Pope Benedict explains the situation to the Irish

What Pope Benedict wrote to the people of Ireland about the sexual abuse of minors by priests.

It is pretty long and you would read it in the whole text on your own.  But here are salient paragraphs with my emphases and comments.  There is enough in the whole letter that, on another day, I might have made different editing choices.  But, here it is…



2. 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.


At the same time, I must also express my conviction that, in order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children. Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.  [Does anyone else catch an echo of what Pope John Paul II asked the Church to do before the 2000 Jubilee year?]

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.  [Self-examination and then intercession after penance.  Grace and elbow-grease.  Both the natural and supernatural order must be involved.]

3. […]

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. [Which means that the recently revealed problems will be that much more painful.] 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.

4. 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. [Pope Benedict will always bring the discussion back to our Catholic identity, won’t he!] Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. [See?] 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. [Please note: This describes most Catholic communities in prosperous countries.] 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. [Sounds like a form of modernism.] 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. [The Holy Father continues to call for a "hermeneutic of continuity" in regard to the Council’s application.] In particular, [And now we get to a sore spot.] there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. ["well-intentioned but misguided" I believe describes the approach of some Church authorities.  Others were perhaps motivated more by a kind of cowardice or weakness of character.] 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.

Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found.[Thus, the problems can’t be reduced to a simple cause.  Thus, the solutions can’t be simple either.  There are no quick fixes.] Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: [1] inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life;[2]  insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates;[3]  a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; [4] 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. Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.

5. On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do 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. [NB] Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, “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” (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).

With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal. I now turn to you with words that come from my heart, and I wish to speak to each of you individually and to all of you as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

6. To the victims of abuse and their families

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. […] In [the Church’s] her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. […]

Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said. I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church – a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you will come to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you. I am confident that in this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace.

7. To priests and religious who have abused children

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. [Once again, the natural and the supernatural.  Here and later.  In this life and in the afterlife.] 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.

I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow. Sincere repentance opens the door to God’s forgiveness and the grace of true amendment. [Human respect is one thing, but eternal separation from God in Hell, the unending "pain of loss" and its torments… another thing entirely.  In an age when not enough attention has been given to the Four Last Things – for reasons you can probably list – this is a salutary admonition from the Vicar of Christ.] By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged, you should seek to atone personally for your actions. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from even the most terrible evil. At the same time, God’s justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy[Reminder: There is no sin that a limited, finite, mortal can commit that the infinite and Almighty God cannot forgive and cleanse.]

8. To parents

You have been deeply shocked to learn of the terrible things that took place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of all. In today’s world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up children. [Do I hear an "Amen!"?] […] This noble but demanding task is entrusted in the first place to you, their parents. [A good point to bring up.  Parents sometimes do not take adequate interest in the formation of their children and instead abdicate their responsibilities to others, not perhaps out of lack of love but out of the felt need to attend to the details of a ever more distracting and harried lifestyle.]  I urge you to play your part [….]

9. To the children and young people of Ireland  [of the prosperous West]

I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age. Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all scandalized by the sins and failures of some of the Church’s members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8). He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart. Together with your fellow Catholics in Ireland, I look to you to be faithful disciples of our Lord and to bring your much-needed enthusiasm and idealism to the rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church.

10. To the priests and religious of Ireland

All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse. In view of the outrage and indignation which this has provoked, not only among the lay faithful but among yourselves and your religious communities, many of you feel personally discouraged, even abandoned. I am also aware that in some people’s eyes you are tainted by association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible for the misdeeds of others. At this painful time, I want to acknowledge the dedication of your priestly and religious lives and apostolates, and I invite you to reaffirm your faith in Christ, your love of his Church and your confidence in the Gospel’s promise of redemption, forgiveness and interior renewal. In this way, you will demonstrate for all to see that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (cf. Rom 5:20).

I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered and angered by the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors. Yet, it is essential that you cooperate closely with those in authority and help to ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly evangelical, just and effective. Above all, I urge you to become ever more clearly men and women of prayer, courageously following the path of conversion, purification and reconciliation. In this way, the Church in Ireland will draw new life and vitality from your witness to the Lord’s redeeming power made visible in your lives.

11. To my brother bishops [Here we go…]

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. [Some claim that the Church’s own structures we designed to cover things up.  That can’t be sustained if you look at what the Church’s actual law was in the past.] Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. [Can we add here that serious mistakes are also made now in protecting the reputations of innocent people falsely accused?] 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[Somebody chose those bishops.] 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. They too have taken part in recent discussions here in Rome with a view to establishing a clear and consistent approach to these matters. It is imperative that the child safety norms of the Church in Ireland be continually revised and updated and that they be applied fully and impartially in conformity with canon law.

Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. The Irish people rightly expect you to be men of God, to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal conversion daily. For them, in the words of Saint Augustine, you are a bishop; yet with them you are called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Sermon 340, 1 ["Believe me, brothers and sisters, if what I am for you frightens me, what I am with you reassures me. For you I am the bishop; with you I am a Christian.  ‘Bishop,’ this is the title of an office one has accepted to discharge; ‘Christian,’ that is the name of the grace one receives. Dangerous title! Salutary name!"]). […]

12. To all the faithful of Ireland

[…] In confronting the present crisis, measures to deal justly with individual crimes are essential, yet on their own they are not enough: a new vision is needed, to inspire present and future generations to treasure the gift of our common faith. By treading the path marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.


