Forthrightness and clarity

In the Easter homilies of European bishops

It has been a “different” Easter for European Churches experiencing the scandal of sexual abuses on minors perpetrated in Catholic institutions. The matter was brought up also in the homilies delivered by the bishops on the occasion of Easter celebrations. Ireland: the phone call. A phone call conveying sorrow and regret concluded the sad episode whereby the archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams, spiritual leader of the Anglican Communion, for the first time addressed the delicate issue of paedophilia cases within the Catholic Church of Ireland. In an interview with BBC, reported by the Times, Dr. Williams said the scandal had been “a colossal trauma” and that the Roman Catholic Church “has lost all credibility”. Dr. Williams added: “I was speaking to an Irish friend recently who was saying that it’s quite difficult in some parts of Ireland to go down the street wearing a clerical collar now”. His harsh words caused the immediate response of Msgr. Diarmuid Martin, Catholic archbishop of Dublin. In a statement released the same day the archbishop said he was “stunned” by the criticism and that “he had “rarely felt personally so discouraged”. Dr Rowan Williams was evidently touched by these words and later the same evening – states the Irish Bishops’ Conference – he telephoned archbishop Martin to express his “sorrow and regret for difficulties which may have been created by remarks in a BBC interview”. Ireland: “the wounds remain”. The Archbishop of Armagh and primate of the Catholic Church of Ireland Cardinal Sean Brady, said in the Homily for Easter Sunday: “The physical resurrection of Jesus teaches that we cannot choose to simply forget the past, skip by it, pretend that it never happened. We must fully face the truth of what occurred in the past. We should not try to flee the consequences of those offences, which can continue to mar the lives of those who suffered because of them. The lives of survivors of child sexual abuse, the faith of members of the Church, and the credibility of Church leadership, have all been wounded grievously by the evil deeds of priests and religious who exploited their position to wreak havoc on the lives of helpless children. Those wounds were aggravated by serious mismanagement on the part of bishops and other leaders in the Church. Those wounds, like the wounds on the body of the risen Christ, will not go away. We must take them seriously”. And in fact, testifying to the Church of Ireland’s serious handling of the issue, Cardinal Brady had private and separate interviews with some of the victims on March 31, in the framework of meetings of the victims of abuse with Church representatives. France. Forthrightness marks also the approach of the French bishops, who openly answered the questions of journalists. In an interview with the local daily of Bordeaux where he serves as archbishop, Cardinal Jean-Pierre Ricard admitted that when he served as bishop in three different French dioceses he handled 8 cases of allegations of paedophilia against 8 priests. The cases were addressed from the psychological standpoint, since the victims “were seriously traumatized, to the extent that it took them years to verbalize the abuses”. The victims will be able to recover their lives only by “turning to the justice system and after the culprits’ sentencing”. Often the victims’ relatives report the abuse, after which “the bishops do not confess the priests, so as not be bound by the secrecy of confession”. The intervention of “lay mediators” is also sought, “as it comes easier to convey the details and ensure the facts’ truthfulness”. As regards the media accusations against the Pope, Cardinal Ricard was straightforward: “I am stunned”. “I have worked with him since 2002 in the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith and I can say that the Pope has always been “very demanding” when it came to such matters. Belgium. Eric De Beukelaer, the spokesperson of the Belgian Bishops’ Conference, pointed out that a Commission to Inquire into Child Abuse was set up ten years ago within the Belgian Church. The statement was released ensuing the publication of a Belgian daily’s news report stating that the bishops’ spokesperson called for the establishment of a Commission to inquire on the Belgian Church’s past handling of paedophilia cases by Church members. “What has been written doesn’t correspond to the truth”, also because the commission already exists and has been actively operating for the past ten years, he said. The issue was raised after the Easter homily delivered by Msgr. André-Joseph Léonard in Brussels’ Cathedral on April 4, in which the new archbishop of Mechelen-Bruxelles commented on the Church’s “guilty silence”, for having “often favoured the reputation of Church members to the detriment of the abused children”. Austria. “The Church says ‘yes’ to painful purging and endures even unjust quick judgments