20th October 2007
Sermon for the Mass of Remembrance
for the Deceased & Living Members of the
Industrial Schools in Ireland
ARCHBISHOP SEÁN BRADY
Archbishop of Armagh & Primate of All Ireland
At St Joseph’s Church, Wilton, Cork, Saturday 20th October 2007
My dear friends in Jesus Christ,
Every Mass is a Mass of Remembrance. Every Mass remembers the saving passion, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Every Mass reminds us of the healing power of Jesus Christ – “By his bruises we are healed”.
The invitation from Right of Place came to me a long time ago. It came, and I had agreed, before I knew that the Holy Father intended to make me a Cardinal. Yet I am pleased that in God’s providence one of my first duties now is to celebrate this Mass of Remembrance for the deceased and living members of the Industrial Schools in Ireland. No other issue has so dominated the Church in Ireland in recent years. No issue has received more attention than the painful legacy of the physical, emotional and sexual abuse of children
It is hardly surprising therefore that, as I take on my new responsibilities, I am confronted today with the painful, often devastating truth that the community of faith can be a place of hurt as well as of healing.
We are confronted with this truth, that amidst the most sincere efforts to do good, evil can also grow. In your presence I am reminded of this fact. We must remain vigilant. We all must be willing to face the whole truth about our lives and about our institutions. If we are not vigilant, terrible hurt can be done to those who most deserve our care.
In the First Reading, Moses, tells the people that despite the confusion and trauma of the desert, God never ceased to lead them and to guide them. God always leads His people with purpose, even if it is to humble them and to test them. It is very beneficial for the Church in Ireland to remember, at this time, those who have been hurt in the hope that we too shall be humbled. By so remembering, we too will be brought back to our innermost heart as a Church. For it is precisely here, in the depth of our hearts, that we will discover the things of which Pope Benedict speaks so often – the basic and beautiful truths of our faith – God is love – our faith is not a list of dos and don’ts, it is an encounter with a person – Jesus Christ . We will find that there is real joy in following Christ and that true peace is built on respect, reconciliation and forgiveness.
A reporter asked me the other day whether I thought the worst of the child abuse scandal for the Church was over. My answer is that, as a Church, we can not ever become complacent about this matter. What we can do however, is to make every effort to give justice to those who have been hurt. What we can do is to do everything in our power to ensure that it does not happen again. I believe this is what we are now trying to do. In establishing the National Board for the Safeguarding of Children in the Church, by training thousands of volunteers at Parish level, by liaising closely with the statutory authorities North and South we are earnestly trying to do all in our power to create a Church in which children will always be cherished and safe. Jesus asks no less of us.
As a Church leader, I cannot adequately apologise to all those who have been hurt while they were entrusted to the Church’s care. Nothing can ever make up for the terrible wrongs that have been done. But what I can assure you of is my absolute determination to try to change things for the better. Doing all in my power to make the Church a life-giving, joyful and safe place for children is my deep desire and a key priority. As an uncle, as someone who cherishes the spontaneous affection, joy and trust of the children I meet at confirmation, in parishes, in schools, I am still amazed to think that anyone could deliberately harm a child. I still find it difficult to understand and feel a great shame that some of those who should have been most trusted, some of those who should have been most like Christ to children, committed such horrific evil and crimes against them. When I think of what some children have gone through, what some of you have gone through, I feel compelled to continue, to the best of my human ability, to understand why these things happened and to work with others to put them right.
The journey towards healing for us all will be a long one. In the words of Pope Benedict to the Irish Bishops at the Ad Limina visit last year:
The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged. In your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important 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. In this way, the Church in Ireland will grow stronger and be ever more capable of giving witness to the redemptive power of the Cross of Christ.
Truth – Justice – Healing
Notice those are the themes of the Pope’s Address. They are also the aims of Right of Place. The saving power of the Cross of Christ is the place where all of us meet in our individual brokenness. It is here and often here alone, that we meet a love which is totally selfless and healing. ‘Come to me all you who labour and are overburdened and I will give you rest.’ For those whose minds are tormented, often constantly, with the memory of innocence lost, of abuse suffered, of dignity denied, the Lord offers these words of hope. It is hope that at least someone, my own Creator, the suffering servant, the oil of gladness, knows and understands my pain.
My prayer is that all those who have suffered abuse, of whatever kind, will find peace in the love of Christ. I am aware that for some of those abused, part of the pain of what they suffered is a loss of trust in God. Loss of a sense of faith or an ability to participate in the life of the Church. I cannot tell you how much this troubles me, how deeply I wish I knew how to help those to rediscover the love and peace of Christ which is their right to enjoy and to know. Certainly there is need for a deeper and more humble listening on our part as to how we can help the process of healing.
In our second reading, St. Paul captures that beautiful truth that brings all of us together here around the source of our healing – the paschal mystery, the redemptive love of Jesus made present in the Eucharist. He utters those compelling words – ‘Nothing can separate us from the love of Christ.’ Your presence here bears testimony to the truth of those words.
- For those who have suffered abuse from those who should have been the most manifest face of Christ in their lives as children, to trust again, to participate in any way in the life of the Church must be a complex, if not an insurmountable challenge. I feel humbled before your faith, your courage. Pray for me.
- Pray for all those who try to be good and gentle shepherds of the Lord’s flock that they will be worthy ministers of His love.
- Pray that together we will be able to find the way to forgiveness and understanding, to a new memory cleansed by the truth and justice of Jesus Christ.
The most important thing of all, however, is to change the culture of what we do. Humility implies a willingness to listen to others. It recognises that no one individual possesses all of the gifts which God gives to the Church. We are a family, God’s family. It is only as a family, caring for every child as any good and loving parent would that children will be safeguarded and flourish. This means that as we go forward, every member of the Catholic community must see it as their fundamental duty to care for and safeguard children. As leaders of the Church, we as Bishops and Religious Superiors, must do all in our power to facilitate the structures that will support this culture of safeguarding. But every person, in every Parish has a role to play.
Parents, who are the first educators of their children, must also be the first to ensure the safety of their children. The future lies in creating communities which help parents in this role. Such safeguarding communities, along with parents, do provide the greatest protection for children within the Church. They also provides the most supportive and caring environment for priests and others who have a vital contribution to make to the formation of children within their particular calling. With the assistance of the new Chief Executive Officer of our National Board, Mr Ian Elliott, former director of the NSPCC in Northern Ireland, and the whole Catholic community working as a family together, this is the task which the Bishops, CORI and the IMU seek to take forward in the coming months.
We are compelled to do so by the memory of those for whom this Mass is being offered.
May God’s mercy heal us all.
May God’s love, set us free.
May God’s peace, dwell in our hearts
And may our most painful memories, find rest in the gentleness of God.
Martin Long Director of Communications (086 172 7678)
Kathy Tynan Communications Officer (086 817 5674)