of the Irish Church, and all those places where the Body of Christ has been deeply wounded by the sin of sexual abuse. Together let us bind the wounds and be agents of healing, reconciliation and peace.