14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.

At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked 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 your country. I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.  [Make the whole year a "Lent" and go to confession!]

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, 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.  [Note my comments about reparation and prayer in my piece about that phrase "Save the Liturgy – Save The World".]

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).

Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, [And the Visitation of women religious continues in the USA… but i digress…] as well as seminaries and religious congregations. Arrangements for the Visitation, which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal, will be made in cooperation with the competent offices of the Roman Curia and the Irish Episcopal Conference. The details will be announced in due course.

I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious. It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere, and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you will come to a more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers you through his Church.  [Penance, confession, Adoration, visitations, missions… is sounding familiar.  I wonder when the first liberal will spout off that the Pope thinks that the way to deal with Ireland is to "turn the clock back!"  Instead, they will counter that we need women priests, no hierarchy or at least locally elected hierarchy, new sacramental celebrations for getting married to your "partner" or your dog or lawn-mower, that the Church’s teachings should conform to the present felt interior presence of God in the heart of a mature modern person, etc.]

In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure of Saint John Mary Vianney, […]

[…] Since the time when the gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to address and remedy it. While no effort should be spared in improving and updating existing procedures, I am 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.

I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, […]

From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph




About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

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  1. Bob Glassmeyer says:

    Ireland, for one thing, needs to quit flirting with paganism, and quit trying to bring that rot into the Catholic Church.

  2. RichR says:

    Ireland used to be identified by it’s stalwart Catholicism. Now it’s known for such shallow things as Riverdance and pagan cultic mystery. With a Catholic supermajority of 86%, we must ask what, indeed, has happened to the Church in recent years.

  3. What the heck are you two talking about?

  4. Thomas S says:

    Excellent letter by the Holy Father. And it can be summarized in those three words of Father Neuhaus: Fidelity, Fidelity, Fidelity.

    Fidelity to the True Church, and not what we wish the Church to be.

    Fidelity to Jesus Christ, and not a Savior emptied of His true meaning and refilled with whatever we wish He had taught. I always say that the most popular false god worshipped in the Church is Jesus Christ. We ignore the Gospels and the Magisterium, deify our own distorted desires, and slap the name Jesus on it.

    Well, enough is enough. Return to Christ and His Church or die eternally.

  5. JosephMary says:

    By George, I think he’s got it!

    Incredible letter. Beautiful. Instructive. Supernatural and natural, as Fr. Z remarks.

    Now if souls will just finally listen and OBEY.

    Ave Maria!

  6. shane says:

    This is a column in today’s Irish Independent on the culpability of psychiatrists by Patricia Casey, Professor of Psychiatry at University College Dublin, consultant psychiatrist at the Mater Misericordiae University Hospital, Dublin, and editor of the Psychiatric Bulletin:


  7. Re: the letter

    People have said in the past that Benedict XVI isn’t clear enough. In this letter, he lays it all out on the line, not mincing many words. His prescription is both traditional and straightforward, and a rejection of the normal modern methods of kabuki contrition theater.

    I read some of it to my mother, who’s stuck with the mainstream media. She agreed that it wasn’t at all like what the news media had been saying!

    His prayer for the Church in Ireland is an equally straightforward postscript.

  8. Fr Martin Fox says:

    It looks very good; and it is hard to imagine what more a pope might do.

    And yet–we know what that crowd that swarms over at the NCR(eporter) site wants…

    Well, we know what they claim to want: more toughness, more action. Never mind the incredible hypocrisy of that crowd, which always moans when Rome interferes in the local church, now expecting the pope to be ultra-ultramontane at this point.

    But that’s not what it’s about. It’s just hatred. I was going to post over there that “what you really want is for the pope just to kill himself, you hate him that much” but I didn’t bother. That dishonest, evil crew over there gets no more comments from me. God help them.

  9. irishgirl says:

    Nail [the bishops of Ireland] meet hammer [the Holy Father] !

    Excellent letter-and thanks for your emphases and comment, Father Z, they really help.

    Of course, the mainstream media will twist it for their own ends, as well as the NCR crowd.

  10. Henry Edwards says:

    Father Fox: it is hard to imagine what more a pope might do.

    Unless one might at least imagine that Section 11 might have concluded with a paragraph reading like this:

    “I have therefore received and accepted the resignations of the following bishops ….. ”

    Of course, whether any such action would actually be warranted would depend on whether and to what extent any currently serving bishops are culpable.

  11. Incaelo says:

    I am really in awe of this letter. I’ve been taking a close look it this afternoon because I was translating it into Dutch, and it sticks with me. The pope goes beyond the bounds a pastoral letter and indeed, like Suburbanbanshee said, he lays it all out on the line.

