But our first response as Christians must be to open our hearts to the innocent children who suffered such an appalling betrayal of their trust.
That abuse blighted the lives of many people. Often their faith was damaged or destroyed by men who were meant to be signs of God’s unlimited, healing love.
Our first task as a Christian community is to be a context in which survivors can feel free and encouraged to end their silence and where they can find support in their journey towards serenity and closure.
We must be a community where the safety of children is our paramount concern. The awful accounts that can be found in the Report must urge us to be always vigilant, always seeking to strengthen the safeguarding of children in our parishes, organisations and diocese.
As for me, if there are cases where the abuse of children might have been prevented had I acted differently, I offer to them my sincerest apology. I can honestly say that in the one such case that I can think of, my inability to get to the full truth was not the result of any lack of effort on my part, but a lack of skill and experience.
It is no consolation to the children who were abused that I was lacking in experience and I will remain eternally sorry and apologetic to anyone whose suffering I might have prevented.
At no time, however, did I receive an allegation of sexual abuse and fail to take it seriously; at no time did I engage in an attempt to cover up.
I apologise also to you, that, because of me, the anger that this Report rightly provokes has focussed on our diocese, which had no part in the events the Report describes,
I want to assure you that in my time in Limerick every allegation of child sexual abuse has been passed on to the Gardaí and HSE. I meet three to four times a year with these civil authorities to review all our files. We also work very closely with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church.
There have as you know, been calls for me to resign. As far as I am concerned the question of whether I should resign is a question of whether my presence here is a help or a hindrance to the diocese of Limerick. In that matter I will be guided by the priests and people of the diocese.
We have many bodies that represent groups and areas in the diocese -- the Priests’ Council, the Parish Pastoral Councils, the Diocesan Pastoral Council, the Pastoral Areas of the diocese and the Diocesan Child Protection Committee. They guide me and advise me. And they will be guided and advised by you in your parishes and areas.
But I must return to what has to be the main focus of our thoughts. Statistics suggest that every community must have within it people who carry, too often in silence, the burden of childhood abuse, whether by clergy or by others.
We must ensure that they are at the centre of our prayers; we must try to ensure that they will feel that we are ready to listen to them, to deepen our understanding of what they have suffered and to respond as best we can.
Although they may feel far from the Church, they may be much closer than they realise to Jesus who prayed on the Cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”
Advent is a time to remember God’s promise and to know that he is going to fulfil it. It is a time to remember that the Son of Man will come in power and great glory to make all things new. We are meant to be a sign of that hope.
We are people who believe that God’s mercy and God’s healing are without limit. We are meant to be bearers of that hope to one another and especially to people whose trust was betrayed when they were just little children and who endured the terror, helplessness and suffering inflicted by a frightening and dominant adult.
They should always have a special place in our prayers.
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