Pope Outlines Spiritual Reformation of the Church in Letter to Ireland

The Pope’s Letter to the Catholics of Ireland has been released. While specifically addressed to the Church in Ireland, it has ramifications for the whole Church, calling for nothing less than a reformation of the post-Conciliar Church. It bears reading in full, but here is a quick glance at what it contains.

The letter consists of five main parts:

§§1-2 Introduction acknowledging the occasion for the letter
§§3-5 Historical background and causes of the current situation
§§6-12 Address to particular groups affected by the crime of child sexual abuse
§14a Proposed initiatives to address the situation
§14b and appendix: Conclusion and Prayer for Ireland

§§1-2 Introduction acknowledging the occasion for the letter

The Letter is specifically addressed to the Irish situation. The Pope writes:

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.

§§3-5 Historical background and causes of the current situation

The Pope recalls the essential role that Ireland has played in the propagation of the gospel to all the world. He evens mentions Australia as one place that has benefited from the strong faith of the Irish. He recalls the persecution and the lively growth of the Church in Ireland after the Emancipation. He also recalls that

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.

He is also fairly clear about the when “the rot” set in. His opinion in this area will not be a surprise to most readers of SCE:

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. (My emphasis)

He then lists what he sees as the major “contributing factors” that “gave rise to the present crisis”:

  • 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.

Like I said, this Letter has ramifications for the Church far beyond Ireland.

He points out that he has, on a number of occasions, “met with victims of sexual abuse” and that he will continue to do so 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.

This brings to mind something I read in a report in today’s “Sunday Age” (“Catholics rocked as shadows cast on Pontiff” – originally published in The Guardian):

Christian Weisner, the spokesman for the lay movement Wir sind Kirche, …argues that this Pope ”learned more about clerical sex abuse than any other bishop or cardinal and has done more to fight it than any other cardinal or Pope”.

[That quote was not meant to be entirely complimentary, as it included – in the dot dot dot section – the question of what Ratzinger did or did not do when he was Archbishop of Munich (just wait for that story to break). Nevertheless, he is quite right: no one can accuse Pope Benedict of inaction on this matter. Although again, there will be many who will and do argue that he is still not doing enough. It is hard to know in this context what “enough” will be for these critics.]

§§6-12 Address to particular groups affected by the crime of child sexual abuse

In this section, the Holy Father says he is writing “with words that come from my heart”. I can only compare it to the letter he wrote after he rescinded the excommunication of the Lefebvrist bishops. When Papa B. speaks “from the heart”, he does not mince words.

He directly addresses each of the following groups:

  • the victims of abuse and their families
  • the priests and religious who have abused children
  • the children and young people of Ireland
  • the priests and religious of Ireland
  • his “brother bishops”
  • all the faithful of Ireland

The three most power statements are to the victims, to the perpetrators and to the bishops.

To the victims he writes:

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.

He could have left it there, but he does not. He realises that those who have experienced this abuse have been robbed of two things: 1) hope, 2) a relationship with Christ.

Paradoxically – and he knows that this is his toughest call – the hope for healing and for relationship with Christ are only possible through the same institution in which they experienced their abuse: the Church. This is a real difficulty, and the Pope knows it. How the heck will they ever regain trust in the Church? The only answer the Holy Father can offer – and the very best answer he could offer – is that answer of Jesus Christ himself:

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.

But what does he have to say to the actual perpetrators of these crimes? First he confronts them with their crime:

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.

Then he asks of them three things: 1) “examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow”, 2) “conceal nothing[, o]penly acknowledge your guilt [and] submit yourselves to the demands of justice”, but 3) “do not despair of God’s mercy”:

Finally to the bishops, he issues this damning rebuke:

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. (My emphasis)

He includes the leaders of religious orders in this rebuke. He goes on to say that “only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church”.

§14a Proposed initiatives to address the situation

This is in fact probably the most significant part of the letter, because everyone by now is asking: But what do you propose? How will you fix this problem?

