See how the farmer waits for the precious fruit of the earth, being patient with it until it receives the early and the late rains. - James 5:7

Saturday, March 20, 2010

You've got mail...


The Holy Father's Pastoral Letter to Ireland.
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"Penance, penance, penance!"  That is what the angel said in the last secret of Fatima as he waved the flaming sword of chastisement over the world - gratefully, the Virgin's hand restrained him.  Of course, that was the vision to the three seers, Lucia, Jacinta and Francisco in 1917.  Perhaps if the warning had been heeded when the secret was first read in 1960 we wouldn't have been facing the great crises in the Church we find ourselves in today...
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Towards the conclusion of the Holy Father's pastoral letter, the Pope offers some 'concrete initiatives' to effect reconciliation within the Irish Church.  In effect he is suggesting, or calling the the Irish Church to penance and reparation as well as recommending a sort of new catechesis through visitations and a mission:
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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 intention. 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.
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Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose...  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...
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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.
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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 his Church. - 14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.
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Betrayed the trust...
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I read the entire letter, though I haven't studied it.  My first impression, in light of the recent news of sexual abuse emerging from the rest of Europe, particularly Germany, the letter left me feeling rather heavy hearted, though the Holy Father ought to be praised for addressing the problem so publicly, frankly and with such devotion.  For me, the Holy Father's sorrow is palpable.  I don't know a lot about Church documents, but I dare say I've never read anything by a Pope quite so forceful since reading a snippet of Pius V's condemnation of homosexuality amongst the clergy in his day.  Pope Benedict XVI admits:
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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.
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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 person. - You must answer for it before God

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My thoughts:
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For me personally, my initial feelings after reading the letter is that the situation(s) that necessitated it have left me feeling so entirely let down and scandalized by Catholic churchmen, it is difficult not to feel somewhat despondent.  I never would have thought that the Church could be left so ruined and utterly desolated by those who purport to serve her, the image which comes to mind is a smouldering wick on the world's stage.  Nevertheless, with the psalmist I pray; "I would rather lie abject upon the threshold of the House of God than dwell in the tents of the wicked." [Ps. 83]  And, "If I forget you Jerusalem, may my right hand wither.  Let my tongue cleave to my palate if I remember you not, if I prize not Jerusalem above all my joys..." [Ps. 138] 
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That said - I think the letter is too late.  It will have its effect, but the damage is devastating.
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"Come, all you who pass by the way, look and see whether there is any suffering like my suffering..." - [Lamentations 1:12]
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I found quite a good evaluation of the Holy Father's letter on Aprehendite disciplinam blog.

11 comments:

  1. I read the Holy Father's letter in it's entirety..pretty heavy stuff. No punches pulled that's for sure..Shorty I will dispatch an email to my good Irish military chaplain--who also has a sister who is a "sister" in Ireland--delightful lady whom I had the priveledge of meeting earlier this year--to offer my prayers and support.

    Those of us in USA and elsewhere should join our Irish brothers and sisters in prayers, penance, and Adoration. And also pray for the abused, that they may be healed, spiritually, emotionally , and physically. Offer Masses if you can.

    Peace.. Sara

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  2. Maria8:08 PM

    Terry--I haven't read the whole letter yet.I like Pope Pius' approach! I have wondered how the Churhc dealt with homosexuality throughout history.Fascinating link, Terry. Don't be discouraged--remember, where sin abounded grace abounded more. I think Pope Benedict says this in his letter.

    Sara--your advice is right on the money. I fear now for our country. I fear the reprecussions of subsidizing abortion.

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  3. You have no idea how depressing this entire fiasco has been for me, a Catholic, and for me other Catholics around the world. You seem to feel the same sense of disappointment that many of us feel today.

    One thing for sure, no amount of apologies or pastoral letters will make this thing go away any time soon. The Catholic Church operates in terms of centuries, and I feel that only our Catholic posterity will see the last chapter of this most devastating, scandalizing, and pernicious period in Church history.

