My pastor this morning spoke of the God of new beginnings. The Catholic Church in Ireland certainly needs such a new beginning. The unequivocal condemnation of child abuse is prominent in the Pope’s Friday letter to the Catholics there. Priests who are guilty of this crime “must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals” (§7). To begin the healing process, “the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children” (§2). It is reminiscient of Paul’s judgment: “It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that even pagans do not tolerate… And you are proud! Shouldn’t you rather have gone into mourning and have put out of your fellowship the man who has been doing this?… With such persons do not even eat” (1 Cor. 5:1-2, 11).
Yet, the future is not utterly bleak. In equal measure with condemnation, the Pope speaks of hope for “the rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church” (§9). The Pope speaks with deep compassion, having met with many victims of sexual abuse in the Church: “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” (§5). He prays that they do not despair:
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 beginning. (§6)
I hope and pray too the Church in Ireland can emerge from its darkest and most hopeless situation. You can find the full text of the Pope’s letter here.