Pastoral Letter of the Holy Father




it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like
yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has
come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people
by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I
can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you
have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way
Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.

As you know, I recently invited the Irish bishops to a meeting here in
Rome to give an account of their handling of these matters in the past and
to outline the steps they have taken to respond to this grave situation.
Together with senior officials of the Roman Curia, I listened to what they
had to say, both individually and as a group, as they offered an analysis of
mistakes made and lessons learned, and a description of the programmes
and protocols now in place. Our discussions were frank and constructive. I
am confident that, as a result, the bishops will now be in a stronger position
to carry forward the work of repairing past injustices and confronting the
broader issues associated with the abuse of minors in a way consonant
with the demands of justice and the teachings of the Gospel.

2. For my part, considering the gravity of these offences, and the often
inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in
your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral Letter to express my
closeness to you and to propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation.
It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the problem
of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church.

Nevertheless, the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse
that has occurred within the Irish Catholic community, and to do so with
courage and determination. No one imagines that this painful situation will
be resolved swiftly. Real progress has been made, yet much more remains
to be done. Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the
healing power of God’s grace.

At the same time, I must also express my conviction that, in order to
recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first
acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed
against defenceless children. Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by
sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families,
must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from
similar crimes in the future.

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember
“the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous,
often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and
women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the
impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of
ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the
intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in
Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a
convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made
manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

3. Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous force
for good at home and abroad. Celtic monks like Saint Columbanus spread
the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of medieval
monastic culture. The ideals of holiness, charity and transcendent wisdom
born of the Christian faith found expression in the building of churches and
monasteries and the establishment of schools, libraries and hospitals, all of
which helped to consolidate the spiritual identity of Europe. Those Irish
missionaries drew their strength and inspiration from the firm faith, strong
leadership and upright morals of the Church in their native land.

From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long
period of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of faith
alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Saint Oliver Plunkett, the
martyred Archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example of a host of
courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing to lay down
their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel. After Catholic Emancipation, the
Church was free to grow once more. Families and countless individuals
who had preserved the faith in times of trial became the catalyst for the
great resurgence of Irish Catholicism in the nineteenth century. The Church
provided education, especially for the poor, and this was to make a major
contribution to Irish society. Among the fruits of the new Catholic schools
was a rise in vocations: generations of missionary priests, sisters and
brothers left their homeland to serve in every continent, especially in the
English-speaking world. They were remarkable not only for their great
numbers, but for the strength of their faith and the steadfastness of their
pastoral commitment. Many dioceses, especially in Africa, America and
Australia, benefited from the presence of Irish clergy and religious who
preached the Gospel and established parishes, schools and universities,
clinics and hospitals that served both Catholics and the community at large,
with particular attention to the needs of the poor.

In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or
a daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the
Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have
dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and
putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.
4. In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to
confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid
transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social
change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional
adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental
and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as
frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected.
Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of
priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular
realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of
renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes
misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that
were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In
particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid
penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall
context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child
sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening
of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings.

Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the
present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and
effective remedies be found. Certainly, among the contributing factors we
can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of
candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human,
moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a
tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a
misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of
scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to
safeguard the dignity of every person. Urgent action is needed to address
these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of
victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a
degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.

5. On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have
met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I
have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged
their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them. Earlier in my
pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of
Ireland, “to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take
whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure
that the principles of justice are fully respected, and above all, to bring
healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes”
(Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).

With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland,
to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful
remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and
mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial
renewal. I now turn to you with words that come from my heart, and I wish
to speak to each of you individually and to all of you as brothers and sisters
in the Lord.

6. To the victims of abuse and their families
You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that
nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been
betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when
you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one
would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must
have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is
understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the
Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all
feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of
the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself
a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own
unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring
effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship
with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors
of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ’s own wounds,
transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the
power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply
in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and
most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new

Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s
children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said. I pray that, by
drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church – a
Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you will come
to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you. I am confident that in
this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and

7. To priests and religious who have abused children
You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young
people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God
and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of
the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your
confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the
sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us and
in our actions. Together with the immense harm done to victims, great
damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the
priesthood and religious life.

I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins
you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow. Sincere repentance
opens the door to God’s forgiveness and the grace of true amendment. By
offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged, you should
seek to atone personally for your actions. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has
the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from
even the most terrible evil. At the same time, God’s justice summons us to
give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing. Openly
acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do
not despair of God’s mercy.

8. To parents
You have been deeply shocked to learn of the terrible things that took
place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of all. In
today’s world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up children. They
deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of
their identity and worth. They have a right to be educated in authentic
moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person, to be inspired by
the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn ways of behaving and acting that
lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness. This noble but
demanding task is entrusted in the first place to you, their parents. I urge
you to play your part in ensuring the best possible care of children, both at
home and in society as a whole, while the Church, for her part, continues to
implement the measures adopted in recent years to protect young people in
parish and school environments. As you carry out your vital responsibilities,
be assured that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my

9. To the children and young people of Ireland
I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your
experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and
grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age.
Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path
through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all scandalized
by the sins and failures of some of the Church's members, particularly
those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it
is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday,
today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8). He loves you and he has offered himself
on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with him within the
communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust! He alone can
satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by
directing them to the service of others. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and
his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart. Together with
your fellow Catholics in Ireland, I look to you to be faithful disciples of our
Lord and to bring your much-needed enthusiasm and idealism to the
rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church.

