In Dublin, the Three Silences
What can I say to you who are victims of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin or by religious? I would not be honest and sincere if I were to say that I know what you have suffered. I may try to understand, but that suffering is yours. Only you know what it means to have been abused sexually or in some other way. I can try to imagine the horrors of being abused when just a child, helpless and innocent. I can try to imagine how this abuse has haunted your life until today and sadly may continue even for the rest of your lives.
I can recognise the humiliation you suffered, the assault on your dignity and self-esteem, the fear and anxiety, the isolation and abandonment you experienced. I can listen to you tell me about your nightmares, your frustrations and your longing for a closure which may never come. I can imagine your anger at not being believed and of seeing others being cared for while you were left on your own.
I can try to imagine all those experiences but I know that it is only you who have had that experience. Whatever I imagine, what you experienced must be a thousand times worse.
I can express my sorrow, my sense of the wrong that was done to you. I think of how you were not heard or not believed and not comforted and supported.
I can ask myself how did this happen in the Church of Jesus Christ where as we heard in the Gospel children are presented to us as signs of the kingdom. How did we not see you in your suffering and abandonment?
The Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese [of] Dublin has been wounded by the sins of abusers and by the response to you for which we all share responsibility.
Someone once reminded me of the difference between on the one hand apologising or saying sorry and on the other hand asking forgiveness. I can bump into someone on the street and say “Sorry”. It can be meaningful or just an empty formula. When I say sorry I am in charge. When I ask forgiveness however I am no longer in charge, I am in the hands of the others. Only you can forgive me; only God can forgive me.
I, as Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin, stand here in this silence and I ask forgiveness of God and I ask for the first steps of forgiveness from of all the survivors of abuse.
There is a time for silence. But there is also another silence: a silence which is a sign of not wanting to respond, a silence which is a failure of courage and truth.
There are men and women in this Cathedral today to whom we must express our immense gratitude for the fact that they did not remain silent. Despite the hurt it cost them they had the courage to speak out, to speak out, to speak out and to speak out again and again, courageously and with determination even in the face of unbelief and rejection.
All survivors are indebted to those who had the courage to speak out and let it be known what had happened and how they were treated. The Church in Dublin and worldwide and everyone here today is indebted to them. Some of you in your hurt and your disgust will have rejected the Church that you had once loved, but paradoxically your abandonment may have helped purify the Church through challenging it to face the truth, to move out of denial, to recognise the evil that was done and the hurt that was caused.
The first step towards any form of healing is to allow the truth to come out. The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way. The truth hurts. The truth cleanses not with designer soap but with a fire that burns and hurts and lances.
Again the Church in this Archdiocese thanks you for your courage. I in my own name apologise for the insensitivity and even hurtful and nasty reactions that you may have encountered. I appeal to you to continue to speak out. There is still a long path to journey in honesty before we can truly merit forgiveness.
There is a third level of silence in our midst this afternoon. It is the silence of the cross. I was asked who should preside at this liturgy. My answer was not a Cardinal or an Archbishop but the Cross of Jesus Christ. We gather before the cross of Jesus which presides over us and judges us. It is the Cross of Jesus that judges whether our words and our hearts are sincere.
The final moments before the death of Jesus were marked by darkness and silence. That silence is broken by the words of Jesus: He forgives those who kill him. He also brings forgiveness and new life to one of the thieves who surround him. But that forgiveness is not cheap forgiveness. One thief mocked Jesus; he did not recognise that act of injustice that was being carried out. The other recognised his own guilt and that recognition opened the door to forgiveness. No one who shared any responsibility for what happened in the Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese can ask forgiveness of these who were abused without first recognising the injustice done and their own failure for what took place.
The silence of Jesus on the cross is again interrupted by his prayer of abandonment: “My God why have you forsaken me?” It is the prayer that so many survivors must have made their own as they journeyed with the torment of hurt which for many years they could not share and which haunted them day after day, from their childhood and into adult life.
But Jesus faces that abandonment and finally hands himself over to the Father bringing his self-giving love to the utmost moment of giving his own life in love. That opened the door to newness of life.
We gather under the sign of the cross which judges us but which ultimately liberates us.
This afternoon is only a first step. It would be easy for all of us to go away this afternoon somehow feeling good but feeling also “that is that now”, “it’s over”, “now we can get back to normal”.
The Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again. It will always bear this wound within it. 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.
PHOTOS: John McElroy