Secular commentators may express incredulity at the proposals of the Holy Father, for they are proposals for spiritual action, rather than legal and punitive. This reflects the fact that Pope believes – quite rightly too – that the core of this problem is spiritual, and not psychological or sociological or even sexual. Therefore resignations are not demanded, nor is an end to priestly celibacy envisaged. These will not fix the problem, which goes deep to the heart of the Church. So what will? Here are his proposals in order:

  • 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 Ireland
  • that all Irish Catholics devote their Friday penances (ie. their acts of fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture [Nb!], and works of mercy), for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to the intention of obtaining the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.
  • an encouragement Irish Catholics to rediscover and regularly avail themselves of the sacrament of Reconciliation
  • that particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, that in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose, and that parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part to make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord and 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

Only then does he outline two novel administrative and canonical actions specifically designed and implemented in reaction to the crisis. These are:

  • an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations.
  • a nationwide Mission [ie. special retreat periods of intense preaching, teaching and reflection] for all bishops, priests and religious focusing on “exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching”, to lead them more deeply into a rediscovery of their vocation.
    While the media will understand and welcome the first initiative, the second of these actions still shows that Benedict is convinced this is at core a spiritual crisis, a crisis of vocation.

Nevertheless, Benedict also calls for “no effort [to] be spared in improving and updating existing procedures”, although he remains “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.”
That last comment seems to indicate that while he is confident that the Church can and has implemented top notch “safeguarding practices”, but that he remains convinced that the real problem from here on is not ultimately administrative, but spiritual.

We all know that this will not be the last that we hear of this subject. There is clearly much more to come yet. If Benedict is able to pull this program off – which is essentially a penitential program focused on all Catholics rediscovering the power of the gospel and the sacraments and a program focused on priests rediscovering the profound meaning and nature of their vocation – he will be likened by future historians to the 11th Century reforming popes who followed their scandalous predecessors of the 10th Century. If we take this message to heart, Catholics throughout the world, and not just in Ireland, will benefit from the program of reformation he has outlined in this letter.

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45 Responses to Pope Outlines Spiritual Reformation of the Church in Letter to Ireland

  1. Brian Coyne says:

    For all your enthusiasm, David, I think it is an unmitigated disaster. On the scale of the disaster that Humanae Vitae turned out to be for the institution. What he wrote will appeal to the remnant but for the vast masses in Western society it will do absolutely nothing and in fact will fuel the crisis in participation the institution has been experiencing even more.

    As I wrote on Catholica a little whole ago:

    “I just want to weep, Peter. Media opportunities on this sort of scale do not come along easily. As I said the other day (borrowed from Dan Donovan) the Chinese symbol for crisis encompasses two concepts: danger and opportunity. Even though the Pope was dealing with a “crisis” here it was also an unbelievably rich “opportunity”. Denis Hart the other day suggested there are always positives in every situation. Here was a classic example of the truth in that dictum. To have blown it so comprehensively is simply stunning. I feel as sorry for Benedict and JPII as I do for Ottaviani. I have no doubt they are (or were in the cases of JPII and Ottaviani) well-intentioned individuals — and also with an enormous amount of power. Yet, what is increasingly coming across is that they are also incredibly naive. There is a superb irony in that JPII’s demon seems to have been personal ego — he couldn’t even “let go” to die in dignity — he craved an audience right up until they buried him and he endeavoured to extend it beyond his burial into eternity. I increasingly fear for him how history is going to judge his legacy. Benedict does not seem as afflicted by an ego problem but more by fear. Paul O’Shea’s book on Pius XII I think provided invaluable insights into the culture that exists at the very top. They live in this quaint little world utterly divorced from the muck and mud we ordinary mortals have to wade our ways through and make moral intelligence out of the often difficult choices we have to make in our lives.”

    “Yesterday I did genuinely find a sense of hope being restored in my bones — mainly due to John L Allen’s so glowing commentary on the lessons Benedict had learned. Today I feel depressed and back in the territory of belief you’ve been in for so long in believing the only hope is for the institution to collapse completely before we can begin to see where the Spirit is leading us collectively.”

