March 2010 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

10 Mar 2010

10 March 2010

Spring 2010 General Meeting of the Irish Catholic Bishops’ Conference

A press conference took place today in the Columba Centre, St Patrick’s College Maynooth, on the last day of the spring general meeting of the bishops’ conference. The new members of the Communications Commission of the bishops’ conference, Bishop John McAreavey and Bishop Denis Brennan, along with the chair of the bishops’ committee for the family, Bishop Christopher Jones, addressed the media present. The following issues were addressed by the bishops’ press statement:

  • (i) Holy Father’s meeting with Irish Bishops (ii) 2001 letter ‘On grave crimes’
  • Safeguarding Children
  • Preparation for Easter
  • ‘Why marriage matters’
  • Northern Ireland
  • Trócaire
  • Year for Priests – visit to Ireland of the relics of Saint John Vianney
  • The Solemnity of Saint Patrick
  • Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in 2012
  • (i) Holy Father’s meeting with Irish Bishops (ii) 2001 letter ‘On grave crimes’

(i) The meeting in Rome on 15 and 16 February last provided a very important opportunity for the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI, the Prefects of the Congregations and the Irish diocesan bishops, to discuss openly the difficulties facing the Church in Ireland. The two day meeting allowed for a high level of information sharing and discussion around the forthcoming pastoral letter by the Holy Father to the faithful in Ireland.

During the meeting last month the Holy Father observed “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 realizing that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the Bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage.”

Bishops are conscious that the statement issued after the Rome meeting was but one part of a long term process of renewal of the Church in Ireland. Renewal requires support of the faithful throughout the Church. Such planning is the responsibility of the Church in Ireland.

Bishops reiterated their profound regret and sorrow that the avoidance of scandal and the preservation of the reputations of individuals and of the Church took precedence over the safety and welfare of children. At the December meeting bishops asked for forgiveness from those who were abused by priests as children, their families and from all people angered and let down by the failure of moral leadership and accountability. During Lent and as part of the preparation for Easter, at a local diocesan level, bishops will undertake and lead penitential acts to acknowledge the truth and reflect on the failures of the Church.

(ii) Yesterday Fr Federico Lombardi SJ, Holy See Press Office Director, published a statement concerning cases of the sexual abuse of minors in ecclesiastical institutions. Bishops welcomed its timely publication and specifically its reference concerning survivors of abuse that “the correct starting point is recognition of what happened and concern for the victims and the consequences of the acts committed against them” and also that “the Church exists as part of civil society and shoulders her own responsibilities in society”.

Fr Lombardi’s statement addresses misinformation which exists in the public domain around the 2001 Letter ‘De delictis gravioribus’ [‘On grave crimes’] as it says “In the ambit of canon law, the crime of the sexual abuse of minors has always been considered as one of the most serious of all, and canonical norms have constantly reaffirmed this, in particular the 2001 Letter ‘De delictis gravioribus’ sometimes improperly cited as the cause of a ‘culture of silence’. Those who know and understand its contents, are aware that it was a decisive signal to remind the episcopate of the seriousness of the problem, as well as a real incentive to draw up operational guidelines to face it.”

It was made clear to the bishops in Rome that the 2001 Letter in no way precluded Church authorities from their civil obligations especially in regards to reporting and cooperating fully with the civil authorities. This important matter has been consistently misrepresented in some quarters.

  • Safeguarding Children

The chairman and chief executive of the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church, Mr John Morgan and Mr Ian Elliott, updated the Bishops on progress:

– of the status of contacts with state authorities, North and South, and a process for carrying out an audit of child safeguarding in dioceses and religious congregations and on various legal and data protection issues;

– on the methodology for carrying out the required audit which will be both timely and thorough.

  • Preparation for Easter

In this season of Lent, the call to renewal of our Christian life is a central part of our preparation for Easter. In the Sacrament of Reconciliation (or Penance), we receive the gift of God’s mercy and forgiveness. Its celebration should be an integral part of our preparation for the Feast of the Resurrection of Our Saviour.

Bishops strongly encourage the faithful, between now and Easter, to make time available in their busy schedules to receive the Sacrament of Reconciliation, which is a gift of God’s love to all of us.

  • ‘Why marriage matters’ – statement by the Bishops’ Conference on the Civil Partnership Bill

Bishops agreed to publish a leaflet ‘Why Marriage matters’ in support of marriage and family life. This leaflet expresses concern about aspects of the Civil Partnership Bill, currently before the Oireachtas. The leaflet summarises key elements of Catholic teaching on marriage between a man and woman. It reiterates the importance of the family as the natural primary and fundamental unit of society and therefore deserving of special protection by the State. It also highlights that other forms of relationships are not of the same nature and status as that of marriage as the basis of the family.

This information leaflet will be released as a statement, published by Veritas, made available in dioceses and on Bishops encouraged everyone concerned to inform themselves and to read ‘Why Marriage Matters’.

  • Northern Ireland

Bishops welcomed the vote yesterday by the Northern Ireland Assembly to devolve policing and justice powers from Westminster to Stormont. Now that devolution of policing and justice to the Northern Assembly is to take place, bishops believe it is vital that other outstanding areas of critical importance for Northern Ireland – particularly education issues – can and should be faced urgently in the interests of the common good.

