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Homily of Bishop Denis on Safeguarding Sunday 2022

Cathedral of the Assumption, Carlow @ 10.30am

Safeguarding Sunday 2022


This Sunday we celebrate ‘Safeguarding Sunday’. An opportunity to thank the many volunteers who ensure safeguarding is firmly embedded in the culture of diocese. ‘Safeguarding Sunday’ acknowledges mistakes in the past that remain an ‘open wound’ while publicly recognising the huge strides that have been made in this area over recent times. I speak of the appointment of our Director of Safeguarding, the work of our DLP’s, our Diocesan Safeguarding Committee, our priests and parish teams and of course the dedication and commitment of so many local safeguarding representatives that has made the Church and its modus operandi safe places for all.

I’m very conscious as we gather this morning in the Cathedral here in Carlow, a dark shadow covers our whole island, after Friday’s tragedy that has left ten people dead at Creeslough, Donegal. We think of the bereaved families this Sunday morning. They and all of us are “briste agus bruite” broken and crushed. You don’t have to be a gaeilgeoir to appreciate those sentiments, but in an area where Irish would be spoken, those words “briste agus bruite” carry their own onomatopoeic resonance. Faith is the only thing that comforts us when words fail. God always walks with us, and so often at times like this, He carries us. Kathleen lights a candle to remember all who died in Friday’s tragedy and their families.

In Luke’s gospel, Jesus showed yet again he had no barriers when it came to sickness, virus or disease. To touch a leper in biblical times was tantamount to being infected oneself. The one who thanks is applauded, and in the craftiest turn of events, Jesus asks him and all of us: “Were not all ten made clean? The other nine, where are they?[1]

For too often finding ourselves among the nine, we pray for forgiveness …


In our recent National Synthesis, reflecting our twenty-six dioceses, presented to Rome as part of the  Universal Synod response, the very first theme addressed in that twenty-six page submission was ‘Abuse as Part of the Story of the Church’. It was in many ways a very raw beginning to an all-encompassing document, because it spoke of the hurt, the disappointment, the ‘open wound’ that abuse is and remains in the Irish Church.

When I meet survivors of abuse their pain is palpable and I think will always remain so. I was ordained a priest in 1988. It was before the Cloyne Report, the Ferns Report, the Murphy Report and the many other enquiries that pointed at times to concealment and showed a complete inadequacy in how we as Church had dealt with this issue. I know I will live with this context for all my priesthood; but much more importantly victims/survivors will live with it for the rest of their days. There are flashbacks for them; there are trigger events that bring them back to that abuse; there is no doubt huge damage and hurt has been done.

We have as Church made great strides in the area of Safeguarding. I realise we can never become complacent. Later towards the end of the year the diocese, like others, will be subject to a Review by Independent Reviewers who will look at every aspect of what we do; the last diocesan review here was in May 2012. The appointment of a dedicated Director of Safeguarding, Kathleen Sherry, building on the great work of Michele Hughes was critical to our diocese, as are our Local Safeguarding Representatives operating in everyone of our 56 parishes. Our priests, permanent deacons and parish teams are central to our safeguarding ethos and culture.

The focus of Safeguarding Sunday is to make amends to those who were abused within Church structures and to reassure the parish community that processes and protocols are in place today that make church and parish safe places for the young and the vulnerable. I want to say thanks to the many working in different areas of the diocese who ensure this safeguarding culture is firmly embedded in all we do. The Safeguarding Newsletter available in the Cathedral today and in all our parishes and on the Kandle website reminds us, of what is now in place to support the active engagement of all in the life of our parishes.

As we emerge out of the pandemic, while still conscious Covid remains and indeed current case numbers seem once again to be rising, I invite all our parishes to re-engage with altar servers, youth readers and youth choirs. It’s great to see Olwyn, Emily and Nathan serving here in the Cathedral this morning. Young people give our Church great hope. Nothing brought me more delight at the recent Ploughing Championships than the visit of several young groups to our diocesan stand. Maybe they wanted a wristband, a magnet or a selfie, but they were very welcome!

We need to involve the young again in the life of our parish. I accept the engine of parish takes time to crank up after a series of pandemic lockdowns, but I suggest the time is right now to ensure our young and our vulnerable are at the heart once again of parish life. I invite all our Parish Pastoral Councils to considers ways of involving and including our young people. We need to fill the empty rows in all our churches!    

Returning to the gospel only one leper comes back to say thanks. Let’s not jump to condemn too quickly the other nine. A cleansed leper is still for a long time coming to terms with his healing; shunned and ostracised by family and friends. It takes time to get over recovery. Maybe the nine were traumatised? The trauma of recovery may be as challenging as the illness itself.

If we are honest, we’re not the best ourselves at saying thanks. I think of the lady I held the door for at the Arboretum yesterday, she walked through and I said “you’re welcome”, to which a little startled she said : “How are you!”. We all forget! The nine lepers in Luke’s gospel who never come back to say thanks are not some isolated sect; in fact in the scripture passage they were the majority and in life they are the majority too. Luke’s account of Jesus’ journey along the border region is much more than a healing of those isolated because of leprosy; it’s a message about inclusion and gratitude.

And they are my two words for Safeguarding Sunday 2022: ‘inclusion’ and ‘gratitude’. Inclusion of the young and the vulnerable in the heart of the life of our parishes and gratitude to our Safeguarding Director, our Designated Liaison People, our Priests, our Permanent Deacons, our Local Safeguarding Representatives and our Diocesan Safeguarding Committee for all they do to ensure safeguarding is at the centre of all we do.

[1] Lk.17:17