    • Schütz says:

      Brian, I am “enthusiastic” about what the Pope wrote, but I am not “triumphant” (I know you didn’t say that I was, but I want this to be clear). There can be no “triumph” in what has to be a reformation of the heart, a deep act of renewing penance and grace. Nothing short of divine grace will meet this crisis, or heal the wounds of the victims, or restore the perpetrators to sanctity – or, indeed, “save the Church”. We always live by divine grace, and we are lost if we think otherwise. This crisis was caused by sin and evil. The remedy must be appropriately supernatural. As St Paul wrote to the Ephesians:

      “For we are not contending against flesh and blood, but against the principalities, against the powers, against the world rulers of this present darkness, against the spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places. 13 Therefore take the whole armor of God, that you may be able to withstand in the evil day, and having done all, to stand. 14 Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth, and having put on the breastplate of righteousness, 15 and having shod your feet with the equipment of the gospel of peace; 16 besides all these, taking the shield of faith, with which you can quench all the flaming darts of the evil one. 17 And take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God. 18 Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.”

      That seems to be Benedict’s message as much as it was St Paul’s.

      BTW, what was the link to the John Allen piece to which you refer?

    • Having read the letter for myself, I now wonder if the source of Brian’s angst is not the same as for my disappointment in this letter: There is no ‘mea culpa’ here from Benedict, neither as “universal pastor” and chief representative of the church, nor as one who for several years as head of the CDF presumably had oversight of how paedophile priests et al in the Irish church were dealt with. It reads as though in Benedict’s eyes it all seems to be the fault of an increasingly permissive society (Ireland?), the seminaries, the bishops, the liberal theologians who misinterpreted Vatican II and the simple Irish people who trusted too much in those who after all claim to be God’s representatives on earth.

      Now, not being a ‘Catholic’ I may be reading the letter with a hermeneutic of suspicion, but is that not how it comes across to others as well?

  2. Terry Maher (Past Elder) says:

    Brian is quite right.

    Among the worst parts of this disaster is what comes through at least in the quoted excerpts that clerical sexual abuse in Ireland, and if this is a message for beyond Ireland as well, elsewhere, is a phenomenon of the postconciliar church and therefore attributable to excesses of reform which now must undergo a reform of the reform.

    What utter bullroar. But absolutely typical of the “reform of the reform” mentality which half a century after the fact informs us of what, they say, reform was REALLY all about.

    Clerical sexual abuse in Ireland or any land and among Catholic or non-Catholic clerics hardly is a recent phenomenon related to Vatican II.

    Weisner is right too. This pope has done more than any other cardinal or pope to fight it, but given what other cardinals and popes have done, that ain’t saying much.

  3. Kyle says:

    I am not sure if Brian and I have read the same document. This letter is completely unprecedented. Even the secular media has recognised this. Benedict certainly does not mince words.

    It seems that Brian has lost any pretense of objectivity. Why not acknowledge some of the positives of this letter? Benedict has openly condemned the actions of the Irish bishops and has commissioned a visitation. This seems to me a tremendous sign of solidarity with victims. But it seems that since the Pope has stopped short of allowing married priests, Brian is all upset.

    • Schütz says:

      I just took a look at this article which appeared on my iGoogle news reader from the Calgary Herald (of all places): Catholics should demand justice. The article interested me because it began with these words:

      The Vatican needs to do two things to respond to the scandal of sexual abuse, including pedophilia, in the Catholic Church — and neither of those things involves spin.

      Okay, I wondered, what are those two things? They are:

      First, Pope Benedict needs to come clean on just what he knew, and when he knew it, about sexual abuse in the churches of his archdiocese when he was archbishop of Munich during the 1970s and first part of the 1980s.

      Second, the Pope should put in place throughout the entire Roman Catholic Church, a rule requiring priests to report any incidents of sexual abuse of minors which they learn about, to the police.

      The first question is somewhat akin to asking a man when he stopped beating his wife. The second – although it sounds good on the surface – would actually involve the violation of the confessional. Of course, the Pope gave this journalist neither.

      But neither did he give spin. What he gave was direct from the heart. There was not a false note in it. It was the bare and absolute truth. If a journalist is so cynical as to make it possible to dismiss this Letter as “spin”, then I can’t really hope that there is anything that the Pope will be able to say or do to make a difference.

