Liturgy of Lament and Repentance for the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin

20 Feb 2011

20 February 2011

Liturgy of Lament and Repentance for the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious in St. Mary’s Pro-Cathedral, Dublin

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin

There are moments where silence and listening are more important than words and what we say.

What can I say to you who are victims of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin or by religious?   I would not be honest and sincere if I were to say that I know what you have suffered.  I may try to understand, but that suffering is yours.  Only you know what it means to have been abused sexually or in some other way.  I can try to imagine the horrors of being abused when just a child, helpless and innocent.  I can try to imagine how this abuse has haunted your life until today and sadly may continue even for the rest of your lives.

I can recognise the humiliation you suffered, the assault on your dignity and self-esteem, the fear and anxiety, the isolation and abandonment you experienced.  I can listen to you tell me about your nightmares, your frustrations and your longing for a closure which may never come.  I can imagine your anger at not being believed and of seeing others being cared for while you were left on your own.

I can try to imagine all those experiences but I know that it is only you who have had that experience.  Whatever I imagine, what you experienced must be a thousand times worse.

I can express my sorrow, my sense of the wrong that was done to you.  I think of how you were not heard or not believed and not comforted and supported.

I can ask myself how did this happen in the Church of Jesus Christ where as we heard in the Gospel children are presented to us as signs of the kingdom.  How did we not see you in your suffering and abandonment?

The Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese Dublin has been wounded by the sins of abusers and by the response to you for which we all share responsibility.

Someone once reminded me of the difference between on the one hand apologising and saying sorry and on the other hand asking forgiveness.  I can bump into someone on the street and say “Sorry”.  It can be meaningful or just an empty formula.  When I say sorry I am in charge.  When I ask forgiveness however I am no longer in charge, I am in the hands of the others.  Only you can forgive me; only God can forgive me.

I, as Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin, stand here in this silence and I ask forgiveness of God and I ask for the first steps of forgiveness from of all the survivors of abuse.

There is a time for silence.  But there is also another silence: a silence which is a sign of not wanting to respond, a silence which is a failure of courage and truth.

There are men and women in this Cathedral today to whom we must express our immense gratitude for the fact that they did not remain silent.   Despite the hurt it cost them they had the courage to speak out, to speak out, to speak out and to speak out again and again, courageously and with determination even in the face of unbelief and rejection.

All survivors are indebted to those who had the courage to speak out and let it be known what had happened and how they were treated.  The Church in Dublin and worldwide and everyone here today is indebted to them.  Some of you in your hurt and your disgust will have rejected the Church that you had once loved, but paradoxically your abandonment may have helped purify the Church through challenging it to face the truth, to move out of denial, to recognise the evil that was done and the hurt that was caused.

The first step towards any form of healing is to allow the truth to come out.  The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way.  The truth hurts.  The truth cleanses not with designer soap but with a fire that burns and hurts and lances.

Again the Church in this Archdiocese thanks you for your courage. I in my own name apologise for the insensitivity and even hurtful and nasty reactions that you may have encountered.  I appeal to you to continue to speak out.   There is still a long path to journey in honesty before we can truly merit forgiveness.

There is a third level of silence in our midst this afternoon.  It is the silence of the cross.  I was asked who should preside at this liturgy.  My answer was not a Cardinal or an Archbishop but the Cross of Jesus Christ.   We gather before the cross of Jesus which presides over us and judges us.  It is the Cross of Jesus that judges whether our words and our hearts are sincere.

The final moments before the death of Jesus were marked by darkness and silence. That silence is broken by the words of Jesus: He forgives those who kill him.  He also brings forgiveness and new life to one of the thieves who surround him.  But that forgiveness is not cheap forgiveness.  One thief mocked Jesus; he did not recognise that act of injustice that was being carried out.  The other recognised his own guilt and that recognition opened the door to forgiveness.  No one who shared any responsibility for what happened in the Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese can ask forgiveness of these who were abused without first recognising the injustice done and their own failure for what took place.

The silence of Jesus on the cross is again interrupted by his prayer of abandonment:  “My God why have you forsaken me?”   It is the prayer that so many survivors must have made their own as they journeyed with the torment of hurt which for many years they could not share and which haunted them day after day, from their childhood and into adult life.

But Jesus faces that abandonment and finally hands himself over to the Father bringing his self-giving love to the utmost moment of giving his own life in love.  That opened the door to newness of life.

We gather under the sign of the cross which judges us but which ultimately liberates us.

This afternoon is only a first step.  It would be easy for all of us to go away this afternoon somehow feeling good but feeling also “that is that now”, “it’s over”, “now we can get back to normal”.

The Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again.  It will always bear this wound within it.  The Archdiocese of Dublin can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace and he or she can rejoice in being fully the person that God in his plan wants them to be.


Cardinal Sean O’Malley

My brothers and sisters, I am very grateful for this opportunity to be with you today and to take part in such a moving service of reparation and hope. I am especially thankful to our Holy Father, Pope Benedict, for his care for the Church in Ireland and for inviting me to be part of this Visitation.

On behalf of the Holy Father, I ask forgiveness for the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests and the past failures of the Church’s hierarchy, here and in Rome, the failure to respond appropriately to the problem of sexual abuse.  Publicly atoning for the Church’s failures is an important element of asking the forgiveness of those who have been harmed by priests and bishops, whose actions – and inactions – gravely harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care.

The O’Malleys hail from County Mayo, a part of Ireland that was hallowed by St. Patrick’s ministry there.  They tell the story of a dramatic conversion of an Irish chieftain by the name of Ossian.  A huge crowd assembled in a field to witness his baptism.  St. Patrick arrived in his Bishop’s vestments with his miter and staff.  St. Patrick stuck his staff in the ground and began to preach a long sermon on the Catholic faith.  The people noted that Ossian, who was standing directly in front of St. Patrick, began to sweat profusely, he grew pale and fainted dead away.  Some people rushed over to help and they discovered to everyone’s horror that St. Patrick had driven his staff through the man’s foot.  When they were able to revive Ossian they said to him, “Why did you not say something?”  And the fierce warrior replied , “I thought that it was part of the ceremony.”

The warrior did not understand too much about liturgy and rituals, but he did understand that discipleship is often difficult.  It means carrying the Cross.  It is a costly grace and often we fall down on the job.

Jesus teaches us about His love in the Parable of the Good Samaritan where in a certain sense the Samaritan represents Christ, who is so moved to compassion by the sight of the man left half dead on the road to Jericho.  The innocent victim of the crime is abandoned by all.  The priests and levites turn their back on him, the police fail to protect him, the innkeeper profits from the tragedy.  It is Christ who identifies with the man who is suffering and showers compassion on him.

Jesus is always on the side of the victim, bringing compassion and mercy.  Jesus is not just the healer in the Gospel.  He identifies with the sick, suffering, homeless, all innocent victims of violence and abuse and all survivors of sexual abuse.  The Parable ends with injunction; “Go and do likewise!”; just as Jesus turns His love and compassion to those who have been violently attacked or sexually abused.  We want to be part of a Church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse first, ahead of self-interest, reputation and institutional needs.

We have no doubt of Jesus’ compassion and love for the survivors even when they feel unloved, rejected, or disgraced.  Our desire is that our Church reflect that love and concern for the survivors of sexual abuse and their families and be tireless in assuring the protection of children in our Church and in society.

From my own experience in several dioceses with the tragic evil of sexual abuse of minors I see that your wounds are a source of profound distress.  Many survivors have struggled with addictions.  Others have experienced greatly damaged relationships with parents, spouses and children.  The suffering of families has been a terrible and very serious effect of the abuse.  Some of you have even suffered the tragedy of a loved one having taken their own life because of the abuse perpetrated on them.  The deaths of these beloved children of God weigh heavily on our hearts.

The wounds carried in Ireland as a result of this evil are deep and remind us of the wounds of the body of Christ.  We think of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane as he experienced his own crisis.  He, too, was overwhelmed with sorrow, betrayed and abandoned. Not only survivors of abuse and their family members, but many of the faithful and clergy throughout Ireland can echo our Lord’s plaintive cry, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” But today, through the saving power of the Cross, we come together to share in each other’s sorrows as well as our collective hope for the future.  We come together to bind up the wounds we carry as a result of this crisis and to join in prayer for healing, reconciliation and renewed unity.

Based on the experience I have had with this Visitation, I believe there is a window of opportunity for the Church here to respond to the crisis in a way that will build a holier Church, that strives to be more humble even as it grows stronger.  While we have understandably heard much anger and learned of much suffering, we have also witnessed a sincere desire to strengthen and rebuild the Church here.  We have seen that there is a vast resource, a reservoir of faith and a genuine desire to work for reconciliation and renewal.

During the course of many meetings, I have been blessed to hear from many survivors and their families, lay women and men and religious and clergy who seek reconciliation and healing.  Today’s service, which survivors so generously assisted in planning and are participating in, gives testimony to the longing of so many to rebuild and renew this Archdiocese and the Church throughout Ireland.

Just as the Irish people persevered and preserved the faith when it was endangered, and carried it to many other countries, the commitment to sustain the faith provides the opportunity for the hard lessons of the crisis to benefit the Church in our quest to do penance for the sins of the past and to do everything possible to protect children in the present and in the future.

I would like to conclude my remarks by sharing another parable with you that further illustrates the demands of the Great Commandment which contains the whole Law and the prophets.  The Japanese tell the story of a man who lived in a beautiful home on the top of a mountain.  Each day he took a walk in his garden and looked out at the sea below.  One day he spotted a tsunami on the horizon coming toward the shore and then he noticed a group of his neighbors having a picnic on the beach.  The man was anxious to warn his neighbors, he shouted and waved his arms.  But they were too far off, they could not hear nor see him.  So the man set fire to his house.  When the neighbors on the beach saw the smoke and flames some said let us climb the mountain to help our friend save his home.  Others said:  “That mountain is so high and we’re having such fun, you go.”  Well, the ones who climbed the mountain to save their neighbor’s home were themselves saved.  Those who remained on the beach having fun perished when the tidal wave hit the shore.

The Gospel of Christ is about love, sacrifice, forgiveness, hope and salvation.  The burning house on the top of the hill is the Cross, and it is the suffering of all those children who experienced abuse.  Climbing the mountain, we are not doing God a favor, we are saving our souls.


Notes for editors:

At this afternoon’s liturgy, it is Christ crucified and risen who presides – in the form of a large wooden cross towering in the middle of the sanctuary and the Paschal (Easter) candle beside the ambo (the place from where the Word of God is proclaimed – the Paschal candle stands for the Risen Christ, the light the darkness cannot overcome).

Cardinal O’Malley and Archbishop Martin will begin the ceremony as the Church begins the solemn liturgy of Good Friday, prostrating themselves in silent prayer.

The liturgy, which has been prepared principally by survivors, will ask the forgiveness of God and of all survivors for the failure of those Church leaders and many others in the family of the Church to respond with love, integrity, honesty, understanding and compassion to the pain and distress of survivors.

In the course of the liturgy, Cardinal Sean O’Malley and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin, as an act of humble service, will wash the feet of a representative group of people affected by the sexual abuse of children by priests and religious. They include survivors of abuse perpetrated by priests of the Dublin Diocese and survivors of abuse in Religious run Institutions, a mother of a survivor and a spouse of a survivor. This gesture will be accompanied by the words of the “Servant Song”: “Will you let me be your servant, let me be as Christ to you. Pray that I may have the grace to let you be my servant too.”

Towards the end of the service, a ‘Candle of Protection’ will be blessed and lit from the Paschal Candle as a simple sign of hope for the future. At the end of the ceremony, it will be carried to St Joseph’s altar, where it will remain,  as a sign for all who worship in St Mary’s Pro-Cathedral. The prayer urges that we pledge ourselves “to the cause of protecting young people as Mary and Joseph guarded their precious child.”

Please note that at the request of some of those involved, filming inside the Pro Cathedral is restricted. Photographs will be available after the service from John Mc Ilroy photos, 087 2416985

Further information

Dublin Diocesan Communications Office 01 8360723