Please see below (i) the homily of Father Liam O’Driscoll which was preached on the afternoon of Sunday 25 May at the Concelebrated Mass for Healing and Reconciliation Saint Joseph’s Church, Wilton, Cork; (ii) the remarks of Bishop John Buckley, Bishop of Cork & Ross at the launch of Towards Peace, the new spiritual support service specifically dedicated to survivors of abuse; and, (iii) the remarks of Ms Una Allen, Chairperson of Towards Peace.
Homily of Father Liam O’Driscoll
There is a story in the Gospel of Saint John where Jesus met a paralysed man by the Pool of Bethsaida in Jerusalem. He was one of “a great number” of people with various ailments who spent their time at the Pool – the water was believed to have healing properties. The first person to enter the pool when the waters were stirred up would be healed. The paralysed man had been there for thirty eight years.
The first words Jesus spoke were “Do you want to be healed?” The man might well have answered: “Of course I want to be healed. Why do you think I have been lying here all this time?” He didn’t say that. He made excuses about why he hadn’t been able to get into the pool – others always got in before him. Jesus said to him “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk”. At once, the man was healed; he picked up his mat and walked.
Our Mass today is a Mass for Healing and Reconciliation for those who have suffered abuse. We are dealing with something which truly violates the God-given dignity of the person abused, in a life-lasting way. The possibility of healing, however, must be considered as something we would like to achieve. Over the years, the man at the Pool must have become more and more discouraged with every failure to make it to the water. Yet, healing came his way eventually. How often must he have thought that this was going to be his lot for the rest of his life? How often must he have despaired of ever being healed? There will be times when we may lose all hope of ever recovering from the effects of abuse, when we are so discouraged that healing is a distant dream. We should not despair however. Healing is achievable; it’s how long it takes that is the problem. The paralysed man was waiting thirty eight years!
Healing is not magic; it does not happen at the push of a button or at the say-so of somebody who wishes it to happen. The healing of the paralysed man was miraculous and immediate but that is unlikely to happen with us. Each person heals at a different pace. The first question we need to ask ourselves is: “Do you want to be healed?” I won’t be healed if I don’t want to be healed. I need to convince myself that I do want to be healed. Again, I can make excuses for not taking any steps towards healing. I can revel in my victimhood; I can blame all sorts of people and events for my failure to heal. I must want to be healed.
Healing and reconciliation demand forgiveness. And that is one of the most difficult things that the Lord demanded of his followers. It has to be a basic element of the command of Jesus Christ to love one another. And it is not just the abusers we are striving to forgive; we are also seeking to forgive those who responded inadequately to complaints/allegations. Forgiving does not mean excusing but it allows the injured person to let go of his/her own crippling anger and resentment and desire to punish all associated with the abuse. What Christianity has to offer is the conviction that I am loved by God exactly as I am. I should not be defined by the fact that I have been abused but by the fact that I am God’s creation and that he loves me unconditionally. And it is this love which opens the way to the possibility of forgiveness, the possibility of healing.
For many who have suffered abuse, there is the loss of faith and trust in God and in the Church, particularly if the abuser was a Church person. People blame themselves and frequently blame God for what has happened to them. They feel that God has left them down. Towards Peace, which will be launched later today, is about supporting people who wish to search for God again, to return to the peace that faith can bring.
The final words of Jesus to the paralysed man were: “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk”. Can you imagine the surge of hope, of new life, of joy that man experienced as he jumped to his feet? All the discouragement, all the despair, all the anger of his life disappeared in a moment. That is what healing can do. Today, let us resolve to set out on the quest for healing, however long it may take.
Remarks by Bishop John Buckley at the launch of Towards Peace in Wilton, Cork
Our first thoughts are with those who have suffered. Innocent and vulnerable children have suffered greatly as a result of a betrayal of trust by Church personnel. Their families too have been affected deeply. The Church takes no comfort from the fact that many organisations and professionals in society are affected by child abuse or that surveys tell us that one in every four Irish adults has experienced sexual abuse in childhood. Even a single case is one too many. Our concern must be to do all in our power to help those who have suffered as a result of abuse.
Great efforts have already been made in Ireland to make the Church a safe place for children. We look forward with hope to ensuring that what has happened will never happen again. The Church’s concern for the safety of children today is underpinned by the presence in every parish of trained Child Safeguarding Representatives.
Guaranteeing the safety of children is relentless and on-going. To do this, we need a strong system of inspection and oversight and evidence that the guidelines are being implemented correctly. I commend the National Board for its determination in overseeing the implementation of best practise throughout the Church.
Towards Peace is a spiritual support service for survivors whose faith has been damaged by abuse. It is one of three services that form a response to abuse by the Church in Ireland. The other two services are ‘Towards Healing’ which is a confidential counselling or referral service; and the other is the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. I am certain that this service will be availed of by many survivors of abuse in Ireland. Thank you for listening.
