Last Updated: Friday - 09/24/2010
March 29, 2010
Papal letter stresses Irish spiritual rebuilding
Pope calls for a program of prayers, penitence to revive Irish trust
CATHOLIC NEWS SERVICE
VATICAN CITY - Pope Benedict's letter to Irish Catholics was a pastoral not a disciplinary document, aimed more at spiritual rebuilding than establishing a chain of accountability for the priestly sex abuse scandal.
Although the pope referenced several factors that led to acts of abuse and their mishandling by Church authorities in the past, his main focus was on the future.
While encouraging continued vigilance over abuse, the papal letter did not unveil any new procedures or penalties. Instead, it announced a program of prayer and penitence designed to revive trust among Irish Catholics.
"I am praying earnestly that, by God's grace, the wounds afflicting so many individuals and families may be healed and that the Church in Ireland may experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal," the pope said in his letter, released March 20.
Deeper analysis of the scandal, including its causes and levels of responsibility, was left to a team of investigators who will carry out an apostolic visitation in Irish dioceses and religious houses.
The visitation was the most practical initiative announced in the papal letter. But because such investigations are confidential, the move disappointed those who have called for greater transparency by Church leaders on the sex abuse issue.
The reaction to the pope's letter among Irish Catholics appeared to be mixed. In several ways, the pope made a positive impact:
Critics took issue with some things the letter didn't address, like whether bishops who protected abusers should resign; the role of the Vatican in oversight of sex abuse cases; and priestly celibacy as a possible factor in the crisis.
Some were upset by a section of the letter that placed sex abuse by priests in a wider context of social transformation, one that included secularization, a weakening of religious practice, new ways of thinking among priests and religious, and misinterpretation of the Second Vatican Council.
"We are astounded at the pope's assertion that the roots of clerical sexual abuse lie in the secularization of Irish society, the falling off of religious devotion and failures to adhere to canon law," said Maeve Lewis, executive director of One in Four, a group representing abuse survivors in Ireland.
Lewis and others identify a "culture of secrecy" in the Church as a primary cause of the scandal. The pope sees the Church weakened by developments that, at least in part, came from the outside.
It's not the first time the pope has explored this theme. In the United States in 2008, he spoke of sex abuse in the Church in the context of "the degrading manifestations and the crude manipulation of sexuality so prevalent today" and the erosion of fundamental moral values in society.
The way the pope views the problem helps explain the measures he outlined for the Church in Ireland, including a year-long period of prayer and penitential practices, and a nationwide "mission" of retreats and spiritual reflection for bishops, priests and religious.
Those initiatives may strike some as beside the point, but they reflect the pope's belief the damage done by the sex abuse scandal ultimately requires a spiritual remedy, and not just new policies and penalties.
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