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  4. Sarah's suggestion is good, it isn't just an Irish, or American, or German, problem. It's an original sin problem.
    On another blog there was a comment about the "father-son" relationship between the bishops and the abusing priests having been given more importance than the Church's obligation to actual children. That's a disturbing thought, and kind of sheds a bit of light on the situation.
    Apparently there still is not an ecclesial obligation in all localities for the bishop to report credible allegations to civil authorities.

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  5. Tom - thanks so much for your comment - I was beginning to wonder if I was the only one who thinks this stuff is so devastating. I actually modified my last paragraph lest people think I'm not on board with the Pope. I'm reminded of your post wondering if any bloggers in our "approved" niche ever have problems with faith/church stuff, and if so, why don't they write about it. Sometimes it seems as if our little corner of the blogosphere is "Stepford-Wife-Catholicism".

    The whole thing is very unreal and upsetting to me - thanks for letting me know I'm not alone.

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  6. Austringer11:27 AM

    This is so depressing...but, unfortunately, not surprising.

    This is painful to me as a Catholic, perhaps more so as I am a revert: kinda reminds me of the line from "Airplane" -- "I guess I picked the wrong week to quit drinking!" -- "I guess I picked the wrong decade to come back to the Church"! Obviously sin is not new, and the Church has always been in need of reform, but this is just so discouraging...

    But since I have had difficulties with my own priest (and a few of his staff), I can plainly see how this culture is created: people give their priest a pass for many, many things that may not rise to the level of sexual abuse, but certainly betray and dishonor the important role they have as shepherds of souls.

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  7. I didn't see Tom's post, but yeah, just about everyone has problems with church/faith stuff. You said, "Sometimes it seems as if our little corner of the blogosphere is "Stepford-Wife-Catholicism"." You have pointed out a real issue. Part of the problem is that if someone voices doubts and concerns they are having with the Church, there is a tendency to "burn them for heresy", figuratively speaking. I am not saying anyone in particular does this, it's just a general attitude that seems to surface. The effect is to freeze dialogue, and to make people feel that they are in fact alone in being upset.

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  8. Thanks Melody - very well stated. Maybe I'll blog about it further.

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  9. Maria6:19 PM

    Terry--I do not see how anyone who loves God cannot be in pain as the result of abuse in the Church--that continues, withour surcease. But,remember Terry, as you said in the prayer to Our Lady that you adapted for Haiti--everywhere we meet the Cross. Our love is measured in the degree that we embrace this suffering knowing that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

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  10. We are rightly devastated because the crime has occurred, been dealt with poorly, and so is widely publicised. While not in any way excuse this crime among Catholic clergy and religious, it is important to balance the very one-sided reporting of it in the media.

    Those who have committed this crime are a small percentage of all those who have committed their lives to God and His church in the ministry and consecrated life. The per capita percentage is about the same by ministers in all Christian denominations and the various world religions. It is just that it is not publicised. For example, freedom of information reveals that more money has been paid out by insurance companies to victims of abuse in Protestant denominations in the USA than the Catholic Church. But by far, the highest percentage of this crime, horrific to state it, occurs in families.

    Recent statistics from Ireland suggest one in five girls and one in twelve boys suffer some form of sexual abuse at home. If there is an omission in the Pope's letter it is that it never raises this matter.

    The truth is that by far, the highest percentage of sexual abuse in the Catholic Church occurs in Catholic homes not in presbyteries. If we are rightly horrified by this crime we should be demanding of our governments Royal Commission investigations into it so that it will be address not just in the Church but also in society where by far the majority of cases of abuse occur.

    I in no way mean this to excuse what has happened among clergy and religious, it is just that imbalanced reporting and a cover up of the crime in families gives the impression that this is a crime committed exclusively by Catholic priests and religious. This is grossly unfair, and makes life for the great majority of us difficult if not intolerable.

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  11. Thanks very much for your comment Father. I agree the reporting and public opinion is grossly unfair, and I can well imagine it is extremely discourageing for the majority of innocent priests and religious.

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