Bishop John Kirby’s statement following the meeting between Pope Benedict and the Irish Bishops

23 Feb 2010

23 February 2010

Bishop John Kirby’s statement following the meeting between Pope Benedict and the Irish Bishops

At Mass in St Brendan’s Cathedral, Loughrea on Sunday 21 February 2010 Bishop John Kirby spoke about the meeting between Pope Benedict and the Irish Bishops. The following is the text of what he said:

In today’s gospel St Luke tells us how Jesus was led into the wilderness by the Spirit to be tempted by the devil. The story reminds us starkly about the reality of evil. The battle between good and evil goes on within each of us and in the human reality of the Church. Where there is great good, evil can often exist close at hand. But Jesus reveals a way contrary to that of Satan – the way of humble service and of complete obedience to God’s word.  It was this reality of evil, serious evil in matters of sexual abuse of children that led Pope Benedict XVI to invite the Irish bishops to the Vatican last Monday and Tuesday.

In the room were 24 Irish bishops (including Cardinal Brady and 3 other archbishops), 4 Vatican archbishops, 6 cardinals and Pope Benedict XVI.  We had been called there at the invitation of the Pope to discuss the situation following the publication of the Murphy report on Clerical Child Sexual Abuse in the Dublin diocese.   The sessions lasted a day and a half or about ten hours in all.   After a prayer and a short introduction by Pope Benedict, each of the 24 Irish bishops spoke for about 6 or 7 minutes. We were fully free to express our thoughts and observations on the causes, the extent of the problem and the damage done to the victims and to the church as a whole.   When all the Irish bishops had spoken, the Vatican officials and the Cardinals replied, again for about 7 minutes each.

Each bishop submitted the text of what he would say to the Pope, the cardinals and the Vatican officials.   It would take too long to list all the topics discussed, but this is a flavour: counselling and pastoral outreach to survivors of abuse, the impact of poor management of child abuse cases, the accountability of the Church, restoring confidence in the Church, questioning the public credibility of bishops and priests, a new understanding of sexuality and the role of women in the Church.   When the some of the other bishops were speaking, I watched the Pope.  He listened intently, looked at the written text before him and occasionally wrote on the text or underlined parts of what was being said.  His attention was very impressive despite his 82 years and his frail physique.  

I spoke on the responsibility of the Church in Rome.   For years they did not appreciate the gravity of the problem.   The obligation of secrecy, originally promoted for the best of reasons led to a culture of cover-up.  The necessity to involve our own Irish state and report criminal activities was not emphasised.   The failure to reply to correspondence gave a very bad impression.  I spoke for 7.5 minutes and it was humbling to realise that I had the full attention of the Pope, cardinals and bishops during that time.  Later in the discussions, the cardinals responded to three of the points I made, so I certainly found the whole experience helpful and maybe flattering as well.

I felt that there was a good response from the cardinals and the Vatican officials.  There was recognition that some of the Roman Congregations were not helpful in the past.   Canon Law is to be updated to take greater account of the problem of Clerical Child Sexual Abuse.   The obligation to report crimes to the secular state was recognised and will be encouraged.  

Pope Benedict summed up recognising the seriousness of the problem we had been discussing.   He emphasised the need for a renewal of Faith.   When faith weakens problems emerge.   In the past, Christian Life was a collection of prohibitions or a series of possible sins.   The great merit of Vatican II was the vision of man and the way to follow: God created us in his own image and likeness, but we ruptured this image through sin while Christ came as our Saviour to restore the original likeness to the Father.   The Christian emphasis on the dignity of mankind is not found in any other philosophical system or religion.  We need to renew this vision of the human person to ensure that we respect that dignity in everyone.   Pope Benedict encouraged a renewal of Faith and a return to the message of the Gospel.

I was saddened that the survivors were disappointed with the outcome of the meeting.   Perhaps their expectations were too high.  I got the clear impression that the Roman authorities paid great attention to our inputs.   As I mentioned earlier, there was an acknowledgement that changes had to be made and an undertaking that this would happen.

According to the official Press release, the bishops spoke frankly about the pain and anger, betrayal scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused.  The bishops emphasised their commitment to cooperation with the statutory authorities in Ireland, North and South … to guarantee best practice in this area.  Pope Benedict classified the sexual abuse of children as a heinous crime and a grave sin, which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person.  He encouraged the bishops to address the problems of he past with determination and resolve and called for improved human, spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation of candidates for the priesthood and of those already ordained.

Pope Benedict will issue his pastoral letter to the Irish people towards the end of Lent and please God, we will see further developments there.  I think a good start has been made in addressing a serious problem in the Catholic Church not only in Ireland but also worldwide.