1. Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with
great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church.
Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which
has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young
people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and
I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that
so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and
criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.
As you know, I recently invited the Irish bishops to a meeting here
in Rome to give an account of their handling of these matters in the
past and to outline the steps they have taken to respond to this grave
Together with senior officials of the Roman Curia, I listened
to what they had to say, both individually and as a group, as they
offered an analysis of mistakes made and lessons learned, and a
description of the programmes and protocols now in place. Our
discussions were frank and constructive.
I am confident that, as a
result, the bishops will now be in a stronger position to carry forward
the work of repairing past injustices and confronting the broader issues
associated with the abuse of minors in a way consonant with the demands
of justice and the teachings of the Gospel.
2. For my part, considering the gravity of these offences, and the
often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical
authorities in your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral
Letter to express my closeness to you and to propose a path of healing,
renewal and reparation.
It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the
problem of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church.
Nevertheless, the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse
that has occurred within the Irish Catholic community, and to do so with
courage and determination. No one imagines that this painful situation
will be resolved swiftly.
Real progress has been made, yet much more
remains to be done. Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust
in the healing power of God’s grace.
At the same time, I must also express my conviction that, in order to
recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first
acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed
against defenceless children.
Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by
sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their
families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of
children from similar crimes in the future.
As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is
51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by
past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as
a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination
and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal.
It is my
prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and
purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the
present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth
and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.
3. Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous
force for good at home and abroad. Celtic monks like Saint Columbanus
spread the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of medieval
The ideals of holiness, charity and transcendent
wisdom born of the Christian faith found expression in the building of
churches and monasteries and the establishment of schools, libraries and
hospitals, all of which helped to consolidate the spiritual identity of
Those Irish missionaries drew their strength and inspiration
from the firm faith, strong leadership and upright morals of the Church
in their native land.
From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long
period of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of
faith alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Saint Oliver
Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example
of a host of courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing
to lay down their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel. After Catholic
Emancipation, the Church was free to grow once more.
countless individuals who had preserved the faith in times of trial
became the catalyst for the great resurgence of Irish Catholicism in the
nineteenth century. The Church provided education, especially for the
poor, and this was to make a major contribution to Irish society. Among
the fruits of the new Catholic schools was a rise in vocations:
generations of missionary priests, sisters and brothers left their
homeland to serve in every continent, especially in the English-speaking
They were remarkable not only for their great numbers, but for
the strength of their faith and the steadfastness of their pastoral
commitment. Many dioceses, especially in Africa, America and Australia,
benefited from the presence of Irish clergy and religious who preached
the Gospel and established parishes, schools and universities, clinics
and hospitals that served both Catholics and the community at large,
with particular attention to the needs of the poor.
In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a
daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the
Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who
have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with
others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and
4. In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to
confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid
transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social
change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional
adherence to Catholic teaching and values.
All too often, the
sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to
grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats,
were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period,
also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and
assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel.
The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was
sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social
changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best
to implement it.
In particular, there was a well-intentioned but
misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular
situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand
the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in
no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for
the Church and her teachings.
Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the
present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken
and effective remedies be found. Certainly, among the contributing
factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the
suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life;
insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in
seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favour the clergy
and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation
of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to
apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every
Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have
had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families,
and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even
centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.
5. On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have
met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the
future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have
acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them.
Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked
the bishops of Ireland, “to establish the truth of what happened in the
past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring
again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected,
and above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected
by these egregious crimes” (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).
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. 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.
6. To the victims of abuse and their families
You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that
nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been
betrayed and your dignity has been violated.
Many of you found that,
when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one
would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions
must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings.
understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with
the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we
all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope.
It is in the
communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ,
who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears
the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of
your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your
relationships, including your relationship with the Church.
I know some
of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all
that has occurred. Yet Christ’s own wounds, transformed by his
redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is
broken and we are reborn to life and hope.
I believe deeply in the
healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and
most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new
Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s
children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said. I pray that, by
drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church
– a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you
will come to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you.
confident that in this way you will be able to find reconciliation,
deep inner healing and peace.
7. To priests and religious who have abused children
You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young
people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God
and before properly constituted tribunals.
You have forfeited the
esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon
Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of
the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us
and in our actions. Together with the immense harm done to victims,
great damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of
the priesthood and religious life.
I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the
sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow.
repentance opens the door to God’s forgiveness and the grace of true
By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged,
you should seek to atone personally for your actions. Christ’s redeeming
sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to
bring forth good from even the most terrible evil.
At the same time,
God’s justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to
conceal nothing. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the
demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy.
8. To parents
You have been deeply shocked to learn of the terrible things that
took place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of
In today’s world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up
children. They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with
a strong sense of their identity and worth. They have a right to be
educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human
person, to be inspired by the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn
ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting
This noble but demanding task is entrusted in the first
place to you, their parents. I urge you to play your part in ensuring
the best possible care of children, both at home and in society as a
whole, while the Church, for her part, continues to implement the
measures adopted in recent years to protect young people in parish and
As you carry out your vital responsibilities, be
assured that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my
9. To the children and young people of Ireland
I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your
experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and
The world has changed greatly since they were your age.
Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path
through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all
scandalized by the sins and failures of some of the Church's members,
particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young
But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8).
He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you.
personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for
he will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest
longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to
the service of others.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness,
and shelter the flame of faith in your heart.
Together with your fellow
Catholics in Ireland, I look to you to be faithful disciples of our Lord
and to bring your much-needed enthusiasm and idealism to the rebuilding
and renewal of our beloved Church.
