Sunday, 21 March 2010

As Ireland sits in sackcloth and ashes...

The Pope urges her to "remember the rock from which (she) was hewn" .

His pastoral letter to the Catholics of Ireland is here.
It is full of wisdom, humility, gentleness, counsel, instruction,  and HOPE.
No doubt it will be parodied, misquoted and misrepresented, so I hope that it will be disseminated as widely as possible so that everyone can read it for themselves. Let everyone form their own opinion, but let it at least be based upon the words of the Holy father himself and not a paraphrased media rendering of his words.

I very much like Fr Finigans precis of the main points as follows:

Pope Benedict urges:
  • "acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children"
  • "concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future"
  • "establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes"
Pope Benedict criticises:
  • "the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel"
  • "well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations"
  • "a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal"
  • "failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person"
Pope Benedict tells priest abusers:
"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 ..."
Pope Benedict tells Irish 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 [...] continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence"
I love this:

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.
3. Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous force for good at home and abroad. Celtic monks like Saint Columbanus spread the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of medieval monastic culture. The ideals of holiness, charity and transcendent wisdom born of the Christian faith found expression in the building of churches and monasteries and the establishment of schools, libraries and hospitals, all of which helped to consolidate the spiritual identity of Europe. Those Irish missionaries drew their strength and inspiration from the firm faith, strong leadership and upright morals of the Church in their native land.
From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long period of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of faith alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Saint Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example of a host of courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing to lay down their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel. After Catholic Emancipation, the Church was free to grow once more. Families and countless individuals who had preserved the faith in times of trial became the catalyst for the great resurgence of Irish Catholicism in the nineteenth century. The Church provided education, especially for the poor, and this was to make a major contribution to Irish society. Among the fruits of the new Catholic schools was a rise in vocations: generations of missionary priests, sisters and brothers left their homeland to serve in every continent, especially in the English-speaking world. They were remarkable not only for their great numbers, but for the strength of their faith and the steadfastness of their pastoral commitment. Many dioceses, especially in Africa, America and Australia, benefited from the presence of Irish clergy and religious who preached the Gospel and established parishes, schools and universities, clinics and hospitals that served both Catholics and the community at large, with particular attention to the needs of the poor.
In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.


  1. I've just blogged on this too.
    It's true the Church came out of Ireland and spead the Gospel reigniting what was left of the English church here.
    I truly hope something good and new will come out of this horror.
    But unless justice is done and seen to be done and done quickly-I can't see how healing can start let alone lead to something better.

  2. The Pope has taken these steps because the Church in Ireland didn't. Late last year when I watched a news item on the legal case in ireland, i was infuriated and disgusted by the mincing, self defending legal jargon put out by the church 'spokesperson'. I remember saying to someone..that they (the catholic leadership in Ireland) need to humble themselves and repent in sackclothes and ashes - if they really believe in Christ crucified. True spiritual authority can be restored only IF they do this for the people of Ireland.

    I am so heartened that Benedict has done this and in such a robust way. I really believe that something good can come out of this all now the wound is being opened up and cleaned out. But the spirit of the letter needs to trickle down into the hearts of the power holders before it really makes a difference for the people. (Isaiah 58 - all of it)

    As a person raised in Catholicism but now rooted in another part of the Body of Christ, I sincerely thank God for this letter. Many millions of souls will live and die in the Catholic Church and their welfare, temporal and eternal, hinges upon the leadership of their church. And where the Catholic Church is defamed, for many many people Christ is defaced: as the old adage goes ' when a catholic loses faith in the church they lose faith in God.' That might not be true for all, but I know from my advocacy work with vulnerable Irish that this was often the case. Many from the industrial homes have been emotionally crippled for a lifetime and are consumed with the pain of their childhoods. I attended a meeting of one of the Survivors Support Groups years ago now - who took the church to court. It was the most tragic scene - the helpless rage of the 'orphans.'

    That is the sin that cries to heaven.

    Benedict now needs to continue his work and be the ruthless German bloodhound who chases the foxes right out of the sanctuary with all the unclean spirits around them. Hallelujah!
    And then really search for measures to bind up the wounds - minister to the broken hearted and ruined lives - NOT CASH Payouts - at least not money alone.

    It would be wonderful to see him attend a meeting of survivors. If he had the guts to go to Jerusalem after the Holocaust deniers scandal, i think he's got the guts for this. I pray that he does address people directly face to face when he comes over here shortly. That would be incredible - worth praying for.
    maybe I'll write to him....after all my name is Catherine ...