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder) says:

        What else is there but spin. He can condemn all he wants, which is a small advance given the Keep it quiet practices of others, but his solution is to sweep it under another rug by seeing it as yet another problem of excess following Vatican II to be addressed by some “reform of the reform” agenda, when the problem goes much deeper and much longer than that.

        • Schütz says:

          Thanks, PE. You have once again admirably served to prove my point.

        • Terry Maher (Past Elder) says:

          Falsch. If by “your point” you mean that if one dismisses this letter then there is nothing the Pope can say that will make a difference. Once again, the unexamined premise is, The Catholic Church The Catholic Church The Catholic Church and therefore anything which does not join in that refrain must proceed from, as you label it in this case, cynicism.

          Maybe it proceeds from this: the problem of Catholic clerical sexual abuse is not as the letter identifies it a phenomenon of postconciliar excess and disarray and will not be addressed by the “reform of the reform” agenda advanced against it.

          Not maybe, it does.

  4. Matthias says:

    i just look at all of this, as well as within the Munich diocese ,let alone the abuse that has occurred in other denominations-let’s not forget the Exclusive Brethren-and i believe that what is required is genuine repentance across the churches. Afterall judgement begins in the House of the Lord

  5. Christine says:

    Just saw this story:


    As well as two local pediatricians who are facing charges of abusing children.

    Seems to me that the libertarian 60’s are still with us. As society has thrown off the “shackles” of restraint we will sadly continue to see more and more of this.

    Both in the church and out.


    • Tony says:

      Seems to me that the libertarian 60’s are still with us. As society has thrown off the “shackles” of restraint we will sadly continue to see more and more of this.

      This is an enormous cop out IMO, Christine.

      If you look at the figures of abuse in documents like the John Jay report, the abusers were products of the pre-VatII church, ie, they grew up in the church of the ‘less libertarian’ era.

      They came from an era where ‘father knows best’ and all the nasty little secrets were swept under the carpet. Who knows how many of these secrets died with perpetrators or victims?

      In the post-libertarian era, as you call it, the thing that changed was that the church in particular and society in general would no longer tolerate this kind blindness.

      • Tony, I think you’re right; to blame this even partly on the post_VII ethos is a cop out.

        You also wrote, “Who knows how many of these secrets died with perpetrators or victims?” That is a thought almost too horrible to contemplate. Thankfully, God knows, and we can be consoled by the thought that he has already meted out perfect justice to the perpetrators (where repentance was absent) and provided healing in abundance to the victims. All shall be revealed, too. In the meantime: Lord, have mercy!

        • David Schutz says:

          The question of the accuracy or justification of the Holy Father’s diagnosis is an interesting one which must take into account several factors.

          These include the fact that

          1. the goverenment report in Ireland that started this off only looked at cases from 1975 and later. Thus the H.F. is justified in seeing the confusion of the post conciliar years as at least a contributing factor. Neither you, Pastor Mark, nor you Tony were there then so I will allow that the H.F. has a better view of this than we do.

          It is clear however that he does not blame the Council itself bit rather the distorted views arising from it.

          However there is another factor that should be taken into account – a factor which we have discussed on this blog. The post conciliar crisis found good well-tilled soil in the hearts of priests and religious who had their formation in the decade or so prior to the Council. The many thousands of priests and religious who forsook their vows sfter the Council had their formation BEFORE the Council. All this tells us is that ther never was a golden age. Nevertheless the clerical abuse cycle does appear to be a mixture of whatever shakey formation these guys had before the Council even opened and the heady days after it closed that caused such mass confusion.

        • Terry Maher (Past Elder) says:

          Well, I was there then, but that is routinely discounted about everything else so why not this. Forget it: I saw nothing, knew nothing — hey, that’s the party line!

          So then, the Catholic Church never taught what it REALLY teaches until Vatican II which has never REALLY been implemented rightly and now needs a reform of the reform, but of course this is happening everywhere so it REALLY isn’t a Catholic issue at all.

          The spin never stops.

      • PM says:

        This points to the real reform of moral theology for which Vatican II called: moving beyond the dualism, legalism and voluntarism that had crept in since the 14th century and returning to the high road of the Gospels, Augustine and Aquinas with their emphasis on the Beatitudes, virtues and gifts. (Apologies to Pinckaers for this gross oversimplification!)

