On 15 and 16 February, 2010, the Holy Father met the Irish bishops and senior members of the Roman Curia to discuss the serious situation which has emerged in the church in Ireland. The ‘serious situation’ of two bishops squaring up to each otherand taking lumps out of each other.
Together they examined the failure of Irish church authorities for many years to act effectively in dealing with cases involving the sexual abuse of young people by some Irish clergy and religious. Keep emphasising the ‘some clergy and some religious’. Avoid at all costs mentioning the fact that the abuse of children by clergy and religious was systemic and endemic in the Church for all of the 20th. century. All those present recognised that this grave crisis has led to a breakdown in trust in the church’s leadership and has damaged her witness to the Gospel and its moral teaching. Come on lads, I thought you guys ran Ireland? This lack of control is inexcusable and will be addressed urgently. And Drennan will you get your finger out for Christ’s sake!
The meeting took place in a spirit of prayer and collegial fraternity, and its frank and open atmosphere provided guidance and support to the bishops in their efforts to address the situation in their respective dioceses. Bishop Drennan’s attempt to leap over the table a grab Diarmuid Martin by the neck was thwarted by robust action by two fellow bishops seated on either side of him. Another Bishop joined in and all three sat on him as he calmed down.
On the morning of 15 February, following a brief introduction by the Holy Father, each of the Irish bishops offered his own observations and suggestions. Bishop Drennan’s use of foul language aside those who spoke were very fortright and addressed the issue of the Church’s loss of control at the helm in Ireland. The bishops spoke frankly of the sense of pain and anger, betrayal, scandal and shame expressed to them on numerous occasions by those who had been abused. Well actually it was Bishop Drennan who spoke frankly of the scanal and shame that surrounds him and he pointedly singled out Diarmuid Martin for his ire. Thankfully though Bishop Drennan was under restraint as three of his fellow bishops were still sitting on him, pinning him to the floor.
There was a similar sense of outrage reflected by laity, priests and religious in this regard. Use the phrase ‘sense of outrage’ rather than ‘outrage’as its much more neutral. The bishops likewise described the support at present being provided by thousands of trained and dedicated lay volunteers at parish level to ensure the safety of children in all church activities and stressed that, while there is no doubt that errors of judgment and omissions stand at the heart of the crisis, significant measures have now been taken to ensure the safety of children and young people. Keep it neutral.
They also emphasised their commitment to co-operation with the statutory authorities in Ireland – North and South – and with the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland to guarantee that the church’s standards, policies and procedures represent best practice in this area. Emphasise the words ‘committment to co-operation’ and don’t allude to the fact that as it stands now the Church is maintaining it’s independence in this regard.
For his part, the Holy Father observed that the physical and sexual abuse of children and young people is not only a most heinous crime, but also a very grave sin which offends God and wounds the dignity of the human person created in his image. While realising that the current painful situation will not be resolved quickly, he challenged the bishops to address the problems of the past with determination and resolve, and to face the present crisis with honesty and courage. It’s very painful for Bishop Drennan at the moment as two more Bishops have added their weight to restrain him.
He also expressed the hope that the present meeting would help to unify the bishops and enable them to speak with one voice in identifying concrete steps aimed at bringing healing to those who had been abused, encouraging a renewal of faith in Christ and restoring the church’s finances spiritual and moral credibility. Some hope of that if the foam exhuding from Bishop Drennan’s mouth is anything to go by!
The Holy Father also pointed to the more general crisis of faith affecting the church and he linked that to the lack of respect for the human person and how the weakening of faith has been a significant contributing factor in the phenomenon of the sexual abuse of minors. He stressed the need for a deeper theological reflection on the whole issue, and called for an improved human, spiritual, academic and pastoral preparation both of candidates for the priesthood and religious life and of those already ordained and professed.
The bishops had an opportunity to examine and discuss a draft of the pastoral letter of the Holy Father to the Catholics of Ireland. Taking into account the comments of the Irish bishops, His Holiness will now complete his letter, which will be issued during the coming season of Lent.
The discussions concluded late Tuesday morning, 16 February 2010. The Pope’s doctor had to intervene and inject Bishop Drennan with a sleeping draught.
As the bishops return to their dioceses, with their tails between their legs, the Holy Father has asked that this Lent be set aside as a time for imploring an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the church in Ireland.