As Vatican probe nears end, officials see signs of repentance and renewal in Ireland

Cardinal Sean OMalley Photo Credit John Mc Elroy Photography CNA World Catholic News 2 21 11 Cardinal Sean O'Malley addresses the Liturgy of Lament and Repentance. / John Mc Elroy

Church officials in charge of the Vatican's investigation of clerical abuse in Ireland are wrapping up their fact-finding missions.

The Archdiocese of Dublin on Feb. 21 hosted the latest of several penance services that have been held around the country to seek forgiveness from abuse victims.

Cardinal Sean O'Malley, who is overseeing the Vatican's investigation there, joined with Dublin Archbishop Diarmuid Martin at St. Mary's Cathedral to lead a "liturgy of lament and repentance" for the abuse of children by priests and religious.

"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," Archbishop Martin said during the service.

He said seeking God's forgiveness is the "first step" to seeking forgiveness from victims of the abuse.

The liturgy was organized in large part by abuse victims, many of whom are seeking reparations for the Church's failure to respond adequately to abuses.

Archbishop Martin thanked the victims for their courage in breaking the silence and shedding light on the abuses.

He said the cross of Christ would judge the sincerity of the Church's repentance and would serve as the source for healing.

The Dublin archbishop called the ceremony a "first step" and said that the archdiocese "would never be the same again."

"It will always bear this wound within it," he said. "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."

Archbishop Martin and Cardinal Sean O'Malley washed the feet of several victims and their family members as part of the ceremony.

Cardinal O'Malley is Pope Benedict XVI's delegate overseeing the Vatican's investigation or "apostolic visitation" of the Dublin Archdiocese.

The visitation includes all four of the archdioceses in Ireland as well as all of the country's seminaries and religious communities. Findings will be presented in a report to the Pope and will be used to plan a course of action for renewing the Irish Church.

On the Pope's behalf, the cardinal asked forgiveness from "those who have been harmed by priests and bishops, whose actions – and inactions – gravely harmed the lives of children entrusted to their care."

He admitted that "carrying the cross" of discipleship is "a costly grace and often we fall down on the job."

"We want to be part of a Church that puts survivors, the victims of abuse first, ahead of self-interest, reputation and institutional needs," Cardinal O'Malley said.

"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."

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He said he has encountered much suffering during his visits with victims.

The "tragic evil of sexual abuse of minors" has caused "profound distress," resulting in addictions, damaged relationships, the suffering of families and even suicide, he said.

"The wounds carried in Ireland as a result of this evil are deep and remind us of the wounds of the body of Christ," he said.

"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," he told the penance service. "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."

Cardinal O'Malley said he sees a "window of opportunity" to build a "holier Church" in response to the crisis.

Sunday's ceremony, he said, "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."

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The cardinal and a team of assistants are now carrying out their second visit to the archdiocese to interview victims and collect accounts for a report to the Vatican, due by Easter.

The other three "visitators" to Irish archdioceses have conducted similar penitential services in recent months.

Archbishop Thomas Collins of Toronto's office told CNA that he has completed his interviews in the Archdiocese of Cashel and Emly and will also be submitting his report to the Pope by Easter.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor of Westminster, England has concluded his visits of the Archdiocese of Armagh. Archbishop Terrence Prendergast of Ottawa will complete his second round of visits to the Archdiocese of Tuam from March 5-12.

Archbishop Timothy Dolan of New York completed visits of the Pontifical Irish College seminary in Rome and the major seminary at Maynooth, Ireland early this month. His office said he will be submitting his report by April 1.

A spokesperson for Archbishop Dolan said that after interviewing 113 Irish seminarians, "he sees much hope for the renewal of the faith in Ireland."