deep prayer of reparation and atonementfor the abuse scandals in the Church came up. They were not sympathetic. Why, I was asked, should the Bishops impose upon the laity penances for the errors of Bishops and priests?
A very persuasive initiative might have been for the Bishops to declare that each one of them would spend one hour before the Blessed Sacrament, in addition to the time they normally spend in prayer, on the Fridays in May, and maybe ask the priests to do the same. Lay faithful could of course be invited to join the Bishops and priests in this act.
It is true that
we are bound together in the Body of Christ and, therefore, (the personal sins of only a very few)touch us allbut the Bishops themselves
recognise the failings of some Bishops and Religious leaders in handling these matters.
In this instance what I hear is that the laity would really appreciate some sign of repentance from the clergy and, it has to be said, they look particularly to the Bishops. It is the filth in the ranks of the clergy, the impurity within the sanctuary, that is the true threat to the Church. As the then Cardinal Ratzinger declared in his meditation on the Ninth Station of the Cross for the Annual Good Friday Via Crucis in 2005:
How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him!
Referring to the scandal of sexual abuse of minors, Pope Benedict also referred to the sin within the Church as the greatest source of Her sufferings on the flight to Portugal for his recent apostolic journey:
... the sufferings of the Church come precisely from within the Church, from the sin existing within the Church. This too is something that we have always known, but today we are seeing it in a really terrifying way: that the greatest persecution of the Church comes not from her enemies without, but arises from sin within the Church, and that the Church thus has a deep need to relearn penance, to accept purification, to learn forgiveness on the one hand, but also the need for justice.
In his letter to the Irish Church, the Pope's toughest words were addressed to his brother Bishops:
It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness...
Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. The Irish people rightly expect you to be men of God, to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal conversion daily. For them, in the words of Saint Augustine, you are a bishop; yet with them you are called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Sermon 340, 1). I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability before God, to grow in solidarity with your people and to deepen your pastoral concern for all the members of your flock. In particular, I ask you to be attentive to the spiritual and moral lives of each one of your priests. Set them an example by your own lives, be close to them, listen to their concerns, offer them encouragement at this difficult time and stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment to the service of their brothers and sisters.
I do not doubt that our Bishops of England and Wales are also applying to themselves the request of Pope Benedict to undergo self-examination, inner purification and renewal. The message I get from the laity, however, is that they would like some clear manifestation of this process rather than asking them to do more prayer and penance. It is, I think I hear them say, about leadership.