        I suspect that what was truly toxic was the collision of a jansenised and repressive piety with the ‘let it all hang out’ pop psychology that spread through the Church in the late 60s and said that it all depended how you felt about it.

    • PM says:

      And now it’s hitting the media. Let’s see if they are as hard on themselves as they are on the Church. See the ABC story ‘I wasn’t the only abuse victim: Hey Dad! star’.

      Indeed I read recently that the rate of arrests for these crimes is rising across the board – resumably as society and the police become more aware of it. Anyone who remembers the Justice Yeldham scandal in Sydney will have noted that the goings-on at ‘The Wall’ were undisturbed for years.

      • Terry Maher (Past Elder) says:

        Good for bloody you. I thought David would be the first one to reach for the old “all this crap since Vatican II proves how bad things were before and how much we needed Vatican II” line.

  6. Terry Maher (Past Elder) says:

    More “they do it too so we’re not so bad”.

    • Ttony says:

      Not at all: in fact there is an extra layer of guilt which attaches to a priest who dishonours the changed nature which is part of what happens at his ordination.

      But don’t try and pretend that this is just a Catholic problem, and don’t try to pretend that a sexualised secular society will not cause grave damage to a far wider number of children.

  7. Christine says:

    No, not at all. Merely to show it’s a human problem across the board. Both my husband and sister in their careers as police officer and licensed Social Worker will attest to that. They’ve seen plenty.


  8. joyfulpapist says:

    David, the Pope’s insistence that Bishops focus on the conciliar documents will please neither the traditionalists who wish to see VII reversed nor the liberals who want to focus on ‘the spirit of VII’ rather than what it actually said.

    I don’t suppose for a moment that he thought it would.

    But I think you can often judge truth by how much it upsets the two extremes – and this is clearly an example of that.

    He’s not proposing a return to the seige mentality that had developed inside the Church prior to the Council.

    He is blaming the errors of the Enlightenment and modernism that infected the Church in the first part of the last century and flowered after the Council.

    He is proposing meditation on what the Council actually said.

    Good for him.

    • Terry Maher (Past Elder) says:

      OMG, not ANOTHER “what the Church REALLY teaches” or “what the council REALLY said”!

      The Council enshrined and made Catholicism itself the errors of the Enlightenment and modernism.

      Clerical sexual abuse has a long long history, it infected the preconciliar Catholic Church as much and maybe more, and for this pope to make it a “reform of the reform” issue is just beyond amazing.

      • Kyle says:

        What is your problem when people say ‘What the Church really means’. Surely this is not just a Catholic phenomenon? People regularly have disputes about meaning.

  9. David,

    There are ways and means of reporting child abuse to the police without violating the confidentiality of confession. This really is a red herring, given that the Vatican’s own investigations must presumably tread on this territory. I do think that this is a less than satisfactory reponse, given the gravity of these crimes. The cloak of secrecy really needs to be removed entirely if the Roman church is to regain public trust and respect.

    Now, when the dust of all this has settled, can we unpack the statement: “that all Irish Catholics devote their Friday penances (ie. their acts of fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture [Nb!], and works of mercy), for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to the intention of obtaining the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.” The desire to seek healing and renewal may be commendable but the theology behind this is questionable to say the least. Pray for healing and renewal, certainly, but can grace really be ‘obtained’ through our acts of piety and mercy? Please explain. Congruent merit, I suppose? Has Gabriel Biel been elevated to “official theologian of the Catholic Church”?

  10. Mrs Doyle says:

    Mostly ignoring the comments above which totally misunderstand the very complex situation (both historical and involving both the Church and State) in Ireland, I thought the Papal letter said what needed to be heard by both the clergy and the laity.

    I do agree that this horrible situation came about due to a spiritual crisis of faith, but to be honest, this was the excuse used by Bishops confronted with a priest accused of abuse.
    It was why the abuse was never reported to police and why the priest was moved on – it was seen as a personal failing and not as a psychological illness which needed treatment and criminal investigation.

    The situation in Ireland is almost unique, and from my experience living and studying there, it deserves careful and closer analysis so that this never happens again.