Bishops strongly criticised the continued threat posed by dissident Republicans to peace in Northern Ireland.

  • Trócaire

Bishops wish to thank most sincerely all those who responded so generously to appeals for assistance for the millions of people affected by the earthquake in Haiti. Bishops wish to draw attention to the current Trócaire Lenten Campaign on the theme of hunger. Over one billion people today do not have the resources to buy enough food for their families or the support to grow it. Trócaire’s work continues to assist communities in many parts of the world to overcome poverty and injustice. This work makes a real difference to the lives of many thousands of people. Bishops encourage the public to continue to generously support Trócaire Lenten appeal again this year.

  • Year for Priests

The Year for Priests was inaugurated by the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI and it runs from 19 June 2009 to 19 June 2010. Special events to celebrate this year are taking place at local, national and international levels. The Irish Episcopal Conference hosts a special section for the Year for Priests on its website which contains teaching of Pope Benedict, prayers for priests, information on the indulgences for the Year, background information on the Curé of Ars, reflections on the priesthood written by Irish Bishops, as well as a link to the international website for the Year for Priests.

Saint John Vianney (1786-1859) has been patron of parish priests since 1929 and his life and ministry was an example of selfless dedication to the service of God’s people through the priesthood. As part of the Year for Priests, the relics of Saint John Vianney will make visit this country from 25 April to 28 April. There will be ceremonies in Cork on 25 April, Dublin on 26 April, in Knock on 27 April and in Armagh on 28 April.

  • (i) The Solemnity of St Patrick (ii) Migrants (iii) People seeking asylum

(i) St Patrick’s Day is a special day for Irish people living at home and abroad. In 2010 we celebrate our national saint’s day in the midst of a deep economic recession which has resulted in unemployment and emigration for many individuals and families in Ireland.

The plight of Patrick, himself a migrant, has been faced by many Irish people who have struggled to live and integrate into new cultures. Patrick was called to serve and bring God to a people far from his homeland. Our national Saint was a pioneer in an inhospitable climate. The Church today can learn much from his commitment and zeal in spreading the Good News. In the words of St Patrick: “May it never befall me to be separated by my God from his people whom he has won in this most remote land. I pray God that he gives me perseverance, and that he will deign that I should be a faithful witness for his sake right up to the time of my passing” (The Confession of St Patrick).

(ii) Migrants: Bishops expressed concern regarding migrant workers who, in common with many Irish people, are losing their employment at this time of recession. They noted that despite difficulties encountered as a result of work shortages, a significant number of migrants are choosing to remain in Ireland. In particular, migrant families, often with children who were born in this country and now attending school here, have put down roots and are well integrated into the local community. It is essential, even in a time of decreased resources, that the rights of migrants in relation to work, access to services and entitlement to social benefits are fully respected.

(iii) People seeking asylum: Noting the significant decrease in numbers of people coming to seek asylum in this country, bishops discussed Ireland’s international obligation to examine in a fair, prompt and transparent manner the application of those who come seeking a place of refuge. Bishops raised concern regarding the numbers of people, including many families, who spend years in ‘Direct Provision’ centres around the country awaiting a decision on their asylum application. Not allowed to take up employment, and with increasingly restricted access to social welfare benefits, many parents face serious challenges in raising their children. The current weekly cash payment to persons seeking asylum of €19.10 for an adult and €9.60 for a child, unchanged since 2000 when ‘Direct Provision’ was introduced, needs to be reviewed. In a recent study, One Size Doesn’t Fit All (November 2009) the Free Legal Advice Centres, reflecting the views of many refugee support organisations, suggested for weekly payments: €65 for an adult and €38 for a child.

  • Eucharistic Congress in Ireland in 2012 –

In 2008 Pope Benedict announced that the 50th International Eucharistic Congress would be hosted in Ireland in 2012. Archbishop Diarmuid Martin established the Eucharistic Congress planning committee and it has been begun logistical and pastoral preparations for the Congress, such as:

i) preparation of a range of pastoral and catechetical materials for use by the faithful over the next two years to journey towards an encounter with Christ to enable a rediscovery and a renewal of our communion with Him and with one another. These materials will start to become available by May of this year to help people to prepare for the celebration of Corpus Christi;

ii) involving volunteers from each of the 26 dioceses of Ireland in the process of preparation for the 2012 celebration

iii) welcoming participation by anyone who shares our faith in Jesus to support the Eucharistic Congress in a practical way by, for example, contributing suggestions for short reflections, prayers, poetry and extracts from literature relating to the Eucharist, communion and community. These resources will be compiled into a booklet and/or online resource. Suggestions can be sent to: Eucharistic Congress Office, Holy Cross Diocesan Centre, Dublin 3, or email [email protected].

The Congress will take place from 10 to 17 June 2012 and the main events of the Congress will take place in the RDS and Croke Park. Opportunities to become involved will be detailed in and a volunteer programme to be launched later this year. The Congress website will be updated periodically with materials for use by parishes and with practical information to enable participation in the Congress.

Bishops wished to thank all those who contributed to the collection for the Eucharistic Congress on the Feast of Corpus Christi, the total collected was €850,000.


Further information:
Martin Long, Director of Communications 086 172 7678
Brenda Drumm, Communications Officer 087 310 4444