World news Pope Benedict XVI
Pope Benedict apologises for Irish priests' child
Pastoral letter to victims expresses shame and remorse of Catholic church
and calls on priests to face justice
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 20 March 2010 12.27 GMT
A copy of Pope Benedict XVI's pastoral letter to Irish Catholics is displayed
in St Peters Square, Vatican. Photograph: Franco Origlia/Getty Images
The pope today apologised to the victims of child sex abuse by Catholic
priests in Ireland, saying he was "truly sorry" for their
a pastoral letter to Irish Catholics, Benedict XVI castigated Irish
bishops for "grave errors of judgment" in their handling of
the paedophilia scandal and ordered a Vatican investigation into the
But he made no mention
of any Vatican responsibility and gave no specific punishments for bishops
who have been blamed by victims and Irish government inquiries for having
concealed the abuse.
"You have suffered
grievously and I am truly sorry," the pope wrote, addressing the
"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."
The letter described
the sexual and physical abuse perpetrated by priests, brothers and nuns
as "sinful and criminal", saying they had betrayed the trust
of the faithful, brought shame on the church and now must answer to
God and civil authorities.
he said. "Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the
demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy."
the Irish bishops for having failed, "sometimes grievously",
to apply the church's punishments for child abusers, which include defrocking
them. But he did not rebuke them specifically for having failed to report
cases of abuse to police.
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," Benedict wrote.
it must be admitted that grave errors of judgment were made and failures
of leadership occurred. And this has seriously undermined your credibility
In recent weeks,
the Vatican has been trying to contain damage as a string of scandals
over sexual abuse of children by priests has hit Ireland, Germany, Austria
and the Netherlands.
The pope ordered
a Vatican investigation into some dioceses, seminaries and religious
orders. Such inquiries only occur when the Vatican considers a local
church unable to deal with a problem on its own, as in the case of sexual
abuse by US priests.
Victims have demanded
that bishops resign. Three Irish bishops have offered to step down but
the pope has not accepted their resignations.
Three official inquiries,
ordered by the Irish government, documented how thousands of Irish children
were raped, molested or otherwise abused by priests in their parishes,
and by nuns and brothers in boarding schools and orphanages. Irish bishops
did not report a single case to police until 1996 after victims began
to sue the church.
Benedict said he
recognised that nothing could undo the victims' pain and he compared
their suffering to that of Christ on the cross.
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."
News World news Pope Benedict XVI
Full text of the pope's letter to the Catholics
of Ireland on child sex abuse
'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'
guardian.co.uk, Saturday 20 March 2010 12.53 GMT
issued a pastoral letter from the pope to the Catholics of Ireland today,
addressing the scandal of child sex abuse by priests and its concealment
by church leaders. What follows is the full text.
1. Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great
concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like
yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has
come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people
by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious.
I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many
of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts
and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.
As you know, I recently invited the Irish bishops to a meeting here
in Rome to give an account of their handling of these matters in the
past and to outline the steps they have taken to respond to this grave
situation. Together with senior officials of the Roman Curia, I listened
to what they had to say, both individually and as a group, as they offered
an analysis of mistakes made and lessons learned, and a description
of the programmes and protocols now in place. Our discussions were frank
and constructive. I am confident that, as a result, the bishops will
now be in a stronger position to carry forward the work of repairing
past injustices and confronting the broader issues associated with the
abuse of minors in a way consonant with the demands of justice and the
teachings of the Gospel.
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.
It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the problem
of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church. Nevertheless,
the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse that has occurred
within the Irish Catholic community, and to do so with courage and determination.
No one imagines that this painful situation will be resolved swiftly.
Real progress has been made, yet much more remains to be done. Perseverance
and prayer are needed, with great trust in the healing power of God's
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.
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.
3. Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous force
for good at home and abroad. Celtic monks like Saint Columbanus spread
the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of medieval monastic
culture. The ideals of holiness, charity and transcendent wisdom born
of the Christian faith found expression in the building of churches
and monasteries and the establishment of schools, libraries and hospitals,
all of which helped to consolidate the spiritual identity of Europe.
