For all day for Monday, 15th February and for most of the morning of Tuesday, Pope Benedict and senior Vatican Officials met with the Irish Bishops. This was a measure of the seriousness with which the Holy Father viewed the situation. In the discussions he asked for the forgiveness of the victims.
The sense of pain, betrayal and anger expressed by victims was conveyed by the Bishops. Scandal and shame was acknowledged by all who participated. A wide range of areas was covered in the discussion.
Central to it was the outreach to survivors, the desire to accompany them in their pain and help them find hope. The contributing causes to what had taken place and the lessons to be learned for the future were underlined. If lay people, and particularly women, had been involved as they now are in addressing this issue the response would have been different. Poor past management of sexual abuse cases has contributed to the suffering experienced by victims.
The need for co-operation with civil authorities, HSE and Gardai, and the complete implementation of the Church’s own norms and procedures were seen as central to the safeguarding of children. It was acknowledged that while this is not a problem which is peculiar to Ireland or to the English speaking world, or the Church, nevertheless its impact is intensified in the Church, damaging its credibility in a number of areas, for example, its teaching on marriage and the family, on sexual morality, and on the Church’s role in education and Catholic schools.
Criteria for admission to the seminary, the way in which priests are trained: their spiritual, human, intellectual and pastoral formation, and the need for ongoing formation were all seen to be necessary in restoring credibility. Close collaboration with laity and religious in parish and diocesan Pastoral Councils in the mission of the Church was seen to be absolutely necessary if Christ’s gospel is to be effectively proclaimed. There was great interest in and warm welcome for the enormous number of people, men and women, who are giving so generously of their services in so many Church related areas, like Boards of Management of Schools, Pastoral Councils, parish representatives for the safeguarding of children and many other ministries. Here in our own Archdiocese the Diocesan Pastoral Assembly has been a great source of inspiration, encouraging many more people to become involved in Church life. I am deeply grateful to them for the very significant contribution which they make and I invite and would welcome the involvement of more.
While there was an honest and courageous acknowledgement of the challenge facing all of us as Church at this time, the prevailing mood was one of hope and trust in God “who in Jesus Christ has reconciled the world to himself” (2 Cor). Faith is the courage to live through these challenging times, to heal the hurts and become heralds of hope. Together we can do this, knowing that Christ has promised to journey with us.
Finally, I want to thank you for your prayers in preparation for the meeting in Rome and for your ongoing support.