In this week’s blog, Fr. Paddy comments on the recent liturgy of lament and repentance for the abuse of children.

Fr. Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist papers.

This column appeared in the edition published 8 March 2011.

THE recent liturgy of lament and repentance for the abuse of children by priests and religious contained a letter by St Catherine of Sienna.

St Catherine was a courageous, resilient Christian who, in the 14th century, offered leadership to a church very much on its knees, where the establishment had imploded and whose leadership fled Rome to live in Avignon, France.

The following is a letter St Catherine wrote to Church leaders, basically calling them to clean up their act.

“When one is in charge, one often fails in true justice. And this is the reason: one is afraid of losing one’s status, so in order not to displease others, one keeps covering and hiding their wrongdoing, smearing ointment on a wound which, at the time, needs to be cauterised.  Alas, how sad I feel when those who should use the flame of divine charity to burn out crime by holy punishment and correction, administered in true justice, flatter others and pretend not to see their wrongdoing. They behave in this way toward those whom they think may harm their position.  But toward the poor, who seem insignificant and whom they do not fear, they display tremendous enthusiasm for ‘justice’ and, showing neither mercy nor compassion, they exact harsh punishments for small faults.”

As the Apostolic Visitation from Rome continues to critique the Irish Church, this prophetic writing certainly holds lasting relevance.

There is much to ‘clean up’ and renew when it comes to the institutional Church in Ireland. As vocations plummet and morale among its members remains low, this is a real time for change and renewal.

I was delighted to see the image of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin dressed humbly, without any outward vestiges of clerical power, lying prostrate in the Pro Cathedral.

Diarmuid Martin, representing the people of God, before heroic victims, whose lives were forever scarred and bruised; victims whose anguish was made all the more painful, not just because of horrific abuse, but the systemic coverup and silence.

Dramatic change is about to take place in all our parishes sooner rather than later because of the aging profile.

In the next few years, many parishes will not have a resident priest. Instead of waiting, surely now in a positive sense is a time to actively prepare our faith communities to get ready for this reality.

I hope that this visitation team will, in its report, highlight the need for renewal at the heart of our Church.

Rome needs to listen, change and even get real. Actions speak louder than words.

The sight of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin lying prostrate on the ground brought a great sense of compassion and love to the victims who were present.

Perhaps the final prayer at this important liturgy is a powerful reminder that, as a Church, the way forward must be the embracement of our recent past.

“To you we cry out for pardon and forgiveness. Purify your Church of all scandal and corruption through the refining fire of the Holy Spirit. Save us and have mercy on us, through Jesus Christ, our redeemer and our brother