10. To the priests and religious of Ireland
All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who
betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with
allegations of abuse.
In view of the outrage and indignation which this
has provoked, not only among the lay faithful but among yourselves and
your religious communities, many of you feel personally discouraged,
I am also aware that in some people’s eyes you are
tainted by association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible
for the misdeeds of others.
At this painful time, I want to acknowledge
the dedication of your priestly and religious lives and apostolates, and
I invite you to reaffirm your faith in Christ, your love of his Church
and your confidence in the Gospel's promise of redemption, forgiveness
and interior renewal.
In this way, you will demonstrate for all to see
that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (cf. Rom 5:20).
I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered and angered by
the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors.
it is essential that you cooperate closely with those in authority and
help to ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will
be truly evangelical, just and effective.
Above all, I urge you to
become ever more clearly men and women of prayer, courageously following
the path of conversion, purification and reconciliation.
In this way,
the Church in Ireland will draw new life and vitality from your witness
to the Lord's redeeming power made visible in your lives.
11. To my brother bishops
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.
Serious mistakes were made in responding to
I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and
complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make
the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice.
Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were
made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously
undermined your credibility and effectiveness. I appreciate the efforts
you have made to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not
Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in
addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil
authorities in their area of competence. Clearly, religious superiors
should do likewise.
They too have taken part in recent discussions here
in Rome with a view to establishing a clear and consistent approach to
It is imperative that the child safety norms of the
Church in Ireland be continually revised and updated and that they be
applied fully and impartially in conformity with canon law.
Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and
transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people
towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must
arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner
purification and spiritual renewal.
The Irish people rightly expect you
to be men of God, to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal
conversion daily. For them, in the words of Saint Augustine, you are a
bishop; yet with them you are called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Sermon
I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability
before God, to grow in solidarity with your people and to deepen your
pastoral concern for all the members of your flock.
In particular, I ask
you to be attentive to the spiritual and moral lives of each one of
Set them an example by your own lives, be close to them,
listen to their concerns, offer them encouragement at this difficult
time and stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment
to the service of their brothers and sisters.
The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part
in the life of the Church.
See that they are formed in such a way that
they can offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in the
midst of modern society (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and cooperate more
fully in the Church’s life and mission. This in turn will help you once
again become credible leaders and witnesses to the redeeming truth of
12. To all the faithful of Ireland
A young person’s experience of the Church should always bear fruit in
a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving,
In this environment, young people should be
encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire
to high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration
from the riches of a great religious and cultural tradition.
increasingly secularized society, where even we Christians often find it
difficult to speak of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we
need to find new ways to pass on to young people the beauty and richness
of friendship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church.
confronting the present crisis, measures to deal justly with individual
crimes are essential, yet on their own they are not enough: a new vision
is needed, to inspire present and future generations to treasure the
gift of our common faith.
By treading the path marked out by the Gospel,
by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more
closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the
profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time.
I invite you
all to persevere along this path.
13. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is out of deep concern
for all of you at this painful time in which the fragility of the human
condition has been so starkly revealed that I have wished to offer these
words of encouragement and support.
I hope that you will receive
them as a sign of my spiritual closeness and my confidence in your
ability to respond to the challenges of the present hour by drawing
renewed inspiration and strength from Ireland’s noble traditions of
fidelity to the Gospel, perseverance in the faith and steadfastness in
the pursuit of holiness.
In solidarity with all of you, 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.
14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.
At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that Lent
this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God’s
mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the
Church in your country.
I now invite all of you to devote your Friday
penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this
I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your
reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the
grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland.
I encourage you
to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves
more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.
Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration,
and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically
devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses
and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that
all have an opportunity to take part.
Through intense prayer before the
real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse
that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of
renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all
bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.
I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the
Church in Ireland in the fullness of God’s own truth, for it is the
truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32).
Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend
to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well
as seminaries and religious congregations. Arrangements for the
Visitation, which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of
renewal, will be made in cooperation with the competent offices of the
Roman Curia and the Irish Episcopal Conference.
The details will be
announced in due course.
I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops,
priests and religious. It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise
of experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from
elsewhere, and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical
rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you
will come to a more profound appreciation of your respective vocations,
so as to rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to
drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers you through
In this Year for Priests,
I commend to you most particularly the figure of Saint John Mary
Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the mystery of the
priesthood. “The priest”, he wrote, “holds the key to the treasures of
heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord;
the administrator of his goods.”
The Curé d’Ars understood well how
greatly blessed a community is when served by a good and holy priest: “A
good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure
which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious
gifts of divine mercy.”
Through the intercession of Saint John Mary
Vianney, may the priesthood in Ireland be revitalized, and may the whole
Church in Ireland grow in appreciation for the great gift of the
I take this opportunity to thank in anticipation all those who will
be involved in the work of organizing the Apostolic Visitation and the
Mission, as well as the many men and women throughout Ireland already
working for the safety of children in church environments.
time when the gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in
Catholic institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has
done an immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to
address and remedy it.
While no effort should be spared in improving and
updating existing procedures, I am encouraged by the fact that the
current safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen,
in some parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to
I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, which
I send to you with the care of a father for his children and with the
affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has
occurred in our beloved Church.
As you make use of this prayer in your
families, parishes and communities, may the Blessed Virgin Mary protect
and guide each of you to a closer union with her Son, crucified and
With great affection and unswerving confidence in God’s promises,
I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of
strength and peace in the Lord.
From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph
BENEDICTUS PP. XVI
Prayer for the Church in Ireland
God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.
Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.
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.
To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.