    Every recommendation the Holy Father puts forward needs to be implemented, but the Irish State needs to face similar scrutiny for its complicity and enact mandatory reporting legislation (see blog link).

    • “Mrs Doyle”,

      The unique factor then, in the Irish context, would be the complicity of the state, iyo? Yes, that does need further investigation. Let us hope it does prove to be unique; but I’m afraid that the close relationship between state and church that prevails in majority ‘Catholic’ countries gives me cause to suspect it isn’t. Time will tell. I’m glad you acknowledge the need for mandatory reporting legislation.

      • Mrs Doyle says:

        The most ‘unique’ part about it, is that it has continued for a lot longer than other ‘catholic’ countries.
        I think you’ll find that the Irish State failed to provide certain public services and left it for the Church to fill in the gaps.
        Besides, there aren’t many ‘catholic’ countries left, are there?

  11. Peter says:

    A book which offers an even handed assessment of the abuse crisis is Philip Jenkins “Pedophiles and Priests” which will provide some very good answers to the predictable attempts to smear this humble and holy man without attempting to let anyone off the hook. Written well before Benedict took the reigns as pontiff (1996) it seeks to answer the question, “does the Church need to change its rules and, if so, how?”

    It is a hard read, relentlessly plodding through the data offering no salve for consciences involved, from the reader to the very highest level.

    I doubt it will impress those who uncharitably or perhaps even deliberately ignored the gentle German’s plea to read his recent letter with a genuinely open heart and mind, but for the genuine seeker of truth, the answers are there in statistics, historical and legal evidence.

    Ironic that the very people who have systematically undermined what little central authority there is in the Catholic Church are the front rows of the mob howling for the centralised authority to take personal responsibility for the direct result of localised decision making which was made on the basis of the same permissive gospel they so vigorously promulgate.

    I suspect if the Holy Father had showed up and crucified himself in the main street of Dublin in reparation for the sins of those acting on behalf of the Church there would be the same small contingent prepared to complain that the length of the nails driven into his hands were insulting to victims.

    • Schütz says:

      I suspect if the Holy Father had showed up and crucified himself in the main street of Dublin in reparation for the sins of those acting on behalf of the Church there would be the same small contingent prepared to complain that the length of the nails driven into his hands were insulting to victims.

      This is sadly true, and something that I am myself just coming to terms with. The crimes in question are enormous, and the pain and shock that many feel is so great, that they react predictably with the desire for the blood and destruction of those whom they deem responsible – not the perpetrators only, but the bishops, the pope and the whole Catholic Church. My fear is that in their deep longing for justice, they may in fact tear apart the only good that is left in the world, the only place where they can find the healing they need. I think that was the hardest thing the Pope had to address in his Letter. Most people have ignored that section.

      • Peter says:

        David, if the hatefull reaction were limited to actual victims then I think there would be few people who would fail to respect the understandable expression of hurt no matter what was written. Words alone will never heal that kind of betrayal.

        It is the opportunistic types that not only make most of us ill for their shameless abuse of the pain genuine victims to further their own agendas, but they further dishonour the actual victims’ pain by associating it with their tired flogging of long dead horses.

    • Louise says:

      Ironic that the very people who have systematically undermined what little central authority there is in the Catholic Church are the front rows of the mob howling for the centralised authority to take personal responsibility for the direct result of localised decision making which was made on the basis of the same permissive gospel they so vigorously promulgate.

      Yes. Ironic.

  12. fr Ronan Kilgannon says:

    It seems that the Pope is damned if he does and damned if he doesn’t. If we are truly outraged by the abuse of children, sexually and otherwise, let us demand governments face the issue wherever it is occurring. Government statistics from Australia and Ireland suggest that some form of sexual abuse is suffered by one in seven girls and one in twelve boys in their families. If there was an omission in the pope’s letter it was the failure to address child abuse in Catholic families, which occurs in a far higher degree than among priests and religious. Am I trying to divert attention from the latter – no. I am hoping to extent our attention so that no child will be abused in the Church or in society. I am hoping that Mr Coyne in his righteous anger will address this matter on his website.

    • Mrs Doyle says:

      You are very right Fr, that’s why legislation like mandatory reporting is so important – it protects ALL children in ALL areas of life, not just religious, but in education as well.

