Two weeks ago the Pope wrote a pastoral letter to the Irish Catholic church in the aftermath of the child abuse scandals.
Some very brief comments, after reflection. The first is that the language is written in shockingly religious language. This might seem like a curious criticism but in all honesty, a communique from the most important Christian leader in the world to the Irish people should be written in a language the Irish people can understand.
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.
Surely that sentence can be re-written as: “I write to urge Christians in Ireland to remember, as they work to rebuild their church, that it can only be done through the grace that comes through Jesus”. It would still be meaningless to the average Irish person, but I suppose the letter is written to faithful Catholics.
The second thing I have noted is that the letter targets the Bishops of the Irish Catholic church as the chief people to bear responsibility. That makes some sense.
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.
But doesn’t the Pope need to be a leader in this and as such, take responsibility? Will this sentence be borne out by future revelations or will it become a situation where this sentence gets rolled back with qualifications as we see they that the problem is, as with Cardinal Brady, that they implemented long established norms of canon law too faithfully, at the expense of actual justice, healing and reconciliation?
Thirdly and quite simply, “secularisation” is not part of the problem. It is part of the solution.
Finally, he tells us that:
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.
Yet he then fails to use the word repent. I respect the work of Pope Benedict XVI and I should not be read as having a go at the Catholic Church. But if these words come from his heart and simultaneously fail to involve repentance, then all the your Friday penances, all your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy will count for nothing. To the extent that the victims and the sins committed against them take priority over every other concern, it should be as if they are the only things that count. And yet this has not happened.
I fear the Pope missed a great opportunity to spark the rebirth of the Irish church and simultaneously rebuild its credibility. But the way to do that would have been to be so much more concerned with the victims and the crimes against them than the death of the Irish church and its bankrupt credibility.
Some informed positive suggestions.
Your Correspondent, Nailing theses to a church door is not as unhygienic as you might think.