Vatican Pastoral Response: View from Ireland

From Sean O’Conaill, VOTF-Ireland:

There are aspects of Pope Benedict XVI’s pastoral letter that we warmly welcome — especially the recognition that a ‘ new vision is needed, to inspire present and future generations’ in Ireland. The letter will hopefully now precipitate a long-delayed conversation among Irish Catholics — priests, bishops and people together — out of which, with God’s help, such a new vision will emerge.

We feel however, that the letter’s analysis of the causes of the disaster we have suffered is weakened by a failure to recognise a basic structural problem in the church. Secularism is blamed for a weakening of faith in Ireland, but there is no acknowledgement that it was the separation of powers in secular society that led to the uncovering of a problem kept hidden by the church’s own monarchical system. Or that it was solely due to secular courts, the media and the secular state that the problem has been exposed in all its horror, and action taken to safeguard children.

As it was this secular process which created the circumstances that led to the Murphy report — and to this pastoral letter to Ireland — we find it remarkable that the letter makes no reference to this, and sees no serious problem with structures of church governance that did not make church leaders accountable for their actions, or for their failures to act, until secular processes stepped in.

Changes are needed to canon law to facilitate the development of church structures that will promote openness and accountability in the governance of the church, ridding us finally of the culture of secrecy that has caused us so much disgrace, distrust and pain. We regret that the pastoral has missed an opportunity to acknowledge this need.

We welcome the papal recognition of the insights that survivors bring to the church and hope that this will inaugurate an intensive period of listening to them and their families. We welcome also the direction now given to church leaders to cooperate with civil authority, and to the call for spiritual renewal. We hope this pastoral letter may assist a process of renewal that will take many years to come to full fruition.