  3. I agree Kate.
    Although I'm not sure about B16 attending a survivors meeting. How would you envisage that working without turning into some kind of media stunt?

    Knowing that there are no simple remedies to the rage and pain of the victims, it can nonetheless only be a good thing that their collective suffering has been acknowledged.
    To be wronged, and have the wrong denied or hidden would, I imagine, make it very difficult to move towards healing.
    I imagine it ( denial) may even be more harmful and threatening to ones sanity than the actual offence itself.

  4. Behind closed doors - and let the media think and write what they like - they will anyway. It is far more important that the right thing is done in the eyes of God for the sake of man than in the eyes of man for the sake of God. Jesus healed on the Sabbath and it is going to take that kind of norm breaking compassion to heal many hearts.

    Practically, perhaps I am thinking more along the lines of the Truth and Reconciliation mechanism in South Africa, rather than a one - off. Those mechanisms were powerfully used and most importantly it enabled both victim and perpetrator to move on. The method was fundamentally relational and that was the key to its success. Acknowledgement was not adequate for most situations - it had to be concrete engagement with the consequences of abuse and injustice.

    Of course that is a far bigger task and they are not there yet, but whatever happens the focus must progress from addressing generally to addressing personally - otherwise it is only a letter although a sincere and well written one. And I do not think that was Benedicts intention.

    The Hurts from institutional and sexual abuse are traumas - and many have buried the original pain in alcohol, depression etc It would be too painful for such people to face their abuser, dangerous is the word, but for the Pope to go behind closed doors and look their representatives in the eye and say sorry' on behalf of the clergy and those who abused them - it could only do enormous spiritual good for all.

    Edmund Burke I think it was said somewhere ..No man made a great mistake than he who did nothing because he could only do little.

    I think B has done more than a little, and I earnestly hope he continues and isn't stifled by the many over sophiticated political cats around him who are out of tune with God and man. I am hopeful because he got this letter out. Thanks be to God.

  5. Kate, I don't know if you'll come by the combox here again, but I just saw this news item and thought of your earlier comments.
    Apparently the Pope has already met with victims of clerical abuse when he visited Australia and the USA and it seems as though it is something he is ready to do in future. So it is indeed likely there will be some kind of meeting here when he comes.
    Here's the link to the news item:

  6. yes I am not surprised but I am encouraged - to write the letter was so significant and suggested a willingness to process the horrors in a real way - it does confirm the authenticity of the Pope's intentions in my eyes.

    - and the mud slinging at the moment is the backlash because he is attempting to do what is right and that is not what the media people want. I am convinced that many clerics of the 60s and 70s did not have the slightest grasp of the nature of child sexual abuse: neither the concepts or vocabulary to address it.

    Emotional and physical abuse however - they did know what they were doing but had hardened consciences and cultural blinkers - as did school teachers secular and otherwise who regularly 'abused' children with verbal power. There is much less capital in attacking and exposing them now but I could write a list of teachers who damaged a lot of children.

    Ultimately there are two broad categories of people in the world who will always get an unjust hearing and hands wringing with glee whenever anything can be thrown against them -the church and the Jews. The world hates what is of Divine origin.

    However God is the defender and vindicator of His servants - and humility is now the only true defence as God is dealing with the church after giving her many warnings that she did not heed.

    For example - I don't know if you heard of Father Flanagan from Boystown USA and the whispers about his death - he died suddenly unexpectedly in a hotel room after his return from Ireland, visiting their version of Boystown - the orphanages and industrial schools - he was so horrified he was planning to take on the Irish Catholic Church - so heartbroken was he by the cruelty and lack of love shown to Irish children.

    the warning signs were there decades before and I am sure key people who were not involved in the abuse witnessed it and turned their faces away - not willing or courageous enough to face the consequences of the truth. They choose to do what is right in man's eyes and so today the hand of God has exposed them to the ridicule and shame of the whole world. By silence they became implicated.

    I don't think defending is the right way forward, but to stay on their faces and let God rebuild in His time. Man's glory was the original problem and the house needs to be rebuilt on the rock - Christ. The purifying judgement fires can only do good for those who really want the Lord to be Lord in the church. After the fire, only gold will survive - true vocations, servanthood, love of GOD AND MAN. I know in Irish charismatic Renewal many are quietly welcoming this purge for they understand its necessity and the mercy that comes on the coat tails of justice.