    Of course, I’m already seeing massive distortions of the letter in the media, which in any way focusses mostly on how disappointed everyone is… Well, not this Catholic, and I am happy to see that the Dutch bishops have also welcomed the letter, accepting its contents as being valid for the Netherlands as for Ireland.

  12. Lee says:

    There’s no doubt that not only Ireland, but the Church in the West has a problem with sexual perversion. HOWEVER, I fervently wish that the Church together with all of punditdom would point out that so does the ENTIRE society.

    For instance, here in Portland the Boy Scouts also are being accused of concealing and protecting perverts. Any articles in your local paper- as there have been many in mine both in Chicagoland and Portland- about soccer coaches, basketball coaches, teachers etc, etc, etc?

    When are we going to begin to address the root causes- chief among them that we are being saturated with pornography?

    I am so tired of the crappola about “Protecting Our Children,” etc and other stupid efforts to close the barn door after the horses have bolted. This is a massive effort to nominally address the problem while leaving the root causes intact.

    No until the porn saturation is addressed we are going to have lots more of the same. To all of those so indignant about this situation, this is not at all a problem that other people have, but that all of us have, we for refuse to undertake the simple steps of self-denial that would annihilate the problem. We cannot live in an atmosphere of incessant sexual titilation without it driving some significant portion of the population mad with desire.

    If only our leaders could muster the same indignation against pornography, especially so-called soft core pornography ( the entry level stuff that comes flooding into our Catholic family rooms by the hour), as they have against smoking! This might eventually have the effect of actually protecting our children.

  13. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Father Fox: it is hard to imagine what more a pope might do.

    Henry: Unless one might at least imagine that Section 11 might have concluded with a paragraph reading like this:

    “I have therefore received and accepted the resignations of the following bishops ….. ”

    Of course, whether any such action would actually be warranted would depend on whether and to what extent any currently serving bishops are culpable.

    Sure; but that is precisely the sort of ultramontane approach that the N”C”R crowd is totally hypocritical in advancing.

    And, to be fair, I’m not comfortable with that either. Can he do it? Sure he can. Ought he to do so? That has serious ramifications, long after today. The pope has very good reasons for hesitating to do so.

  14. tired student says:

    Fr Martin Fox said,

    And, to be fair, I’m not comfortable with that either. Can he do it? Sure he can. Ought he to do so? That has serious ramifications, long after today. The pope has very good reasons for hesitating to do so.

    I am interpreting your statement to mean that the press and the laity shouldn’t dictate the Pope’s employment policies. Many of the laity and the press want the Pope to summarily dismiss any bishop within arm’s reach of the scandals. Perhaps some of the summarily dismissed would have been acquitted in a court of law. Their lives would be damaged because of the rage of others. However, if a bishop is tried for criminal acts and is found guilty, shouldn’t he lose his episcopal seat? Aren’t criminal trials the “tribunals” Pope Benedict speaks of in his pastoral letter? Perhaps the rage of the laity derives not so much from a hunger for the summary dismissal of bishops but rather a frustration that bishops are never subpoenaed. I understand there is potential of injustice and slander towards innocent bishops who are wrung through the legal system. Still, justice must be served to those bishops that have committed crimes beyond a reasonable doubt. This is important even if the line between justice and innocence is often quite thin.

  15. TNCath says:

    Thanks, Father, for the posting. Over yonder at the NCR, they are having a fit over the speech because they believe that talking about the spiritual as well as the practical responses to the scandal is a worthless. I daresay that the militant Church bashers who “want more” from the Pope will never be satisfied.

  16. Fr Martin Fox says:

    Tired Student:

    I’m talking about fundamental questions of ecclesiology and the long-term prospects of the unity of the Church.

    While the model of a monarchical pope–who, for example, might dismiss bishops much as a CEO might dismiss subordinate executives–is not unprecedented, and appeals to many, it raises very fundamental problems about the right ordering of the Church. It creates very difficult problems with our Orthodox brethren, and they should be listened to with respect. It arose given specific circumstances in the life of the Roman Church, and therefore it is reasonable to ask, is it necessary? A parallel example are the papal states. They arose out of historical circumstances, and should be understood that way–but that doesn’t mean we have to hold onto the idea of the pope governing an extensive territory. I think a very good argument can be made that the papacy and the Church have benefited greatly from the pope no longer having that role.

    That the pope can remove a bishop doesn’t mean he should; it may well be in the best interests of the Church that he not exercise that power except rarely.

    My point is not that the pope must not do it. My point is to fill in some reasons–very good reasons I think–for why he may well hesitate to do so: looking far, far, far beyond the circumstances of the present.

  17. nzcatholic says:

    Does that mean that Priest who abused children must now report themselves to the proper authorities? Even if no one has accused them of such things?

  18. That’s what the Pope is telling them they should do. I’d say that constitutes a direct order.

    You’ll notice that he also “suggests” that Ireland should have a national mission for all the priests and religious, and then five seconds later he’s blessing the people who will run the mission which will be held.

    So… I’d say neither statement is really a suggestion — more of a gently phrased command.

  19. irishgirl says:

    Lee-right you are! Great post!

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