Lenten Message from Bishop Lee

22 Feb 2010

22 February 2010

Lenten Message from Bishop Lee, 18 February 2010

My dear people of Waterford and Lismore,

Last Wednesday, which was Ash Wednesday I, along with the other Irish Bishops returned from our meeting with Pope Benedict in Rome, deeply conscious that Lent is a season of repentance, renewal and review in our lives.  Lent is above all a time of penance in which we humbly acknowledge our past failings – as the ancient Lenten hymn puts it: “Turn to us with mercy, Lord, for we have sinned against you”.  

Before travelling to Rome I listened to survivors of abuse, to you, the lay faithful, to religious and to priests.  Survivors left me in no doubt about the dreadful betrayal of trust that they experienced.  I realise that you, the people of God, feel angry, bewildered, shocked and saddened.   You have rightly been asking: “how could this have happened?”  You feel that the leaders of your church have let you down.  Many generous, hard working priests and religious also feel very demoralised.   

The meeting in Rome took place in a very frank and open atmosphere.  We had gathered to discuss with Pope Benedict the serious situation that exists in the Church in Ireland.  On Monday morning last, after a brief introduction by the Holy Father, each Irish Bishop offered his own observations and suggestions.  The Bishops spoke frankly of the sense of pain, anger and betrayal expressed to them on many occasions by those who have been abused.  We told Pope Benedict of the outrage reflected by laity, priests and religious at the abuse of children and at the mismanagement and the most serious failure to deal properly with allegations when they came to light.  

In addressing us, the Holy Father stated that the sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a heinous crime, but also a grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image.  While realising that the current painful situation may not be resolved quickly, he challenged us bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage, as we endeavour to bring healing to those who have been abused.

We also had an opportunity to examine and discuss a draft of the Pope’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland which will be issued during Lent.  

The Bishops are determined that the mistakes of the past will not be repeated.  I, as Bishop of Waterford and Lismore, have cooperated fully with the statutory authorities and with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland to ensure that our procedures concerning child sexual abuse are being completely implemented.  I have in place a procedure for reporting complaints, an Advisory Panel, a Child Protection Coordinator and a Child Protection Committee.  Many volunteers have been trained at parish level to help to ensure that children are safe in every church activity.  Only through close collaboration between myself, the priests, religious and you, the lay faithful, can we continue to restore confidence and credibility in this critical area.

During this season of Lent we will read what Pope Benedict has to say in his Pastoral Letter and we will then engage in an ongoing process of reflection and dialogue on the future of the Church in Ireland.  The Holy Father has and will continue to encourage us on our journey.  But the journey of renewal is primarily the work of the people of God in our own diocese of Waterford and Lismore inspired by the Holy Spirit.  

As Lent begins, we take the first steps on that journey, a journey of hope.  We are conscious of the words of St. Paul in the letter to the Romans today, “If you believe in your heart that God raised Jesus from the dead, you will be saved”.  The Holy Father has asked that this Lent be set aside as a time for imploring the outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in Ireland.  

I am recommending that in the diocese of Waterford and Lismore, during this Lenten season we revive the devotional practice of the Stations of the Cross.  When we pray the Way of the Cross, we are reminded of that last painful journey of Jesus, along the Via Dolorosa, the indignity, insults, injuries and rejection he endured.  As you pray the Stations – perhaps on the Friday’s of Lent – I encourage you to remember in your prayers the survivors of abuse who have walked through life carrying the burden of traumatic experiences of the past.  We pray that they can find healing and hope in the victory of Christ on Calvary – because by His holy cross Christ has redeemed the World.

William Lee,
Bishop of Waterford and Lismore