Pastoral Letter of Pope Benedict – Full Text

PASTORAL LETTER

OF THE HOLY FATHER

POPE BENEDICT XVI

TO THE CATHOLICS OF IRELAND

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.

As you know, I recently invited the Irish bishops to a meeting here in

Rome to give an account of their handling of these matters in the past and

to outline the steps they have taken to respond to this grave situation.

Together with senior officials of the Roman Curia, I listened to what they

had to say, both individually and as a group, as they offered an analysis of

mistakes made and lessons learned, and a description of the programmes

and protocols now in place.  Our discussions were frank and constructive.  I

am confident that, as a result, the bishops will now be in a stronger position

to carry forward the work of repairing past injustices and confronting the

broader issues associated with the abuse of minors in a way consonant

with the demands of justice and the teachings of the Gospel.

2. For my part, 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.

It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the problem

of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church.

Nevertheless, the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse

that has occurred within the Irish Catholic community, and to do so with

courage and determination.  No one imagines that this painful situation will

be resolved swiftly.  Real progress has been made, yet much more remains

to be done.  Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the

healing power of God’s grace.

At the same time, 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.

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.

4.   In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to

confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid

transformation and secularization of Irish society.  Fast-paced social

change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional

adherence to Catholic teaching and values.  All too often, the sacramental

and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as

frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected.

Significant too was 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.  The programme of

renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes

misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that

were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In

particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid

penal approaches to canonically irregular situations.  It is in this overall

context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child

sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening

of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings.

Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the

present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and

effective remedies be found.  Certainly, among the contributing factors we

can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of

candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human,

moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a

tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a

misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of

scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to

safeguard the dignity of every person.  Urgent action is needed to address

these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of

victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a

degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.

5.  On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have

met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future.  I

have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged

their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them.  Earlier in my

pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of

Ireland, “to 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”

(Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).

With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland,

to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful

remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and

mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial

renewal.  I now turn to you with words that come from my heart, and I wish

to speak to each of you individually and to all of you as brothers and sisters

in the Lord.

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.

Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s

children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said.  I pray that, by

drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church – a

Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you will come

to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you.  I am confident that in

this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and

peace.

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 in which Christ makes himself present in us and

in our actions.  Together with the immense harm done to victims, great

damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the

priesthood and religious life.

I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins

you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow.  Sincere repentance

opens the door to God’s forgiveness and the grace of true amendment.  By

offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged, you should

seek to atone personally for your actions.  Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has

the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from

even the most terrible evil.  At the same time, God’s justice summons us to

give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing.  Openly

acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do

not despair of God’s mercy.

8. To parents

You have been deeply shocked to learn of the terrible things that took

place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of all.  In

today’s world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up children.  They

deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of

their identity and worth.  They have a right to be educated in authentic

moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person, to be inspired by

the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn ways of behaving and acting that

lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness.  This noble but

demanding task is entrusted in the first place to you, their parents.  I urge

you to play your part in ensuring the best possible care of children, both at

home and in society as a whole, while the Church, for her part, continues to

implement the measures adopted in recent years to protect young people in

parish and school environments.  As you carry out your vital responsibilities,

be assured that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my

prayers.

9. To the children and young people of Ireland

I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement.  Your

experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and

grandparents.  The world has changed greatly since they were your age.

Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path

through life, whatever their circumstances may be.  We are all scandalized

by the sins and failures of some of the Church’s members, particularly

those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people.  But it

is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday,

today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8).  He loves you and he has offered himself

on the cross for you.  Seek a personal relationship with him within the

communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust!  He alone can

satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by

directing them to the service of others.  Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and

his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart.  Together with

your fellow Catholics in Ireland, I look to you to be faithful disciples of our

Lord and to bring your much-needed enthusiasm and idealism to the

rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church.

10. To the priests and religious of Ireland

All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who

betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with

allegations of abuse.  In view of the outrage and indignation which this has

provoked, not only among the lay faithful but among yourselves and your

religious communities, many of you feel personally discouraged, even

abandoned.  I am also aware that in some people’s eyes you are tainted by

association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible for the

misdeeds of others.  At this painful time, I want to acknowledge the

dedication of your priestly and religious lives and apostolates, and I invite

you to reaffirm your faith in Christ, your love of his Church and your

confidence in the Gospel’s promise of redemption, forgiveness and interior

renewal.  In this way, you will demonstrate for all to see that where sin

abounds, grace abounds all the more (cf. Rom 5:20).

I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered and angered by

the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors.  Yet,

it is essential that you cooperate closely with those in authority and help to

ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly

evangelical, just and effective.  Above all, I urge you to become ever more

clearly men and women of prayer, courageously following the path of

conversion, purification and reconciliation.  In this way, the Church in

Ireland will draw new life and vitality from your witness to the Lord’s

redeeming power made visible in your lives.

