Tuesday, June 12, 2012

On Irish Mission, The Pope's Man Goes to "Purgatory"

For over a thousand years, the Irish island at Lough Derg has been a destination of penitential pilgrimage, but never until now has a visitor been sent to atone there on orders from the Pope.

Diagonally across the isle from Dublin -- where he's been dispatched this week as Papal Legate at the International Eucharistic Congress -- Cardinal Marc Ouellet is spending the night at the site known as "St Patrick's Purgatory," where barefoot faithful traditionally fast and stay awake in prayer and reparation.

While the exceptional gesture had been announced on Sunday, earlier today a Vatican statement revealed that the Canadian prelate -- the head of the all-powerful Congregation for Bishops and an increasingly oft-cited papabile -- was making the trip "at the express request of Pope Benedict XVI, to pray for forgiveness, reconciliation and healing in the wake of the sex abuse scandal in Ireland."

To date, the four state inquiries into the Republic's dioceses and church institutions are merely the most in-depth accounting of a staggering history of abuse by the country's priests and religious, and patterns of cover-up by their superiors that, in some places, extended into the last decade. According to one leading survivors group, over a quarter of Ireland's population have experienced sexual abuse in one or another context.

Even if the Congress' opening days have borne witness to a rare spirit of unapologetic zeal amid Irish Catholicism's two-decade "long Lent," Ouellet's penitential turn is perhaps the starkest contrast yet to this gathering's landmark predecessor in 1932, when the scarlet-clad emissary of Pope Pius XI, Cardinal Laurenzo Lauri, arrived at Dun Laoghaire to the panoply of a state welcome (above) before parading through the city center in a cappa magna, its train stretched full-length as throngs lined the streets.

A liturgy of reconciliation largely written by survivors is to be held Thursday, led by Cardinal Peter Turkson, president of the Pontifical Council for Justice and Peace.

On the legate's return to Dublin, meanwhile, survivor groups have requested meetings with Ouellet before the Congress' Sunday close. A response has yet to emerge. (SVILUPPO: The Vatican announced Wednesday that the cardinal met for two hours with a group of victims during his pilgrimage, celebrating Mass afterward for the group.)

The trip to Lough Derg is the second act of penance the Quebec-born Bishops' chief has undertaken over recent months as the pontiff's designated representative; the first came in February, when the cardinal-prefect led a service of atonement (below) during an unprecedented Vatican-sponsored conference on abuse sponsored held at the Pontifical Gregorian University.

Held in a darkened Roman church, Ouellet's homily at the earlier vigil included the following passages....
The tragedy of the sexual abuse of minors perpetrated by Christians, especially when done so by members of the clergy, is a source of great shame and enormous scandal. It is a sin against which Jesus himself lashed out: “It would be better for him if a millstone were put around his neck and he be thrown into the sea than for him to cause one of these little ones to stumble” (Lk. 17:2). Abuse is a crime, in fact, which causes an authentic experience of death for the innocent victims, whom God alone can truly raise to new life in the power of the Holy Spirit. Therefore, with profound conviction and awareness of what we do, we turn to and implore the Lord.

This gesture of purification involves the entire Church, and each one of us - Bishops, Religious Superiors, educators, all Christians - feels the pain of what has occurred. We ask that the Spirit of God, who heals and radically renews all things, come down upon us.

As members of the Church, we must have the courage to ask humbly for God’s pardon, as well as for the forgiveness of His “little ones” who have been wounded; we must remain close to them on their road of suffering, seeking in every possible way to heal and bind up their wounds following the example of the Good Samaritan. The first step on this road is to listen to them carefully and to believe their painful stories.

The road of renewal for the Church, who will continue to educate people and establish proper structures to help prevent similar crimes, must include the sentiment of “never again”. As Blessed John Paul II said, “there is no place in the priesthood and religious life for those who would harm the young” (Address of Blessed Pope John Paul II to the Cardinals of the United States, April 23, 2002, n. 3). It is intolerable that the abuse of children would take place within the Church. Never again!...

In this new path, we Christians should be aware that only faith can guarantee an authentic work of renewal in the Church: faith understood as personal, as a true and life-giving relationship of love with Jesus Christ. Mindful of our own lack of living faith, we ask the Lord Jesus to restore us all and to lead us through the agony of the cross towards the joy of the resurrection.

Sometimes the violence was committed by deeply disturbed persons or by those who had themselves been abused. It was necessary to take action concerning them and to prevent them from continuing any form of ministry for which they were obviously not suitable. This was not always done properly and, once again, we apologize to the victims....

Still shocked by these sad occurrences, we hope that this Vigil liturgy helps us to view the horrible sins that took place among the People of God in the light of salvation history, a story which we have retraced together here tonight. It is a story that speaks of our misery, of our repeated failures, but most of all of God’s infinite mercy, of which we are always in need.

And so we entrust ourselves entirely to the powerful intercession of the Son of God, who “emptied himself” (Phil. 2:7) in the mystery of the Incarnation and Redemption, and who has taken upon himself every evil, even this evil, destroying its power so that it would not have the last word.
And as the morning brings not just the opening of another Summer Meeting of the US bishops, but ten years to the day since the body's then-president convoked the Stateside bench at Dallas with a call to responsibility and penance, in a way, a long decade now comes full circle.

Notably, it's widely expected that, over the coming months, Ouellet will oversee the appointment of a successor to Ireland's top churchman, Cardinal Sean Brady of Armagh, whose conduct in a 1970s investigation of abuse committed by the country's most infamous predator priest sparked a fresh round of calls for his resignation in the run-up to this week's Eucharistic Congress.

PHOTOS: Archive of University College Cork(2); Getty(3)