with no complaints”, said Cardinal Christoph Schönborn, referring to the cases of abuse in the Catholic Church, on April 4, in the Easter homily in Vienna. “Christ indicates the way of the Church even in difficult times”, he said. “It’s a conscious path marked by questions, soul-searching and doubt, and by arguments, suffering and downfalls. If the Church failed to undertake this path, she will experience the suffering and redemption of being recovered to this path by the Lord”. Also the archbishop of Salsburg Msgr. Alois Kothgasser, mentioned this theme in his homily for the Easter service in the Dome of Salsburg, highlighting the “Church’s new beginning”. “In this moment, resurrection in life concretely means repentance, conversion, reconciliation and justice. Church dignitaries crossed the limits fixed by God, causing great pain to defenceless people. It will take much time and efforts before these wounds will be healed, thus contributing to the victory of the truth”. Italy. “Rediscovering the joy of being a member of the Church, even when human sins and shadows seek to disfigure her”. It is the invitation of Cardinal Angelo Bagnasco, archbishop of Genoa, pronounced in the Easter Vigil Homily past April 3rd, in the city’s Cathedral. Referring to the abuse scandal in the Church, without mentioning it directly, the Cardinal asked “how could we forget the flow of goodness and sanctity, of culture and civilization that has nurtured the course of history for the past two thousand years?” “How could we tune out the dedication and the sacrifice of multitudes of priests, religious and lay faithful who consecrate their lives for everyone’s good, for the youngest and for the old? May this night shed its light over our souls, purifying what must be purified in grace and in justice. May we look ahead with humbleness and courage to best correspond the love of Christ that triumphs over darkness and fear”. In his Easter Homily of April 4, His Eminence called upon the faithful “not to relinquish faith” since “Jesus, the eternal Son of God, with His resurrection reveals that man, history and the cosmos are not doomed to come to an end. Rather, they will be resurrected to a new life, to a new reality we cannot imagine but that we can perceive in the resurrected holy body of Christ. Not only does the light of Easter rip the veil of death, disclosing the future. Indeed, it also enlightens our present time. The many obscurities, and the many defeats recorded in personal and communal life, the great mystery of evil and pain that often seems to win over the world, are not the last and ultimate word on humanity. They are the second-last. Christians are aware that each event, whether big of small, joyful or tragic, contains a fragment of eternity and a promise of resurrection. Every cross that accompanies human existence takes on a new value and a new meaning. Nobody’s life terminates on the boundaries of human suffering. Life extends beyond, towards a horizon of light and infinity”. Norway: former bishop Müller admits abuse”On April 6 Card. William Levada, Prefect of the Vatican Congregation, gave me the heavy task of announcing that at the end of January 2009 the Holy See had been informed of the accusations against bishop Georg Müller of Trondheim, relating to the sexual abuse of a minor”. This is the opening phrase of the statement posted on the website of the Norwegian Catholic Church April 6, whereby the current bishop of Trondheim and Oslo, Bernt Eidsvig, explains the details of the resignations presented by bishop Georg Müller over a year ago. The communiqué states that the Vatican assigned the Apostolic Nunciature in Stockholm to investigate the allegations. When Müller was confronted with the facts he admitted sexually abusing a minor. His resignations followed suit. Bishop Bernt Eidsvig underlines in the communiqué that even if the case can no longer be prosecuted under Norwegian law because of the statute of limitations, the law of the Church remains valid. Msgr. Müller has been in psychological treatment, and has been “removed from all pastoral duties”, he said. Bishop Eidsvig conveyed his suffering in a letter to the faithful. “”The Catholic Church in Norway is in shock”, he said. “I am, on a personal note, struggling to find the necessary words at this time. First and foremost I wish to express my sympathies with the victim, and I hope and pray that his wishes for anonymity are respected” he said. “A small light amidst the desperation is that the Holy See confronted and examined the matter quickly after it came to light”, Bernt Eidsvig added. The Church has experienced other moments of difficulty in the course of history, the bishop said. “The difference is that this ordeal has struck our hearts and our weaknesses. We are afflicted by this pain that is hard to endure”. “Pray for me, that I may be given the grace of being a good shepherd in such a difficult moment for all of us”.

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