11. To my brother 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.  I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and

complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the

right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice.  Nevertheless, 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.  I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past

mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again.  Besides fully

implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse,

continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence.

Clearly, religious superiors should do likewise.  They too have taken part in

recent discussions here in Rome with a view to establishing a clear and

consistent approach to these matters.  It is imperative that the child safety

norms of the Church in Ireland be continually revised and updated and that

they be applied fully and impartially in conformity with canon law.

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.  This must

arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification

and spiritual renewal.  The Irish people rightly expect you to be men of God,

to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal conversion daily.  For them, in

the words of Saint Augustine, you are a bishop; yet with them you are

called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Sermon 340, 1).  I therefore exhort you

to renew your sense of accountability before God, to grow in solidarity with

your people and to deepen your pastoral concern for all the members of

your flock.  In particular, I ask you to be attentive to the spiritual and moral

lives of each one of your priests.  Set them an example by your own lives,

be close to them, listen to their concerns, offer them encouragement at this

difficult time and stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their

commitment to the service of their brothers and sisters.

The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part in

the life of the Church.  See that they are formed in such a way that they can

offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in the midst of

modern society (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and cooperate more fully in the Church’s life

and mission.  This in turn will help you once again become credible leaders

and witnesses to the redeeming truth of Christ.

12. To all the faithful of Ireland

A young person’s experience of the Church should always bear fruit

in a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving,

nourishing community.  In this environment, young people should be

encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to

high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from the

riches of a great religious and cultural tradition.  In our increasingly

secularized society, where even we Christians often find it difficult to speak

of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to find new ways

to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of friendship with Jesus

Christ in the communion of his Church.  In confronting the present crisis,

measures to deal justly with individual crimes are essential, yet on their own

they are not enough: a new vision is needed, to inspire present and future

generations to treasure the gift of our common faith.  By treading the path

marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by

conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you

will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at

this time.  I invite you all to persevere along this path.

13. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is out of deep concern for all of

you at this painful time in which the fragility of the human condition has

been so starkly revealed that I have wished to offer these words of

encouragement and support.  I hope that you will receive them as a sign of

my spiritual closeness and my confidence in your ability to respond to the

challenges of the present hour by drawing renewed inspiration and strength

from Ireland’s noble traditions of fidelity to the Gospel, perseverance in the

faith and steadfastness in the pursuit of holiness. In solidarity with all of

you, I am praying earnestly that, by God’s grace, the wounds afflicting so

many individuals and families may be healed and that the Church in Ireland

may experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.

14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the

situation.

At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that

Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God’s

mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church

in your country.  I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a

period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention.  I ask

you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your

works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the

Church in Ireland.  I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of

Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming

power of its grace.

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and

in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted

to this purpose.  I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and

monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have

an opportunity to take part.  Through intense prayer before the real

presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that

have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed

strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests,

religious and lay faithful.

I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church

in Ireland in the fullness of God’s own truth, for it is the truth that sets us

free (cf. Jn 8:32).

Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend

to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as

seminaries and religious congregations.  Arrangements for the Visitation,

which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal, will be

made in cooperation with the competent offices of the Roman Curia and the

Irish Episcopal Conference.  The details will be announced in due course.

I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops,

priests and religious.  It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of

experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere,

and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of

ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you will come to a

more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to

rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from

the springs of living water that he offers you through his Church.

In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure

of Saint John Mary Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the

mystery of the priesthood.  “The priest”, he wrote, “holds the key to the

treasures of heaven:  it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the

good Lord; the administrator of his goods.”  The Curé d’Ars understood well

how greatly blessed a community is when served by a good and holy priest:

“A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which

the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of

divine mercy.” Through the intercession of Saint John Mary Vianney, may

the priesthood in Ireland be revitalized, and may the whole Church in

Ireland grow in appreciation for the great gift of the priestly ministry.

I take this opportunity to thank in anticipation all those who will be

involved in the work of organizing the Apostolic Visitation and the Mission,

as well as the many men and women throughout Ireland already working for

the safety of children in church environments.  Since the time when the

gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in Catholic

institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an

immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to address and

remedy it.  While no effort should be spared in improving and updating

existing procedures, I am encouraged by the fact that the current

safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen, in some

parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to follow.

I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in

Ireland, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children and

with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has

occurred in our beloved Church.  As you make use of this prayer in your

families, parishes and communities, may the Blessed Virgin Mary protect

and guide each of you to a closer union with her Son, crucified and risen.

With great affection and unswerving confidence in God’s promises, I

cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength

and peace in the Lord.

From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph

BENEDICTUS PP. XVI

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.

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