Pope’s Letter to Irish Catholics: He has let us Down Badly

image By now most Irish Catholics and others living on this island have some idea of the content of the Pope’s pastoral letter to the Catholic Church in Ireland. They know that the Pope has said that he is sorry (sort of), that most victims of abuse are disappointed and angry by the content of the letter, and that it has done little to abate public outcry after a week in which a new scandal or cover-up seemed to emerge every day.

A family member who attended mass today said that their parish priest didn’t even read the full text of the letter, dismissing it as a lot of ‘waffle’ and concluding that the Pope ‘has let us down badly.’ He directed parishioners to the website where the full text of the letter can be found, and then got on with the business of the mass.

The Pope’s letter did not say that the bishops who have handled the abuse scandals so disastrously should resign. Speaking today on BBC Radio Ulster’s Sunday Sequence, the editor of the Irish Catholic magazine, Garry O’Sullivan called for the mass resignation of those bishops.

In his column in today’s Sunday World, Fr Brian D’Arcy recommends a similar course of action, writing,

Every bishop in office before 1995 would have to consider their position – those who failed to alert the gardai to what was happening across Ireland. Rather than doing nothing wrong, they did nothing right.

The full content of the Sunday World is not available online. The print edition features Fr D’Arcy’s column, as well as a two-page spread in which he is interviewed by Richard Sullivan. Echoing a growing chorus, including theologian Hans Kung, Fr D’Arcy calls on the church to consider its position on celibacy:

Celibacy is a central characteristic in all this. … to attach it as a consequence of life as a priest is totally wrong and in its own way very damaging.

… You can bet your bottom dollar if a bishop had a child and someone came and told him that Father X had buggered a child or raped a child I can tell you that if the bishop had thought of his own child he would have acted differently.

But those in power at the very top of the Catholic Church don’t seem to have ears to hear what faithful laypeople and priests like Fr D’Arcy are saying to them. A remarkable passage in this week’s Time Magazine sums it up this way,

Indeed, the Vatican has mounted an aggressive campaign to portray the scandals as an attempt to besmirch the Pope and discredit the church as a whole. "Over recent days some people have sought, with considerable persistence … [to] personally involve the Holy Father in questions of abuse," Vatican spokesman Federico Lombardi said in a written commentary. Another senior official goes further. "They want to involve the Pope at all costs," he tells TIME. "It’s a desire to destroy the church, and this is an operation that has been well planned. They don’t like the church’s teachings on moral questions and sexuality, and this is how they think they can strike."

Who "they" are is uncertain. Like conspiracy theorists of every stripe, the Vatican doesn’t name its enemies.

To me, this just reinforces the impression that the leaders at the highest levels of the Catholic Church are out of touch with their people. There is no secular conspiracy out there that has concocted these stories of abuse and their subsequent cover-up. For this the Church must take responsibility.

And faithful Catholics across Ireland, hurt by this latest letter, are not the Church’s enemies. In fact, they are the ones that must be counted on to renew the church in Ireland.

Fr D’Arcy says as much in the conclusion of his column,

So who can Catholics trust now? We have to look for new solutions starting with the faithful, the wide ranging and gifted people who have remained loyal.

We have to build the Church from the bottom up rather than from Rome down.

5 thoughts on “Pope’s Letter to Irish Catholics: He has let us Down Badly”

  1. I’ve just read the text of the letter in full, and much of it is thoughtful and compassionate.

    I’m concerned, though, at the implication at one point (not, to be fair, spelled out) that part of the problem arose from Vatican II, the secularization of Irish society and a decline in ‘sacramental and devotional practices’. I think it unlikely that more recitation of the rosary would have prevented abuses, while it was often precisely in the confessional that the worst atrocities occurred.

    I’m also disappointed that the Pope’s principal ‘concrete initiatives’ are individual Friday penances and an increase in Eucharistic adoration (for those who may not be familiar with the phrases, this means prayer in the presence of consecrated Communion bread). Even chronologically, a return to the 1950s seems unlikely to heal these wounds, many of which were inflicted during precisely that period, and which were allowed to fester and spread in the self-consciously Catholic, individualistic, sin-obsessed and hierarchical atmosphere which such devotions inevitably if not intrinsically conjure.

    The Irish church hasn’t, so far as I can see, suffered from an overdose of the spirit of Vatican II, of openness, justice and the priesthood of the people, but from scarcely having tasted it at all. Pope Benedict has sadly missed an opportunity for real renewal and healing – are we able to grasp it?

  2. The problem in our church is not solely to do with priestly celibacy but with the clergy’s (and religious’) attitude to sex. Many of we Catholics were guided in our formative years by adults whose emotional and sexual development had been arrested at puberty (or earlier) and who saw sex through the eyes of a naughty and smutty schoolchild, by parents who were forbidden to enjoy sex unless reproducing and by a catechism where we were urged to ‘dress ourselves with modesty’. This, at the age of 7! How then do any of us manage to form open, enjoyable, sensual and loving physical relationships? I am reluctant to condemn those who have never been able to shake off this hidden and perverted view of human sexuality whether they be clerics or lay people. It’s about time our church got over its obsession with the sexual lives of its followers and started to fight this world’s gross injustices.

  3. Pope Benedict, when Cardinal Ratzinger was one of the first to identify & take decisive action against the ” filth ” ( primarily – 80%+ predatory homosexual, as identified by the independent John Jay College Analysis ) which has infiltrated the Church. Marcello Pera, the Italian atheist philosopher, & co-author with Pope Benedict of ” Without Roots ” has identified exactly the nature of the current witch-hunt against the Pope & the Church. It is totally hypocritical & opportunistic. This ulterior motive has also been identified by the distinguished Jewish scholar, Rabbi David Rosen, & indeed by the ex-Mayor of New York, Ed Koch. God bless Pope Benedict.

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