The healing power of Jesus Christ’s self-sacrificing love can free even those in “the darkest and most hopeless situations,” wrote Pope Benedict in a Pastoral Letter to the Church in Ireland. The “intense” letter voiced sorrow to abuse victims while urging reparation for sins.
In a pastoral letter released on Saturday, the Holy Father urged victims to find solace and communion with the Church through a relationship with Jesus Christ, who was also "a victim of injustice and sin." He exhorted abuse victims to look to the wounds of the Savior’s unjust suffering.
Calling for all of the faithful of Ireland to turn to the Gospel for renewal, the Holy Father explained again that the cases of abuse "deeply disturbed" him. He proposed measures for guidance on the path of healing, renewal and reparation.
"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," he wrote to Irish Catholics.
To the victims of abuse and their families, he said "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."
Relating that it is "understandable" that they may find it difficult to forgive or reconcile with the Church, he added "In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel."
"I ask you not to lose hope,” he continued. “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."
Noting that it might be difficult for some of the victims to even set foot in a church, he explained that the power of evil is broken and mankind is “reborn to life and hope” in Christ’s own wounds, “transformed by his redemptive sufferings.”
"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."
Recalling the long history of Irish Catholicism, he remarked that the factors which contributed to abuse “have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”
"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."
Pope Benedict XVI emphasized that the Irish Catholic community must now face the task of addressing the abuse crisis with "courage and determination," though its resolution will not be swift.
"Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the healing power of God’s grace," he indicated.
The Church in Ireland must "acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenseless 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."
Addressing abusive priests and religious in Ireland he wrote: "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."
Calling for accountability, repentance and atonement, he told them "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," he exhorted.
Addressing the bishops of Ireland, he condemned "grave errors of judgment” and “failures of leadership.”
Along with making a full implementation of canon law in cases of child abuse, he ordered the episcopacy to “continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence."
It is "imperative" that child safety norms be revised and updated to ensure their application "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 concentrated our lives."
He asked the bishops to deepen their pastoral concern for their flock and to offer encouragement to priests to "stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment to the service of their brothers and sisters."
Pope Benedict invited current priests and religious to "cooperate closely with those in authority" and "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," he added, "you will demonstrate for all to see that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more."
The Holy Father called upon all the faithful to persevere along the path “marked out by the Gospel."
Providing some proposals for healing, reconciliation and renewal, the Holy Father invited all the faithful to offer their Friday penances until Easter of 2011 for the "outpouring of God's mercy and the Holy Spirit's gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in your country."
He asked the Irish faithful to offer up their fasting, prayer, Scripture reading and works of mercy for "the grace of healing and renewal” for the Church in Ireland, with particular attention to Eucharistic Adoration.
"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 program 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," he wrote.
He also proposed the plan for the organization of an Apostolic Visitation to "assist the local Church on her path of renewal."
The pontiff urged a nationwide Mission to be held for all bishops, priests and religious to "rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ."
The Holy Father commended the priests of Ireland to the intercession of Saint John Mary Vianney, praying that the Irish priesthood be revitalized.
In closing, he included a prayer of his own composition for the Irish Church’s guidance, comfort, reconciliation and renewal.
Fr. Federico Lombardi, spokesman for the Holy See, presented the Holy Father's Pastoral Letter to the press on Saturday morning at the Vatican. He called the wording of the document "very strong" and "intense."
Cardinal Sean Brady, at Mass in the Cathedral of Armagh, welcomed the letter, calling Saturday "a very historic day for the Catholics of Ireland."