Earlier this year Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, left, attended a penitential vigil at St. Ignatius Church in Rome to show contrition for clerical sexual abuse. Abuse survivors in Ireland hope to establish a national day of atonement for abuse. CNS photo/Paul Haring

Irish bishops support idea of national day of atonement for abuse

By  Michael Kelly, Catholic News Service
  • May 22, 2012

DUBLIN - Irish bishops said they would support the establishment of a national day of atonement where the church, the government and wider society could seek forgiveness for abuse suffered by former residents of state-funded, church-run institutions.

A spokesman for the bishops said they would not oppose the idea of such an event provided it was "sensitively organized" and not rushed.

The idea was proposed by 67-year-old abuse survivor Christopher Heaphy, who spoke about his experiences during a Mass May 20 in County Waterford. He suggested there needed to be such a day "where all of the perpetrators ask our forgiveness and the forgiveness especially of those who are in trauma, physical pain, and feel excluded from the mainstream of Irish life."

Heaphy's call came on the third anniversary of the publication of the report of the Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse -- the Ryan Report -- which found that physical abuse was widespread and sexual abuse was endemic in many institutions for boys run by members of religious congregations.

Heaphy said the church was "not the only party that needed to atone for sin," but that the "state and Irish people must question how they turned a blind eye" to what was going on in industrial schools.

He said he felt that the church was responsible for doing more to reach out to former residents of the institutions who suffered abuse.

"The church has a moral duty to apologize, to ask for forgiveness and seek healing from those hurt by the actions of another member. It is hoped that liturgies of atonement, reparation, and reconciliation, which are appropriately and sensitively prepared, will contribute toward the healing of survivors," Heaphy explained.

"We have to go and look in all the corners, crevices, park benches, railway bridges and wherever the victims of this disgrace may be sheltering and bandage their wounds, comfort their anxious minds, bring them back home if possible, and provide them with whatever they may need to compensate for their lack of education, their scarcity of social skills, and the shriveled humanity we, by our meanness, forced on them," he said.

The Irish Catholic Church has struggled to come to terms with abuse after four separate judicial reports uncovered mishandling of abuse going back to the 1950. Four Irish bishops have resigned over claims they had failed to tackle abuse.

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