  7. Thank you Kate.
    I've just spent the last 40 minutes or so reading about Fr Flanagan. I think I might put a post up linking to some of the stuff about his work. It is totally shocking, but not especially surprising, to note the then Irish governments denunciations and dismissal of his stated concerns about the state of the Irish institutions for poor and destitute children.
    Of course, the government now is running as far as it can in the other direction to distance themselves from all that. Such hypocrisy.
    Whatever suits them.
    This is what Fr F said in reference to Ireland at the time:

    "What you need over there is to have someone shake you loose from your smugness and satisfaction and set an example by punishing those who are guilty of cruelty, ignorance and neglect of their duties in high places . . . I wonder what God's judgment will be with reference to those who hold the deposit of faith and who fail in their God-given stewardship of little children."

    Well, now they are being shaken. Many of the guilty however, lived their whole lives without having to face the public opprobrium that was left as a legacy for Ireland. They are now enjoying their eternal 'reward' and will know God's judgement.
    It is painful however, to see the Holy Father maligned and suffering so much for the sins of these wicked bastards.

  8. Oh, and by the way, whilst Googling for info about Fr Flanagan, I came across this interesting piece about Irish Catholicism.
    It is worth reading, the comments too, although they are lengthy.
    See here

    I also wonder if Poland, which is like to Ireland in many ways, has had a similar experience.

  9. I think one of the key underlying ingredients is the power relationship between church and state. It is absolute power that absolutely corrupts and in the case of the IRCC drew people to vocations on the magnetism of status, prestige or family pressure for the glories. (I am not saying that was always the case)

    My friend T was in St Joseph's Clifden and she talked a lot about the spite of certain women (nuns) - she was stripped and her naked body laughed at - she was a 14 year old girl. They ridiculed her (not surprisingly she was very pretty) - withheld sanitary protection - and she has spent her life trying to come to terms with the mistreatment. She has myriad health problems and nervous anxiety - but has escaped the harder addictions that a friend's father didn't. He was in an industrial school in Cork and his confidence never did get higher than his knees - the height he was when he first was put into care.

    I think a lot of these so called nuns were bitter women who did not have any real vocation to religious life but were in a society which to some extent trapped them there. I don't mean to take any responsability away from them. And there is also the 'group think' that occurs in certain conditions which defintely played it's part in this type of abuse in Ireland. T did speak of kind priests and nuns who seemed to be helpless witnesses on the sidelines unable to make an effective stand - just a smile, a pat on the arm, a cake saved and smuggled in at Christmas. Oh yes and so many Christmas presents that the children never received - though people in the community - dignataries would visit and be presented with a completely false picture of the schools - those nuns knew exactly what they were doing.

    Incidentally my friend T tracked down her main persecutor in Islington about seven years ago and managed to get access to her luxury retirement pad where she tearfully faced said retired nun with her sins. The woman denied everything outright, would not acknowledge anything - it reminded me of accounts of Nazis faced with their crimes and just deny, deny, deny. T was in a much worse state after that meeting - very ill advised but understandable.

    Christina Noble's book Bridge across my sorrows is worth a read - T was in Clifden with her. It is an amazing book - more positve edge than many of the other accounts but nevertheless true.

    To be fair to the catholic church, there has been such enlightened practice elsewhere - Boystown being an example. Another is the spirit in whihc Don Bosco fathered the boys in his care and exhorted his curates and teachers to appreciate and be sensitive to the emotional development of the boys. His model was loving authority and he always questioned his teachers first when boys were sullen or troublesome - he diagnosed these problems as relational disturbance and advised the priests and brothers to befriend and laugh with the children, appreciate their individuality etc. But then Italy has been traditionally a nation of people who love their children. Sadly the children of the poor in Ireland were not so blessed.

    There must be true penitent mourning for healing to come Lamentations 2:19. The prophetic voice (Fr Flanagan) is always opposed by vested religious power - the pharisaical spirit. Jesus rebuked his disciples of their impatient dismissal of children.If only the majority of christians devoutly studied the character and words of Jesus as recorded by the evangelists and applied that standard to all of life - so much would never have been tolerated in the life of the church.

    Personally I think christian leaders and workers need to flee social/political power - Jesus ran from it and ministered pure spiritual life. He DID NOT NEED it and look at the fruit from His one life!