In this week’s blog Fr Paddy writes that for all of us Pope Benedict’s Pastoral letter is a new beginning, in a long process of renewal and healing in our Church and now is the time to put words into real action in rebuilding our Church.

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

This column appeared in the edition published 24th March 2010

Spring has officially started. The recent equinox brings us into the light. The darkness of this dreadful winter has yet again been defeated. We now look forward to longer evenings, pleasant days, new life in our gardens and the fruits of harvest being planted and sown. This winter, has been harsh and prolonged bringing with its darkness floods, frosts and snow. In many ways mirroring the bleak and shocking revelations revealed in the recent Ryan and Murphy Reports. So many good people have been shocked and horrified by the brutal, dark, shocking truth, told by the courageous survivors of Clerical Sexual Abuse. Darkness, in how those entrusted with leadership, failed to deal appropriately with this terrible reality. A clerical culture covered up this truth, upholding an institution, so very dysfunctional and flawed.

In this dark winter for the Catholic Church in Ireland, I sense hope and new light, with the publication of Pope Benedict’s Pastoral letter, responding to this so important issue. This letter, in my opinion, is refreshing in its clarity, sincerity and vision. It is only a letter, but it’s contents points us in the direction of a renewed, refreshed and reformed Church. The Pope unambiguously apologises to the brave and heroic survivors of clerical child sexual abuse and all those who were abused while in the care of religious, as detailed in the Ryan and Murphy reports. To the victims of abuse and to their families the Pope writes

“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, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your suffering”.

To priests and religious who have abused children the Pope states,

You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of Justice. The pope challenges our Bishops in their dealing with such circumstance. It must be admitted that grave errors of judgments were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness.

Throughout the letter, Pope Benedict appeals that we do not despair nor lose our hope. He affirms the great tradition and significant contribution the Irish Church has achieved throughout history. Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous force for good at home and abroad. Pope Benedict affirms young people, whose faith and goodness, is so very tangible in all our communities, in this sense he appeals to young people

To bring your much-needed enthusiasm and idealism to the rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church.

This letter is a beginning, in a long process of renewal and healing in our Church. I welcome greatly the strong leadership given by our Pope. It is now time to put these refreshing words into real action and gestures in rebuilding credibility to our Irish Church