Those Irish missionaries drew their strength and inspiration from the
firm faith, strong leadership and upright morals of the Church in their
From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long period
of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of faith
alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Saint Oliver Plunkett,
the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example of a host
of courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing to lay
down their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel. After Catholic Emancipation,
the Church was free to grow once more. Families and countless individuals
who had preserved the faith in times of trial became the catalyst for
the great resurgence of Irish Catholicism in the nineteenth century.
The Church provided education, especially for the poor, and this was
to make a major contribution to Irish society. Among the fruits of the
new Catholic schools was a rise in vocations: generations of missionary
priests, sisters and brothers left their homeland to serve in every
continent, especially in the English-speaking world. They were remarkable
not only for their great numbers, but for the strength of their faith
and the steadfastness of their pastoral commitment. Many dioceses, especially
in Africa, America and Australia, benefited from the presence of Irish
clergy and religious who preached the Gospel and established parishes,
schools and universities, clinics and hospitals that served both Catholics
and the community at large, with particular attention to the needs of
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.
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. 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.
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. Certainly, among the contributing factors
we can include: 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. 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
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.
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. 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. 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.
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. 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.
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.
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. They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished,
with a strong sense of their identity and worth. They have a right to
be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human
person, to be inspired by the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn
ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting
happiness. This noble but demanding task is entrusted in the first place
to you, their parents. I urge you to play your part in ensuring the
best possible care of children, both at home and in society as a whole,
while the Church, for her part, continues to implement the measures
adopted in recent years to protect young people in parish and school
environments. As you carry out your vital responsibilities, be assured
that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my prayers.
9. To the children and young people of Ireland
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
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. 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).
I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability before
God, to grow in solidarity with your people and to deepen your pastoral
concern for all the members of your flock. In particular, I ask you
to be attentive to the spiritual and moral lives of each one of your
priests. Set them an example by your own lives, be close to them, listen
to their concerns, offer them encouragement at this difficult time and
stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment to the
service of their brothers and sisters.
The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part
in the life of the Church. See that they are formed in such a way that
they can offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in
the midst of modern society (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and cooperate more fully
in the Church's life and mission. This in turn will help you once again
become credible leaders and witnesses to the redeeming truth of Christ.
12. To all the faithful of Ireland
A young person's experience of the Church should always bear fruit in
a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving,
nourishing community. In this environment, young people should be encouraged
to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to high
ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from
the riches of a great religious and cultural tradition. In our increasingly
secularized society, where even we Christians often find it difficult
to speak of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to
find new ways to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of
friendship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church. 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.
13. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is out of deep concern for
all of you at this painful time in which the fragility of the human
condition has been so starkly revealed that I have wished to offer these
words of encouragement and support. I hope that you will receive them
as a sign of my spiritual closeness and my confidence in your ability
to respond to the challenges of the present hour by drawing renewed
inspiration and strength from Ireland's noble traditions of fidelity
to the Gospel, perseverance in the faith and steadfastness in the pursuit
of holiness. In solidarity with all of you, I am praying earnestly that,
by God's grace, the wounds afflicting so many individuals and families
may be healed and that the Church in Ireland may experience a season
of rebirth and spiritual renewal.
14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address
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.
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.
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, 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.
In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure
of Saint John Mary Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the
mystery of the priesthood. "The priest", he wrote, "holds
the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he
is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods."
The Curé d'Ars understood well how greatly blessed a community
is when served by a good and holy priest: "A good shepherd, a pastor
after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can
grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy."
Through the intercession of Saint John Mary Vianney, may the priesthood
in Ireland be revitalized, and may the whole Church in Ireland grow
in appreciation for the great gift of the priestly ministry.
I take this opportunity to thank in anticipation all those who will
be involved in the work of organizing the Apostolic Visitation and the
Mission, as well as the many men and women throughout Ireland already
working for the safety of children in church environments. 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, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children
and with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by
what has occurred in our beloved Church. As you make use of this prayer
in your families, parishes and communities, may the Blessed Virgin Mary
protect and guide each of you to a closer union with her Son, crucified
and risen. With great affection and unswerving confidence in God's promises,
I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of
strength and peace in the Lord.
From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI