By Oswald Sobrino, J.D.; M.A. (Econ.); M.A. (Theo.); M.L. (Master of Latin), doctoral student, University of Florida.

Tuesday, March 30, 2010

Perspective for All

Ross Douthat has a fair opinion piece in the N.Y. Times today on the "Catastrophe." You have likely heard the anecdote that he shares below. It's time to hear it again to give us needed perspective during Holy Week. Here is the excerpt from his column today:

During a frustrating argument with a Roman Catholic cardinal, Napoleon Bonaparte supposedly burst out: “Your eminence, are you not aware that I have the power to destroy the Catholic Church?” The cardinal, the anecdote goes, responded ruefully: “Your majesty, we, the Catholic clergy, have done our best to destroy the church for the last 1,800 years. We have not succeeded, and neither will you.”

Source link.

I had heard the anecdote before, but without a special focus on the clergy itself. This perspective signals several truths:

1.) Clericalism (which I define as "excessive and robotic deference to the collar") is not required for Catholics--in fact, I would submit that clericalism is utterly alien to the mature Catholic who measures all things, including and most especially the clergy, by the personality of Jesus Christ;

2.) The enemies of the Church, whether inside the Church or outside of the Church (there are both kinds), should take no comfort in the catastrophe because the Church will always survive--if they still choose to take comfort, anyway, in the catastrophe, it is false comfort;

3.) To have the true perspective that the Church will survive is not to imply complacency or to minimize at all the urgency of raking out and rejecting the muck regardless of the embarrassment--what would be most embarrassing would be to hesitate, even for a moment, to engage in the necessary muckraking for fear of what others would think; and

4.) We know that God will draw good even out of all this unnecessary, avoidable, and gratuitous evil (Romans 8:28); eliminating the culture of clericalism and denial is a key to renewal in the Gospel because true freedom always lies in the Truth who is Jesus and not in our fallen human nature which is marked by irrational denial, by excessive, blind deference to authority figures, and by excessive concern with what others may think of us.

We are wrapping up Lent, the season of hopeful renewal, during the days of this Holy Week. For many of us, the message of this season of forward-looking renewal is to give up--not just chocolates or a favorite TV show, but rather to give up forever immature clericalism, irrational denial, and paralyzing fear of embarrassment so that we may experience more profoundly the bold freedom of the empty tomb both during and after Easter. To the entire catastrophe, let us say: "Never again." And may our audience of whatever background or stance see an example of dealing bravely with great evil and surpassing and overcoming such evil with abundant good (see Romans 5:20b, among other passages). It is an example that all urgently need, whether Catholic or not, whether Christian or not, whether theist or atheist.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Another Guest Posting

This comment by a reader identified as Marco is, in my view, quite apt and realistic:
How did we lose our Christian realism and ease up on using the bishop's staff as a weapon against predators? The Bible doesn't blind itself to all the perversions of sin... why do so many modern Catholic leaders keep saying we didn't know about the problem of molesting years ago. For a perfect example of "denial" go to the website of the Legion of Christ and read their innocuous description of the founder:

Saturday, March 27, 2010

Tolkien and Quixote

I highly recommend the Humphrey Carpenter biography of J.R.R. Tolkien. Among many other things that I learned about Tolkien is that his priest-guardian (after the untimely death of his widowed mother) was, in Tolkien's words, "half Spanish" (the citation here is to a letter by Tolkien; the letters are collected by the same Mr. Carpenter in a separate book.) The half-Spanish priest was fluent in Spanish and had a collection of books in Spanish that the young Tolkien perused. Tolkien also expresses a special fondness for the Spanish language in one of his collected letters. Apparently, he taught himself Spanish. (But it seems that the language that he may have liked the most may very well have been Welsh.)

The little known Spanish connection led me to think of the adventurous pair Frodo Baggins and Sam Gamgee in The Lord of the Rings: the leader or "master" of a higher social station assisted by his super loyal "squire" Sam of a lower social station. I also noted that hobbits, although loving the peace, quiet, and comfort of their hobbit holes in the Shire, also exhibit a fondness for songs and tales about adventures. And, of course, Tolkien's hobbits do go on many memorable adventures, to say the least. Sam the hobbit also expresses a great interest in having his adventures memorialized in song and poetry.

All of which reminds me of the man of La Mancha and his loyal squire Sancho Panza; and also of Don Quixote's fascination (nay, obsession) with chivalrous tales and living them out in "real life" (an ironic phrase when speaking of fictional characters!). And what is the Lord of the Rings trilogy if not a grand, adventurous, and chivalrous tale of Knight (Frodo) and loyal squire (Sam)? Did the young or older Tolkien ever read all or part of Cervantes' famous novel? I have not seen a statement to that effect; but I would bet that he did as a highly educated and well read man of literature and language. Did Tolkien make an explicit link in his own mind between the Spanish adventurers and the adventurers from the Shire? I do not know. But, really, it does not matter. The link is objectively there for all who can connect the literary analogies. Add this tidbit to your appreciation of the richness of Tolkien's work: a profound literary link to what is most likely the first novel in human history, to Cervantes' Don Quixote de La Mancha. By the way, both authors were Catholic.

Monday, March 22, 2010

George Weigel on the Irish Catastrophe

Yes, a catastrophe (the dictionary defines "catastrophe" as an "extreme misfortune," hence the word is appropriate in this context). Here is the link sent to me by our Rhode Island "correspondent." Weigel rightly uses the adjective "disastrous" (see his second to last paragraph).

The article is aptly entitled "The End of Euphemism." Weigel zeroes in on the same points that I found most salient in the Pope's Irish pastoral letter on the abuse:

The letter acknowledges, for example, that two factors in the cover-up of sexual and physical abuse in Ireland were an excessive deference to ecclesiastical authority and a misplaced concern for the Church’s public reputation; the safe care of Christ’s little ones, the Pope insists, must have absolute priority over worries about how revelations of the sinfulness of Church professionals will “look,” and must have absolute priority over the career prospects of men in ecclesiastical office.

Source link (emphasis added by blogger).

Face reality. That is at the core of the Gospel message. Denial is neither sane nor healthy nor Christian nor Catholic. Period.

As a final note, I am also convinced that there must be a thorough, complementary examination of the psychological aspects of denial and enabling that created the conditions for this disaster to occur in the first place and to grow without check. That psychological inventory should also unflinchingly examine, without euphemism or false cultural correctness of any kind, the potential role of the often falsely "celebrated" legacy of alcohol abuse in Irish society. Lessons can be learned that can be applied elsewhere where the scourge of substance abuse is also present (as in, for example, my own very Catholic hometown of New Orleans and in many other places).

Update (3/24/2010): Pope accepts resignation of Irish bishop (see link).

Saturday, March 20, 2010

No More Denial, No More Muddling the Issue


VATICAN CITY, 20 MAR 2010 (VIS) - Given below is the English-language summary of the Pope's Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, which was made public this morning:

The Pope has written a Pastoral Letter to all the Catholics of Ireland, expressing his dismay at the sexual abuse of young people by Church representatives and the way this was addressed by local bishops and religious superiors. He asks that the Letter be read with attention and in its entirety. The Holy Father speaks of his closeness in prayer to the whole Irish Catholic community at this painful time and he proposes a path of healing, renewal and reparation.

He calls on them to remember the rock from which they were hewn, particularly the fine contribution made by Irish missionaries to European civilisation, and to the spread of Christianity in every continent. Recent years have seen many challenges to the faith in Ireland, in the wake of fast-paced social change and a decline in adherence to traditional devotional and sacramental practices. This is the context in which the Church's handling of the problem of child sexual abuse has to be understood.

Many factors have given rise to the problem: insufficient moral and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates, a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures, and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties when needed. Only by careful examination of the many elements that gave rise to the crisis can its causes be properly diagnosed and effective remedies be found.

During their "ad limina" visit to Rome in 2006, the Pope urged the Irish bishops 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." Since that time he himself has met victims on more than one occasion, listening to their stories, praying with them and for them, and he is ready to do so again in the future. In February 2010 he called the Irish bishops to Rome to discuss with them the steps they are taking to remedy the problem, with particular reference to the procedures and protocols now in place to ensure the safety of children in church environments and to respond swiftly and justly to allegations of abuse. In this Pastoral Letter, he speaks directly to a series of different groups within the Irish Catholic community, in the light of the situation that has arisen.

Addressing the victims of abuse first of all, he acknowledges the grievous betrayal they have suffered and he tells them how sorry he is over what they have endured. He recognises that, in many cases, no one would listen when they found the courage to speak of what happened. He understands how those in residential institutions must have felt, with no way of escape from their sufferings. While recognising how hard it must be for many of them to forgive or be reconciled with the Church, he urges them not to lose hope. Jesus Christ, Himself a victim of unjust sufferings, understands the depths of their pain and its enduring effect upon their lives and relationships. Yet His wounds, transformed by His redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. The Pope urges victims to seek in the Church the opportunity to encounter Jesus Christ and to find healing and reconciliation by rediscovering the infinite love that Christ has for each one of them.

In his words to priests and religious who have abused young people, the Pope calls upon them to answer before God and before properly constituted tribunals for the sinful and criminal actions they have committed. They have betrayed a sacred trust and brought shame and dishonour upon their confreres. Great harm has been done, not only to the victims, but also to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life in Ireland. While summoning them to submit to the demands of justice, he reminds them that they should not despair of God's mercy, which is freely offered to even the greatest of sinners, if they repent of their actions, do penance, and humbly pray for forgiveness.

The Pope encourages parents to persevere in the demanding task of bringing up children to know that they are loved and cherished, and to develop a healthy self-esteem.

Parents have the primary responsibility for educating new generations in the moral principles that are essential for a civilised society. The Pope invites children and young people to find in the Church an opportunity for a life-giving encounter with Christ, and not to be deterred by the failings of some priests and religious. He looks to the younger generation to contribute to the renewal of the Church. He also urges priests and religious not to be discouraged, but rather to dedicate themselves anew to their respective apostolates, working in harmony with their superiors so as to offer new life and vitality to the Church in Ireland through their living witness to the Lord's redeeming work.

Addressing himself to the Irish bishops, the Pope notes the grave errors of judgement and failure of leadership on the part of many, because they did not correctly apply canonical procedures when responding to allegations of abuse. While it was often hard to know how to address complex situations, the fact remains that serious mistakes were made, and they have lost credibility as a result. The Pope urges them to continue their determined efforts to remedy past mistakes and to prevent any recurrence by fully implementing canon law and co-operating with civil authorities in their areas of competence. He calls upon the bishops, moreover, to rededicate themselves to the pursuit of holiness, setting an example themselves, and encouraging the priests and the lay faithful to play their part in the life and mission of the Church.

Finally, the Pope proposes some specific steps to foster the renewal of the Church in Ireland. He asks all to offer up their Friday penances, for a period of one year, in reparation for the sins of abuse that have occurred. He recommends frequent recourse to the Sacrament of Reconciliation and the practice of Eucharistic adoration. He announces his intention to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses, religious congregations and seminaries, with the involvement of the Roman Curia, and he proposes a nationwide Mission for bishops, priests and religious in Ireland. This being the international Year for Priests, he holds up the figure of St. John Vianney as a model and intercessor for a revitalised priestly ministry in Ireland. After thanking all who have worked so hard to deal decisively with the problem, he concludes by proposing a Prayer for the Church in Ireland, to be used by all the faithful to invoke the grace of healing and renewal at this difficult time.


[Emphasis added by blogger]

VATICAN CITY, 20 MAR 2010 (VIS) - Given below is the complete text of the Holy Father's Pastoral Letter of The Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland:

1. Dear brothers and sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.

As you know, I recently invited the Irish bishops to a meeting here in Rome to give an account of their handling of these matters in the past and to outline the steps they have taken to respond to this grave situation. Together with senior officials of the Roman Curia, I listened to what they had to say, both individually and as a group, as they offered an analysis of mistakes made and lessons learned, and a description of the programmes and protocols now in place. Our discussions were frank and constructive. I am confident that, as a result, the bishops will now be in a stronger position to carry forward the work of repairing past injustices and confronting the broader issues associated with the abuse of minors in a way consonant with the demands of justice and the teachings of the Gospel.

2. For my part, considering the gravity of these offences, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral Letter to express my closeness to you and to propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation.

It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the problem of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church. Nevertheless, the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse that has occurred within the Irish Catholic community, and to do so with courage and determination. No one imagines that this painful situation will be resolved swiftly. Real progress has been made, yet much more remains to be done. Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the healing power of God's grace.

At the same time, I must also express my conviction that, in order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children. Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember "the rock from which you were hewn". Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in His Son Jesus Christ.

3. Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous force for good at home and abroad. Celtic monks like St. Columbanus spread the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of mediaeval monastic culture. The ideals of holiness, charity and transcendent wisdom born of the Christian faith found expression in the building of churches and monasteries and the establishment of schools, libraries and hospitals, all of which helped to consolidate the spiritual identity of Europe. Those Irish missionaries drew their strength and inspiration from the firm faith, strong leadership and upright morals of the Church in their native land.

From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long period of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of faith alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances. St. Oliver Plunkett, the martyred archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example of a host of courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing to lay down their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel. After Catholic Emancipation, the Church was free to grow once more. Families and countless individuals who had preserved the faith in times of trial became the catalyst for the great resurgence of Irish Catholicism in the nineteenth century. The Church provided education, especially for the poor, and this was to make a major contribution to Irish society. Among the fruits of the new Catholic schools was a rise in vocations: generations of missionary priests, sisters and brothers left their homeland to serve in every continent, especially in the English-speaking world. They were remarkable not only for their great numbers, but for the strength of their faith and the steadfastness of their pastoral commitment. Many dioceses, especially in Africa, America and Australia, benefited from the presence of Irish clergy and religious who preached the Gospel and established parishes, schools and universities, clinics and hospitals that served both Catholics and the community at large, with particular attention to the needs of the poor.

In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone - a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle - who has given his or her life to the Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.

4. In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularisation of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people's traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Vatican Council II was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings.

Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found. Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person. Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.

5. On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them. Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, "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".

With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God's people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ's body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal. I now turn to you with words that come from my heart, and I wish to speak to each of you individually and to all of you as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

6. To the victims of abuse and their families

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was Himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, He still bears the wounds of His own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church.

I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ's own wounds, transformed by His redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love - even in the darkest and most hopeless situations - to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning.

Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God's children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said. I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of His Church - a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity - you will come to rediscover Christ's infinite love for each one of you. I am confident that in this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace.

7. To priests and religious who have abused children

You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes Himself present in us and in our actions. Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life.

I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow. Sincere repentance opens the door to God's forgiveness and the grace of true amendment.

By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged, you should seek to atone personally for your actions. Christ's redeeming sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from even the most terrible evil. At the same time, God's justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God's mercy.

8. To parents

You have been deeply shocked to learn of the terrible things that took place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of all. In today's world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up children. They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of their identity and worth. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person, to be inspired by the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness. This noble but demanding task is entrusted in the first place to you, their parents. I urge you to play your part in ensuring the best possible care of children, both at home and in society as a whole, while the Church, for her part, continues to implement the measures adopted in recent years to protect young people in parish and school environments. As you carry out your vital responsibilities, be assured that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my prayers.

9. To the children and young people of Ireland

I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age. Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all scandalised by the sins and failures of some of the Church's members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, Who is the same yesterday, today and for ever. He loves you and He has offered himself on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with Him within the communion of His Church, for He will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and His goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart. Together with your fellow Catholics in Ireland, I look to you to be faithful disciples of our Lord and to bring your much-needed enthusiasm and idealism to the rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church.

10. To the priests and religious of Ireland

All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse. In view of the outrage and indignation which this has provoked, not only among the lay faithful but among yourselves and your religious communities, many of you feel personally discouraged, even abandoned. I am also aware that in some people's eyes you are tainted by association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible for the misdeeds of others. At this painful time, I want to acknowledge the dedication of your priestly and religious lives and apostolates, and I invite you to reaffirm your faith in Christ, your love of His Church and your confidence in the Gospel's promise of redemption, forgiveness and interior renewal. In this way, you will demonstrate for all to see that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more.

I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered and angered by the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors. Yet, it is essential that you co-operate closely with those in authority and help to ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly evangelical, just and effective. Above all, I urge you to become ever more clearly men and women of prayer, courageously following the path of conversion, purification and reconciliation. In this way, the Church in Ireland will draw new life and vitality from your witness to the Lord's redeeming power made visible in your lives.

11. To my brother bishops

It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognise how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness. I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again. Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to co-operate with the civil authorities in their area of competence. Clearly, religious superiors should do likewise. They too have taken part in recent discussions here in Rome with a view to establishing a clear and consistent approach to these matters. It is imperative that the child safety norms of the Church in Ireland be continually revised and updated and that they be applied fully and impartially in conformity with canon law.

Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. The Irish people rightly expect you to be men of God, to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal conversion daily. For them, in the words of St. Augustine, you are a bishop; yet with them you are called to be a follower of Christ. I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability before God, to grow in solidarity with your people and to deepen your pastoral concern for all the members of your flock. In particular, I ask you to be attentive to the spiritual and moral lives of each one of your priests. Set them an example by your own lives, be close to them, listen to their concerns, offer them encouragement at this difficult time and stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment to the service of their brothers and sisters.

The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part in the life of the Church. See that they are formed in such a way that they can offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in the midst of modern society and cooperate more fully in the Church's life and mission. This in turn will help you once again become credible leaders and witnesses to the redeeming truth of Christ.

12. To all the faithful of Ireland

A young person's experience of the Church should always bear fruit in a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving, nourishing community. In this environment, young people should be encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from the riches of a great religious and cultural tradition. In our increasingly secularised society, where even we Christians often find it difficult to speak of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to find new ways to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of friendship with Jesus Christ in the communion of His Church. In confronting the present crisis, measures to deal justly with individual crimes are essential, yet on their own they are not enough: a new vision is needed, to inspire present and future generations to treasure the gift of our common faith. By treading the path marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.

13. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is out of deep concern for all of you at this painful time in which the fragility of the human condition has been so starkly revealed that I have wished to offer these words of encouragement and support. I hope that you will receive them as a sign of my spiritual closeness and my confidence in your ability to respond to the challenges of the present hour by drawing renewed inspiration and strength from Ireland's noble traditions of fidelity to the Gospel, perseverance in the faith and steadfastness in the pursuit of holiness. In solidarity with all of you, I am praying earnestly that, by God's grace, the wounds afflicting so many individuals and families may be healed and that the Church in Ireland may experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.

14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.

At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God's mercy and the Holy Spirit's gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in your country. I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the Sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organise periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.

I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness of God's own truth, for it is the truth that sets us free.

Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations. Arrangements for the Visitation, which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal, will be made in co-operation with the competent offices of the Roman Curia and the Irish Episcopal Conference. The details will be announced in due course.

I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious. It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere, and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you will come to a more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers you through His Church.

In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure of St. John Mary Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the mystery of the priesthood. "The priest", he wrote, "holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of His goods". The Cure d'Ars understood well how greatly blessed a community is when served by a good and holy priest: "A good shepherd, a pastor after God's heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy". Through the intercession of St. John Mary Vianney, may the priesthood in Ireland be revitalised, and may the whole Church in Ireland grow in appreciation for the great gift of the priestly ministry.

I take this opportunity to thank in anticipation all those who will be involved in the work of organising the Apostolic Visitation and the Mission, as well as the many men and women throughout Ireland already working for the safety of children in church environments. Since the time when the gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to address and remedy it. While no effort should be spared in improving and updating existing procedures, I am encouraged by the fact that the current safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen, in some parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to follow.

I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children and with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalised and hurt by what has occurred in our beloved Church. As you make use of this prayer in your families, parishes and communities, may the Blessed Virgin Mary protect and guide each of you to a closer union with her Son, crucified and risen. With great affection and unswerving confidence in God's promises, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord.

From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of St. Joseph

Prayer for the Church in Ireland

God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.

Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes, schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.

To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of St. Patrick, St. Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.


Friday, March 19, 2010

Guest Posting: "A Man Who Is Never at a Loss"

Below is the first guest blog I have received. Of course, as editor, I do not necessarily agree with everything that is contained in a guest blog; but I am happy to share this one and hope to share more in the future. I myself was trained by the Jesuits in New Orleans and received an excellent education, including one year of Homeric Greek and five years of Latin. Gratias sibi ago. (I hope I am recalling the Latin for "I give thanks to them," correctly!) Note: The book Jesus Interrupted mentioned below is by a prominent author whose views I do not endorse.

Oswald Sobrino, Blogger-Editor

From: a psychiatrist who learned from veterans

Was reading a piece by Megan McArdle the other day which reminded me of the proper priestly behavior of the late Henri Joubert, S.J. (deanglicizing his name) of the New Orleans Jesuit province. New Orleans usually isn't thought of as a intellectual center in the U.S. but it has been; for instance aside from the Jesuits, in pscyhoanalysis if you wanted training rather recently from Dallas you had to go to NO.

Mr. Joubert went over the first line of the Odyssey with us in Greek in the first few days of my sophomore year. Odysseus is there described as filet anthropon to do it phonetically from memory, 'a man who is never at a loss.' Without saying so, Henri, a descendant of French Catholicism embracing the activism of the Jesuits was telling us what Christ was in a new context for us, the man who, one way or another, would help us never to be at a loss. As I love Henri, I will always be of some defense to whom the Jesuits served, the Pope, and the magisterium. Also I think they do good work, but I do wish they would be more open to our considering such books as the recent Jesus Interrupted or the century old Quest of the Historical Jesus as I think they can actually help in achieving that ideal I see in Mr. Joubert's instruction.

Thursday, March 18, 2010

The Opportunity Cost of Popular Culture

I read recently a remark that should have been self-evident: popular culture is a good guide to what people really think, to what people really care about, to what people really expect from themselves and others. If so, we are in trouble.

Economists love to talk about opportunity costs: the cost of any choice includes giving up the benefit of the option you rejected. When our minds are filled with the absurdities of so much of popular culture, we are paying a high opportunity cost: "Boy George" displaces Dante, Sexstar "Madonna" displaces Mozart, Michael Jackson displaces Vergil, etc. The word "displace" is very apt--we can interpret the prefix "dis" in this case as meaning a turn for the worse.

Let's take time to consider the opportunity cost of so much of the popular culture that we consume. What are we giving up, how much time of our limited lives are we willing to spend on the utterly nonsensical, if not outrightly harmful or toxic? Make a list in your own mind of the absurdities of popular culture that have become (maybe, involuntarily) part of your own vocabulary and of your own repertoire of memories and images. Then tally up the opportunity cost--what these images and memories have displaced from your life and your thoughts.

Friday, March 12, 2010


Note below the Pope's reference to the priesthood's "charism of prophecy," the charism most applauded by St. Paul in his First Letter to the Corinthians, chapters 12-14. The rediscovery of this ancient connection between priest and prophet (an often overlooked connection that goes back to the Old Testament) is one dear to me personally, as reflected in my theology master of arts thesis at this link. Here is an excerpt from my own thesis (I suggest clicking the link marked as footnote 145, when you get to it in the following excerpt):

Chapter V: What Kind of Priest?

This chapter discusses how Paul’s priestly service provides a biblical basis for considering and evaluating priestly ministry today. In Rom. 15:15-16, the priestly sacrifice offered by Paul is held by most commentators to be the Gentiles as new believers in Christ. What is foremost in Paul’s priestly service is evangelization of the nations, precisely the “service of the gospel of God” as stated in Rom. 15:16. As noted by Bernard Sesboûé, the Council of Trent declared that the “principle function of bishops” (“fonction principale de évêques”) is precisely the preaching of the Gospel.143 Thus, it is not contrary to tradition to emphasize today, as Paul does, that the priest is primarily an evangelist. This emphasis on the priest as evangelizer does not detract at all from the eucharistic ministry of the priest. In fact, what Paul loudly proclaims in his ministry is precisely “Christ crucified” (1 Cor. 1:23; cf. 1 Cor. 2:2; Gal. 3:1). In 1 Cor. 11:26, Paul explicitly links proclamation and Eucharist: “For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until he comes.” The Eucharist tangibly and concretely re-presents that same crucifixion and therefore is central to a priestly ministry focused on preaching Christ crucified. Priestly ministry can be both emphatically evangelizing and eucharistic within a Pauline biblical framework. In fact, the emphasis on priestly proclamation ties the Christian priesthood to the priests of the Old Testament who were charged, as stated by both Vanhoye and Bony, to mediate and transmit the Word of God, as well as to offer actual sacrifices.144

The other significant aspect of Paul’s priestly service is the charismatic, an aspect that cannot be evaded despite modern reluctance to focus on charismatic aspects that are jarring to an excessively rationalistic mentality. It is undeniable that charismatic signs and wonders fueled and made possible the proclamation of Paul in his priestly service of the gospel of God, as abundantly shown in the Acts of the Apostles and as explicitly noted by Paul himself, in the immediate context of Rom. 15:16, in Rom. 15:19 (see also 1 Cor. 2:4; 2 Cor. 12:12; 1 Thess. 1:5). The question for today’s priest is whether his priesthood can fulfill the mediation of the Word of God without such a charismatic dimension. In a recent study of the charisms in 1 Corinthians 12-14, Vanhoye also attentively and carefully considered Rom. 15:15-16, because Paul there refers to “the grace given [donnée] me by God to be a minister of Christ Jesus to the Gentiles,” and thus to a gift or charism from God to fuel his priestly service.145 This particular Pauline challenge to present-day priests remains for future study.

Source link.

The Pope's remarks below confirm that the renewal and revival of the priest-prophet is worth pursuing. It is a quintessentially charismatic renewal with many potential benefits for the entire Church. When a seminarian friend at the largest Catholic college seminary in the United States recounts to me, again and again, how the charismatic renewal is flowering at his seminary, I see that rediscovery already happening so that all seminarians may experience the charisms needed for the full flowering of their future ordained priestly apostolate.


[Emphasis added]

VATICAN CITY, 12 MAR 2010 (VIS) - At midday today, the Holy Father received participants in a theological congress promoted by the Congregation for the Clergy, and which is being held on 11 and 12 March in the Pontifical Lateran University on the theme: "Faithfulness of Christ, faithfulness of Priests".

In a time such as our own, said the Pope, "it is important clearly to bear in mind the theological specificity of ordained ministry, in order not to surrender to the temptation of reducing it to predominant cultural models. In the context of widespread secularisation which progressively tends to exclude God from the public sphere and from the shared social conscience, the priest often appears 'removed' from common sense". Yet , the Pope went on, "it is important to avoid a dangerous reductionism which, over recent decades ... has presented the priest almost as a 'social worker', with the risk of betraying the very Priesthood of Christ.

"Just as the hermeneutic of continuity is revealing itself to be ever more important for an adequate understanding of the texts of Vatican Council II", he added, "in the same way we see the need for a hermeneutic we could describe as 'of priestly continuity', one which, starting from Jesus of Nazareth, Lord and Christ, and over the two thousand years of history, greatness, sanctity, culture and piety which the Priesthood has given the world, comes down to our own day".

Benedict XVI affirmed that "it is particularly important that the call to participate in the one Priesthood of Christ in ordained Ministry should flower from the 'charism of prophecy'. There is great need for priests who speak of God to the world and who present the world to God; men not subject to ephemeral cultural fashions, but capable of authentically living the freedom that only the certainty of belonging to God can give. ... And the prophecy most necessary today is that of faithfulness" which "leads us to live our priesthood in complete adherence to Christ and the Church".

Priests, the Holy Father continued, "must be careful to distance themselves from the predominant mentality which tends to associate the value of Ministry not with its being, but with its function". Our "ontological association with God", he said "is the right framework in which to understand and reaffirm, also in our own time, the value of celibacy which in the Latin Church is a charism imposed by Holy Orders, and is held in great esteem by the Oriental Churches. ... It is an expression of the gift of the self to God and to others".

"The vocation of priests is an exalted one, and remains a great mystery. ... Our limitations and weaknesses must induce us to live and safeguard this precious gift with great faith, a gift with which Christ configured us to Himself, making us participants in His mission of salvation. Indeed, the understanding of priestly ministry is linked to faith and requires, ever more strongly, a radical continuity between formation in seminaries and permanent formation".

The Holy Father concluded by telling his audience that "the men and women of our time ask us only to be priests to the full, nothing else. The lay faithful will be able to meet their human needs in many other people, but only in the priest will they find that Word of God which must always be on his lips, the Mercy of the Father abundantly and gratuitously distributed in the Sacrament of Penance, and the bread of new life".

Monday, March 8, 2010

Invitation for Readers to "Blog" Here

As usual, I invite readers to enter comments, as provided for in the blog. But here is a new twist: I plan to publish comments that I find useful for/beneficial to others as full-blown "blog entries," on a par with my own writings on the blog. It's a way of offering my blog as a platform for people who have something valuable to say to others but do not have or want a blog of their own.

If you have some thoughts that you think are useful for other readers, put them in the comment box even if your thoughts are not in response to or related to a particular blog entry that I wrote. Just use the comment box as a way to get your thoughts to me for my consideration. By submitting a comment, you are giving me permission to possibly publish and edit it as a full-blown blog entry, unless you indicate otherwise.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

The Fanatical Temptation

It's a common temptation for the insecure, alienated, despairing human personality of all ages. Recently, the media has featured articles trying to explain how some young people become agents on a suicide or other terrorist mission--I am thinking especially of the Nigerian young man (age 23) from an elite family who ended up radicalized and trying to bring down an airliner flying into Detroit on Christmas day. He was in his twenties--an age when not a few seem ripe for succumbing to rigid dogmatism and fanatical self-righteousness. Most who pass through that stage in their twenties make it without any significant brush with the law or criminal activity. Yet, there are some, like the Nigerian young man, who come to a big, crashing deadend. Another recent media story profiled how a frustrated young Pakistani man ended up becoming a terrorist, eventually killed by law enforcement at age 29, after seeking fulfillment as an important, acclaimed jihadist, rather than resigning himself to life as another unemployed, overqualifed university graduate in the teeming streets of Pakistan (see link).

They are sad stories of deep, painful human frustration--stories that reflect that the human personality yearns to be heard, to be respected, to do something important and significant in life. Of course, there is a continuum of fanaticism--from the trivial and banal to the outrightly criminal and terroristic, with many, in between, showing such tendencies but not endangering others. But, it seems that in most forms of fanaticism, the gnawing need for some kind of affirming purpose and importance in one's life is the driving force. Fanaticism provides a sort of celebrity status for the frustrated who thrive on shocking the more conventional expectations of others and their families, by embracing radically different beliefs, customs, associates, dress, and/or actions. In a way, it is a sad continuation of adolescent rebellion by people who prolong an adolescent mentality as more and more individuals spend most of their twenties still getting an education and, often, still as emotional and/or financial dependents of their families. In addition, the blunt fact of sexual frustration cannot be minimized, especially among the males. We have some people in their twenties who remain unmarried for years and thus feel an extra burden of loneliness and isolation.

How do we deal with fanatical personalities? It is very easy and, yes, sometimes necessary to avoid them and simply refuse to challenge or engage them. But judicious, prudent challenge can be good. Raise important questions, even at the risk of being shunned. Engage the issues, because behind every fanatic is someone seeking the truth and meaning and purpose of life. Our only hope is to engage minds with a challenge to seek truth, not within the confines of a blind, fanatically rigid system, but in the wisest sources and in the perennial conversations of our broad cultural heritage of literature, theology, history, and philosophy. As a Christian, of course, I offer, first of all, the Gospels depicting a man who confronted injustice without becoming himself at any time an unjust man, without using or urging violence in any way, shape, or form. That is the challenge: how to confront evil without becoming evil oneself, because the end never justifies evil means. We have, in my view, the perfect model in the four Gospels. Jesus is the anti-fanatic.