As I read the Pope’s Pastoral Letter on clerical sexual abuse I was worried that he wouldn’t come up with practical ideas to deal with the problem.
After all, he correctly identified the cause of child abuse in section 4 of his letter:
In recent decades, 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.
See? Sex abuse started in recent decades and it was because the Irish people took up secular ways, and moved away from religion. Combined, with a tendency to avoid a penal approach — well-intentioned, naturally.
It was our own fault and had nothing to do with Catholic priests, brothers and nuns raping children since the 1920s and before.
In section 11, he addresses the 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.
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.
So there you have it. The bishops made mistakes, especially in implementing church law. The Pope seems to have overlooked mention of Irish civil law, but perhaps he’ll come back to that with another pastoral letter when he has time.
He understands how hard it was for the bishops to understand child sexual abuse but now, he wants them to continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence. I have no doubt he’ll explain later what he means by area of competence. I also have no doubt whatever that he’ll explain what he means by continue.
But, as I read through the letter, for all this wonderful understanding of the bishops, and for all this uplifting talk of canon law, I had a tiny doubt. How was he going to fix things?
I needn’t have worried. In section 14, he says, I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.
Here are the Pope’s concrete proposals to deal with the problem of clerical sexual abuse in Ireland:
- Set aside Lent this year 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.
- Devote Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention.
- Offer up fasting, prayer, reading of Scripture and works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.
- Discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation.
- Give particular attention to Eucharistic adoration.
What a relief. That will really get on top of the problem, won’t it? You can just see the survivors of abuse, and their families throwing a party. Thanks be to Jesus, they’re telling each other. At long last we got what we needed. Fasting, prayer, scripture reading and adoration of the eucharist. That won’t be long getting those rapist bastards into the slammer.
Unfortunately, the Holy Father also seems to have overlooked the question of the Vatican coming up with money to help the survivors get on with their lives, but no doubt he’ll say something about that in his next letter.
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).
The Pope goes on to announce an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations.
He also proposes a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious.
It doesn’t matter that the Pope neglected to mention the Ryan report, the Murphy report, the primacy of Irish civil law over church rules, the role of the Vatican in all this abuse or the fact that some of his clergy are criminal rapists.
It doesn’t matter that the Pope fails to mention the active cover-up of crime by Irish bishops.
It doesn’t matter that the Pope thinks clerical child abuse in the 1940s was caused by the loosening of the church’s grip on people’s private relationships in the 1960s.
It doesn’t matter that the Pope thinks criminals will be caught by fasting, reading scripture and adoring the eucharist.
Our children are in safe hands.
By the way, I wonder why the Pope wrote only to the Catholics with his apology. Do you think his letter to the non-Catholics is in the post?