In the letter, Benedict addressed Catholics in Ireland not only with the concern of a father, but also “with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has occurred in our beloved Church.”
He divided the letter into sections addressed to particular groups of people, including victims and their families, parents, priests and religious guilty of abusing children, children and youth from Ireland, priests and religious from Ireland, Irish bishops themselves, and Irish Catholics on the whole.
Benedict apologized to victims, saying that nothing could undo the wrongs they had endured, and that it was understandable if they were unable to forgive and reconcile 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,” he said.
Among other things, Benedict urged greater formation on the issue of abuse for priests and religious, which was echoed by the Chilean bishops during their press conference.
He also highlighted several factors he said were causes in the abuse crisis. In addition to a rapidly changing and secularized cultural landscape, he said the procedures for finding suitable candidates for the priesthood and religious life were “inadequate,” and cited “insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates” as one of the causes of institutional failure.
Also a problem, he said, was clericalism and an exaggerated respect for those in authority, as well as 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.”
In terms of concrete action, Benedict proposed a number of concrete initiatives, the first of which was to do penance.
He asked Ireland’s bishops to dedicate Lent of that year, 2010, 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.”
Benedict also asked that Irish Catholics offer their Friday penances for that intention for a year – from Lent 2010 to Easter 2011 – requesting that they offer their regular prayer, fasting and acts of charity for healing and renewal for the Church of Ireland, and that they go to confession more frequently.
He said special attention ought to be paid to Eucharistic adoration, especially in parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries in order to “make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm” and to ask for the grace of a renewed sense of their mission.
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Benedict also announced that he would carry out an apostolic visitation to certain dioceses, seminaries and religious congregations and said he would implement a mission for bishops, priests and religious from Ireland.
The hope for the mission, he said, was that by access to holy preachers and with a careful rereading of conciliar documents, liturgical rites of ordination and recent pontifical teachings, consecrated persons would “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.”
During the press conference Monday with Chilean bishops, Ramos and González called Benedict’s letter “a precious and beautiful text full of guidelines that we will follow or are following.”
They also made comments reminiscent of the sentiments voiced by Benedict XVI, saying they are coming into the meeting this week with “shame and pain,” but they also voiced hope that the discussion will be a fresh start for the bishops, and will provide a decisive direction going forward.
However, while they have Benedict's guidelines in mind, the bishops said that as far as this week goes, they are in Rome at the beckoning of Pope Francis, and their task “is to listen to Peter, to listen to the pope.”
“Conclusions will come, new paths will come out,” González said, adding that “the pope gives us light” indicating the path to be taken.