      Potential offenders are attracted to roles where they come into contact with children, especially where the role is more of less autonomous. It should come as no surprise that married men are the most likely offenders, as well as teachers and medical professionals.

      It’s interesting to note that in Ireland, these professions (as well as the HSE – Health Services Executive) have also been shown to abuse or neglect children at the same time (and well after) the clerical abuse was unveiled.

    • Tony says:

      Perhaps you might give us an example of the demands you are directing towards governments, Fr Ronan?

      The issue today is the one brought to a head by the Irish abuse crisis and the Pope’s response.

      Of course we need to respond to the wider issue of abuse, but it is the church that is in the spotlight now and that light continues to get bigger as more and more revelations in more and more countries indicate a systemic problem in an organisation that has the protection of the vulnerable as a core belief.

      • Mrs Doyle says:


        The Irish situation merely highlights that there needs to be a two-pronged approach in any country where the Church (or any other institution) shows an inability to deal appropriately with abuse.

        The first arm is up to the Church to get right.
        The Holy Father has outlined clear proposals in his letter, and this needs to be translated into clear policies in every archdiocese etc…

        The second arm is up to the State to implement the proper legislation to prosecute and compel all those who come into contact with children to report suspected abuse.

        The only ‘systematic’ problem, is the cover-up and the total misunderstanding by the Church that abusive behaviour is not merely a personal (sinful) failure, or a criminal one, but also an illness.

        We can talk about the Church’s approach until the cows come home, but without back-up from the State, it is only half-baked.

    • Fr Kilgannon, respectfully, where have you been for the last 25 years? That is how long mandatory reporting laws have been on the statute books in some Australian jurisdictions. Is that not evidence that ‘we’ are taking this issue seriously in areas other than the church?

  13. fr Ronan Kilgannon says:

    Dear Tony, if there could be a Murphy report into child sex abuse by clerics and religious, surely there should be a ‘Murphy Report’ into child abuse in families in Ireland which, according to the statistics, would be much worse. In Australia, the most serious government initiated investigation is called a Royal Commission. I presume it is the same in the U.K. My local member of parliament knows my views on this, but it seems that the politicians are loath to touch it.

    The matter is serious where ever it occurs. What I react against is the impression given in the media, worldwide, that a very high percentage of Catholic priests and religious are involved, which is not true, and that the crime is almost exclusively a Catholic clerical phenomenon, which is also not true. Why do we fall for these lies?

    The percentage of abuse among celibate priests in the Catholic Church is no higher than it is among priests of the Orthodox Church and ministers of protestant denominations, or from what scanty statistics are available, people in positions of authority in the other world faiths or any profession. But we never hear a word about this. From ‘freedom of information’ in the U.S. it was found that insurance companies had paid more money to victims of abuse by Protestant ministers than had been paid out by the Catholic Church. We never hear a word about this.

    And as I said above, the percentage of abuse in the general population is way higher than it is by priests and religious. It was pointed out recently that for every case of abuse by a priest in the USA there are 100 cases by teachers in public schools. But we hear not a word about that.

    Hence the erroneous impression given that abuse is almost exclusively a Catholic celibate clergy crime. Why is the media so biased in its reporting? And why is it not questioned by anyone? And why do we accept the false impression that the media is giving? I am really disappointed that Catholic professionals who have these statistics at their fingertips have remained silent.

    I have been accused before of trying to divert attention from the clerical crime, by trying to bring some balance into the reporting of this sad affair. If Catholic laity are demoralised by it, can you imagine what it is like for a priest?

    Every single case of abuse is one too many. We must regret and do penance for that small percentage of Catholic priests and religious worldwide who have this pathological tendency and have acted on it. We must do all we can for the victims and also help the perpetrators as much as is possible. I learned from a government conference on child sexual abuse in Sydney some years back (and not reported in the media) that the seriousness of child sexual abuse was not understood, and it’s consequences were not appreciated until recently by psychiatrists, psychologists or anyone. Silence and ignorance prevailed everywhere.