Remarks by Ms Una Allen, Chairperson of Towards Peace, at the launch of Towards Peace in Wilton, Cork
Towards Peace is a new service offering spiritual support to survivors and victims of abuse, but particularly sexual abuse, which was perpetrated by Church personnel. Feedback from survivors has highlighted the profoundly negative impact that abuse has had on their faith and relationship with God. Survivors have spoken about their struggle with their faith, and the sense of rejection by a Church who betrayed them, their feelings of loss, and darkness, of deep mistrust and suspicion of that Church and a sense of abandonment by God. It was bad enough that they had been abused, but this was collateral damage that has lasted for years.
In response to these submissions the Bishops of Ireland wrote their pastoral letter Towards Healing and Renewal where they admitted and acknowledged that abuse of children by priests or religious was an appalling wrong. Bishops also realised that the inadequate Church response had left a deep wound, which in some cases had served to traumatise the abuse victims even more. In their pastoral letter, bishops admitted their collective shame at what had happened on every level and professed their deep sorrow. Towards Peace arises out of that response to the submissions from the survivors and it is one of three services set up as a result. As Bishop Buckley has mentioned, the other two services are the National Board for Safeguarding Children, and Towards Healing.
This summer sees the final section of that 2011 public pledge by the bishops being initiated. It is also the fifth anniversary of the publication of the Ryan report and Patsy McGarry, the religious and social affairs correspondent of The Irish Times, wrote a very powerful piece in last week’s paper entitled ‘Lest We Forget’, which served to remind us again of the evil which infiltrated our institutions, and how we as a Church stood idly by and in many cases exacerbated, added to, and magnified the hurt and the pain which had already been endured by so many.
Seventeen years ago Towards Healing was set up in order that the wounds afflicted by this abuse could at least begin to be healed, and the evidence suggests that such has been the case for many people. Since the service was originally initiated, almost five thousand people have availed of the counselling offered, and feedback from those who have taken part has been overwhelmingly positive. But additional questions, beyond the reach of counselling, remain for many people who have suffered abuse. Questions about the meaning of their experience as they reflect on their lives:
– How is it possible to make any sense of an experience that has left lasting scars on many of those who endured the horror of abuse?
– Where can those who have been abused discover – or perhaps rediscover – a faith that might cast some light into the dark corners of their memory?
– How can they connect – or reconnect – with a God they can trust and relate to?
– How might prayer once again become a meaningful part of their lives?
– How might they feel at one with the People of God, journeying not in isolation, but in the company of other searchers, other pilgrims?
– How might they experience the consolation of the sacraments, particularly at the more significant moments of their lives?
These questions and many like them lurk in the depths of the heart, often not articulated, or even acknowledged. Towards Peace is being offered as a support to those survivors and victims of abuse, who are asking these questions – people who might wish to resume, or continue their search for meaning, their journey into wholeness – their spiritual quest.
Ronald Rohlheiser is one of the great writers today on spirituality. He talks about the inner life, which is common to us all whether we are believers or not, as a restlessness within, or a sense of something missing, which underpins everything we do. How we channel that inner life is our spirituality. Our spirituality then is at the core of our being. It is not so much based on religious practice but more on how we are within ourselves. For the Christian it is essential to attend to that inner life, because we believe that is where we will find God. This is where Towards Peace hopes to be able to help.
· Towards Peace cannot promise success. Each person’s journey in channelling that inner life is unique and unpredictable, and ultimately mysterious. But we do promise to journey with them on the road, to accompany them on their search, to help them articulate their questions and to support them as they explore their hearts deeper desires.
· Towards Peace is a whole Church response towards helping the person directly with his or her relationship with God, with a Church that betrayed them, and with attending to that inner life.
· Towards Peace offers one to one accompaniment free of charge, to those who have suffered abuse from representatives of the Catholic Church.
The spiritual companions who will accompany those seeking to undertake this journey, are women and men, lay, religious personnel who live in various parts of the country and are trained to offer spiritual support and guidance to people. The spiritual companions all have experience of walking with people in their exploration of that inner life which as I say is common to us all. The meetings will be informal and will take place in a relaxed atmosphere.
There is no pre-determined road map for this journey. Each person travels their own spiritual journey at their own pace. Towards Peace is offering an invitation to those who feel ready for it, to set out on that road, to explore the landscape as it opens up before them, and to discover a path that leads towards a deeper peace. I invite you to review the details of our new service which are now available on www.towardspeace.ie and, as Chair of the Board of Towards Peace – and knowing the work, care and prayer that has gone in to the setting up of this initiative – I absolutely commend it to you.