Pope encourages Irish bishops to bring healing to abuse victims

By  Catholic News Service
  • November 3, 2006
Pope Benedict XVIPope Benedict XVI said priestly sexual abuse of minors was a "heart-rending" tragedy that requires an effort of purification by the church.

Addressing Ireland's bishops at the Vatican Oct. 28, the Pope encouraged them to establish the truth of past sex abuse cases, take steps to prevent future crimes and bring healing to the victims.

"The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged," the Pope said.

Irish church leaders have had to deal with hundreds of allegations of clerical sexual abuse, many of which came to light in recent years. The bishops set up an advisory committee and an independent, lay-led commission to study the problem, and earlier this year published "Our Children, Our Church," a child protection policy that included new measures more consistent with state procedures.

The Pope's remarks to the bishops, at the end of their ad limina visit to the Vatican, were his most extensive public comments on priestly sex abuse since his election in April 2005.

"In the exercise of your pastoral ministry, you have had to respond in recent years to many heart-rending cases of sexual abuse of minors. These are all the more tragic when the abuser is a cleric," the Pope said.

"In your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important 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."

The Pope said that by facing the problem in this way the church in Ireland would grow stronger and come to see the present moment as a "time of purification."

In their private talks with Vatican agencies, Irish bishops said they were encouraged to continue their efforts to deal with sexual abuse and to develop the policies expressed in "Our Children, Our Church."

Speaking to the bishops as a group, the Pope said it was also important that the good work of the majority of Irish priests not be overshadowed by the transgressions of some.

The Pope said he was concerned about the sharply declining vocation rate in Ireland. He asked the bishops to offer young people an attractive vision of the ordained priesthood.

"Even if Christian commitment is considered unfashionable in some circles, there is a real spiritual hunger and a generous desire to serve others among the young people of Ireland," he said.

The Pope described the Irish as a people shaped by the Christian faith. He said modern changes in Irish society present challenges as well as opportunities, and people are looking to the bishops for leadership.

"Help them to recognize the inability of the secular, materialist culture to bring true satisfaction and joy. Be bold in speaking to them of the joy that comes from following Christ and living according to His commandments," he said.

While the church sometimes must speak out against evils, he said, it must correct the impression that Catholicism is merely a "collection of prohibitions."

"So often the church's countercultural witness is misunderstood as something backward and negative in today's society. That is why it is important to emphasize the good news, the life-giving and life-enhancing message of the Gospel," he said.

The Pope also said he hoped and prayed for reconciliation, particularly in regard to Northern Ireland, where he said much progress has been made in recent times.

In an address to the Pope, Archbishop Sean Brady of Armagh, Northern Ireland, invited the pontiff to visit the country.

The Pope did not respond directly to the invitation. British newspapers reported that consideration was being given to a simultaneous visit to Northern Ireland next spring by the Pope and Britain's Queen Elizabeth, as a culmination of the Northern Ireland peace process.

At a press conference Oct. 28, the Irish bishops said they were impressed with the sympathy and encouragement Pope Benedict showed in their meetings. The Pope tended to do more listening than talking, said Bishop Michael Smith of Meath, Ireland.

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