    We must regret the abuse that is being reported but also seek some redress for the much higher percentage of children who are abused in families, including Catholic families, and have no one to speak out for them. This is where the biggest cover-up has been, and still is, occurring. We must demand every possible help for the victims, and convictions and rehabilitation for the abusers.

    David, the Gospel of last Sunday is ringing in my ears too.

    • Schütz says:

      “From ‘freedom of information’ in the U.S. it was found that insurance companies had paid more money to victims of abuse by Protestant ministers than had been paid out by the Catholic Church. We never hear a word about this.”

      The difference is that there are no bishops to take responsibility in Protestant churches. Much of the vitriol has been directed against the Bishops rather than the abusers, and hence against the Pope too. I think that this is part of the idea of that people have that the Catholic Church is “powerful” (just count how many times that word appears in reporting on this subject in the media). Protestant churches are small fry, and Protestant pastors even smaller fry. There is no reason why the media should be interested in them because they are not deemed “powerful”. The media storm is partly about a desire to pull down the “powerful”. I can understand that, but the perception is not really accurate.

      • Peter says:

        “The difference is that there are no bishops to take responsibility in Protestant churches”

        The book I referred to in a comment above clearly shows that there is at least comparable, if not worse, problem of abuse in Protestant (and other religions) leaders as the Church. The difference in coverage and legal action cant be explained away as media bias. Many actions against Protestant communities were unsuccessful because they had taken as much precaution as possible within their systems. The reason Catholics get so hard hit in courts and in media is that we have the systems and the authority in place to stop this sort of thing being spread around like it has been.

        The fact is that, if individual Catholic bishops had followed the Canon Law requirements set by ‘Rome’ in these cases the damage would have been halted at the first confirmed instance, victims treated with proper respect and innocent priests not shamed for life by false accusations. They were convinced by ‘latest medical theories’ and other ‘experts’, together with fluffy so called ‘pastoral’ advisors which urged them to avoid using the nasty legalistic responses to the situation and allow ‘therapeutic’ options. We all know the results. In other words, if they had done as they were repeatedly told in the first place most of the repeat offences wouldn’t have happened.

        Protestants weren’t able to be sued for neglect in many cases because they simply couldn’t be expected to uphold regulations and inform authorities that they didn’t, and still don’t, have.

        It may shock some, but I actually agree that Rome should have been more active in calling Bishops to account. I suspect a lot more has been done in this regard than we hear about, but it obviously wasnt enough. A lot of the problem can be traced back to the fact that the lines of authority in the Church rely heavily on an honest submission to the direction of those in authority. Misguided people ignoring the Church’s direction on the basis that they know a better ‘more pastoral’ way is hardly a new theme in post VII Western Catholic culture.

        I wonder if Brian and other ‘pirate radio stations’ (cf: Goodies) will be agitating for annual visits from Vatican observers to ensure local complience to Rome’s directions in order to make the kind of judgements most ignorant outsiders are making about the workings of the Vatican?

  14. Christine says:

    If you look at the figures of abuse in documents like the John Jay report, the abusers were products of the pre-VatII church, ie, they grew up in the church of the ‘less libertarian’ era.

    Tony, that’s quite true, I don’t disagree with you. But since the 60’s there have been cultural factors that weren’t in place prior to Vatican II. The Internet itself, like most things that human beings have invented, has it’s good and shadow side.

    A while back there were some very dismaying stories in the news here about American and European men (some married) who travel to Thailand and other Asian countries to solicit children for sex. The fact that the government has to monitor “chat rooms” to catch adults trolling for children is very telling.

    Since the 60’s life has become much faster for kids and sex is used to sell everything.

    Priests, pastors, rabbis, teachers, coaches and others have been caught with child pornography on their PC’s.

    That didn’t exist forty years ago.


  15. Terry Maher (Past Elder) says:

    Clerical sexual abuse existed more then forty years ago. It is centuries old. Strange as it may seem for me to say it, Vatican II had nothing to do with this problem. And so, “reform of the reform” measures on the part of those who want their “spirit” of Vatican II to be what Vatican II REALLY said will not help at all.

    As to the rest, Vatican II itself wasn’t in place before the 60s, and it itself is one of the 60s phenomenon, so it’s like getting off one drug by getting on another to push what Vatican II REALLY said as a corrective.

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