Click on link to download ‘Summary of the Findings of the Apostolic Visitation in Ireland’
Comments by Cardinal Sean Brady
…it is important that we, together, as the Catholic community in Ireland, take responsibility for the continuing renewal which has received such encouragement and further direction from this Apostolic Visitation.
On behalf of the Catholic community in Ireland I welcome the publication of the findings of the recent Apostolic Visitation. This visitation arose from the concrete initiatives proposed by His Holiness, Pope Benedict XVI in his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland of March 2010. We thank Pope Benedict, and those who collaborated in carrying out the Visitation of the four archdioceses, the religious congregations and seminaries. We acknowledge with gratitude all those who contributed to this important and historic initiative by meeting the visitors and making submissions to them. Special priority was given to meetings with survivors of abuse who were assured of the particular closeness of the Holy Father to them in this process. The Visitators also met with a broad representation of the Catholic faithful.
Through this Visitation the Holy See offers assistance to bishops, clergy, religious and lay faithful as we seek to respond adequately to the situation caused by the tragic cases of child abuse perpetrated by some priests and religious. This report is also offered as a contribution to the on-going spiritual and moral renewal of the Church in Ireland. It is important to point out, however, that the purpose of the Visitation was, in the words of today’s report primarily “pastoral in nature; the Holy Father’s intention was that it should ‘assist the local Church on her path of renewal’.”
Importantly, however, the Visitation was not intended to replace or supersede the on-going work of the Church in Ireland, the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland, or the various state agencies in the efforts they have made, and continue to make, to deal effectively with child abuse. Crucially therefore today’s report is different in nature and focus to the ongoing reviews which are being undertaken by the National Board into Ireland’s dioceses and congregations or the various state investigations.
Today’s report provides us with a helpful snapshot of a key moment on the ongoing journey of renewal, and a signpost to future priorities and directions.
As bishops we wish to associate ourselves with the “great sense of pain and shame” expressed in the Visitation findings that, within the Christian community, “innocent young people were abused by clerics and religious to whose care they had been entrusted, while those who should have exercised vigilance often failed to do so effectively.” In expressing true sorrow and regret, we make our own the heartfelt plea for forgiveness from the victims, and from God, for these terrible crimes and sins.
Pastoral context of social and cultural transformation
The Visitation report published today arrives at a point in our history marked by a “rapid social and cultural transformation.” In this context a number of the recommendations made in the report deserve particular emphasis:
- The first is the call to a deeper communion among all the parts of the Church in Ireland: “Communion among the bishops themselves and with the Successor of Saint Peter; communion between bishops and their clergy; communion between pastors and lay persons; and communion between dioceses and institutes of religious life.” The report highlights that this communion is not attained primarily through “human agreements or strategies, but above all by listening humbly to God’s Word and to what the Holy Spirit gives and asks of the Church in our day. Only a united Church can be an effective witness to Christ in the world.” As bishops we pledge ourselves to continue to work to build up this communion among all of us in the Church, encouraged and inspired by the providential theme of this year’s Eucharistic Congress: The Eucharist: Communion with Christ and with one another.
- The second is the emphasis placed on certain vital dimensions of formation in the faith. We particularly welcome today the call in the report for “a new focus on the role of the laity, who are called to be engaged both within the Church and in bearing witness [to their Christian faith] before society.” We take this opportunity to echo the call of the Visitation to the Catholic community in Ireland to “make its voice heard in the media and to establish a proper relationship with those active in this field, for the sake of making known the truth of the Gospel and the Church’s life”.
To respond adequately to the challenges of contemporary culture in Ireland, the findings of the Visitation make it clear that it should be a pastoral priority for the Church in Ireland to provide formation in the content of the faith for young people and adults and by ensuring “a broad and well planned ongoing theological and spiritual formation for clergy, religious and lay faithful.” This is already a priority in many dioceses and parishes as the Church in Ireland continues its implementation of Share the Good News – the National Directory for Catechesis in Ireland, approved by the Holy See.
We welcome also the report’s recognition that there are dedicated formation staff in Irish seminaries, that “studies are taken seriously and attention is given to human and spiritual formation”, and that “each seminary has clear child protection norms in place and … [is] committed to educating future priests with a broad understanding of all that is involved in the protection of minors within the Church.”
- Thirdly, today’s report offers us all great encouragement by acknowledging that “in this time of trial” for the Church in Ireland there are also many clear signs of hope. For example, the report notes the “continuing vitality of the Irish people’s faith … the human and spiritual bonds among the faithful at a time of crisis … the exemplary way in which many priests and religious live out their vocation and … [the] remarkable level of lay involvement in the structures of child protection” within the Church. In this regard it is also important to note that the visitation’s acknowledgement that the work of the National Board for Safeguarding Children has been “thorough and far reaching. The Visitators were struck by the efforts made throughout the country, by bishops, priests, religious and lay persons to implement the Guidelines [Safeguarding Children: Standards and Guidance Document for the Catholic Church in Ireland] and to create safe environments. In the four Archdioceses, the results of these efforts were judged to be excellent. In addition to the large number of volunteers, they noted the presence of men and women within the various safeguarding structures who bring the highest level of professionalism to the service of the Christian community.” It is vital that we continue to build on these welcome signs of hope.
As the work of renewal in the Church in Ireland continues, certain elements of today’s findings will be progressed through engagement with the relevant offices of the Holy See. Today’s report notes, for example, that the important question of “the present configuration of dioceses in Ireland, and their ability to respond adequately to the challenges of the New Evangelisation” is part of a process of joint reflection between the bishops of Ireland and the Holy See, in which the communities concerned are to be involved.
In conclusion, it is important that we, together, as the Catholic community in Ireland, take responsibility for the continuing renewal which has received such encouragement and further direction from this Apostolic Visitation. We express our heartfelt gratitude to all who worked so generously to ensure a fruitful outcome from the Visitation. As a Christian community we are strengthened and encouraged by the care and commitment shown to us by the Holy Father in so many ways throughout this crisis.
We move forward with renewed faith and hope as we prepare to host the 50th International Eucharistic Congress and to draw further strength and renewal from the approaching ‘Year of Faith’ which has been announced by Pope Benedict to commence this October.
Significantly, today marks the second anniversary of the publication in Ireland of the Pastoral Letter of Pope Benedict to the Catholics of Ireland. It is therefore appropriate that I should conclude by recalling some of the words of the Prayer for the Church in Ireland from that Letter penned by his own hand:
May our sorrow and our tears,
Our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
And our firm purpose of amendment
Bear an abundant harvest of grace
For the deepening of the faith
In our families, parishes, schools and communities,
For the spiritual progress of Irish society,
And the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
Within the whole human family.