10. To the priests and religious of Ireland
All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who
betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with
allegations of abuse. In view of the outrage and indignation which this has
provoked, not only among the lay faithful but among yourselves and your
religious communities, many of you feel personally discouraged, even
abandoned. I am also aware that in some people’s eyes you are tainted by
association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible for the
misdeeds of others. At this painful time, I want to acknowledge the
dedication of your priestly and religious lives and apostolates, and I invite
you to reaffirm your faith in Christ, your love of his Church and your
confidence in the Gospel's promise of redemption, forgiveness and interior
renewal. In this way, you will demonstrate for all to see that where sin
abounds, grace abounds all the more (cf. Rom 5:20).

I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered and angered by
the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors. Yet,
it is essential that you cooperate closely with those in authority and help to
ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly
evangelical, just and effective. Above all, I urge you to become ever more
clearly men and women of prayer, courageously following the path of
conversion, purification and reconciliation. In this way, the Church in
Ireland will draw new life and vitality from your witness to the Lord's
redeeming power made visible in your lives.

11. To my 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. I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past
mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again. Besides fully
implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse,
continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence.
Clearly, religious superiors should do likewise. They too have taken part in
recent discussions here in Rome with a view to establishing a clear and
consistent approach to these matters. It is imperative that the child safety
norms of the Church in Ireland be continually revised and updated and that
they be applied fully and impartially in conformity with canon law.

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.

The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part in
the life of the Church. See that they are formed in such a way that they can
offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in the midst of
modern society (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and cooperate more fully in the Church’s life
and mission. This in turn will help you once again become credible leaders
and witnesses to the redeeming truth of Christ.

12. To all the faithful of Ireland
A young person’s experience of the Church should always bear fruit
in a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving,
nourishing community. In this environment, young people should be
encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to
high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from the
riches of a great religious and cultural tradition. In our increasingly
secularized society, where even we Christians often find it difficult to speak
of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to find new ways
to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of friendship with Jesus
Christ in the communion of his Church. In confronting the present crisis,
measures to deal justly with individual crimes are essential, yet on their own
they are not enough: a new vision is needed, to inspire present and future
generations to treasure the gift of our common faith. By treading the path
marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by
conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you
will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at
this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.

13. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is out of deep concern for all of
you at this painful time in which the fragility of the human condition has
been so starkly revealed that I have wished to offer these words of
encouragement and support. I hope that you will receive them as a sign of
my spiritual closeness and my confidence in your ability to respond to the
challenges of the present hour by drawing renewed inspiration and strength
from Ireland’s noble traditions of fidelity to the Gospel, perseverance in the
faith and steadfastness in the pursuit of holiness. In solidarity with all of
you, I am praying earnestly that, by God’s grace, the wounds afflicting so
many individuals and families may be healed and that the Church in Ireland
may experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.

14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the

At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that
Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God’s
mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church
in your country. I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a
period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask
you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your
works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the
Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of
Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming
power of its grace.

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and
in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted
to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and
monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have
an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real
presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that
have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed
strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests,
religious and lay faithful.

I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church
in Ireland in the fullness of God’s own truth, for it is the truth that sets us
free (cf. Jn 8:32).

Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend
to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as
seminaries and religious congregations. Arrangements for the Visitation,
which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal, will be
made in cooperation with the competent offices of the Roman Curia and the
Irish Episcopal Conference. The details will be announced in due course.
I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops,
priests and religious. It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of
experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere,
and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of
ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you will come to a
more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to
rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from
the springs of living water that he offers you through his Church.

In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure
of Saint John Mary Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the
mystery of the priesthood. “The priest”, he wrote, “holds the key to the
treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the
good Lord; the administrator of his goods.” The Curé d’Ars understood well
how greatly blessed a community is when served by a good and holy priest:
“A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which
the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of
divine mercy.” Through the intercession of Saint John Mary Vianney, may
the priesthood in Ireland be revitalized, and may the whole Church in
Ireland grow in appreciation for the great gift of the priestly ministry.
I take this opportunity to thank in anticipation all those who will be
involved in the work of organizing the Apostolic Visitation and the Mission,
as well as the many men and women throughout Ireland already working for
the safety of children in church environments. Since the time when the
gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in Catholic
institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an
immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to address and
remedy it. While no effort should be spared in improving and updating
existing procedures, I am encouraged by the fact that the current
safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen, in some
parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to follow.

I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in
Ireland, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children and
with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has
occurred in our beloved Church. As you make use of this prayer in your
families, parishes and communities, may the Blessed Virgin Mary protect
and guide each of you to a closer union with her Son, crucified and risen.
With great affection and unswerving confidence in God’s promises, I
cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength
and peace in the Lord.

From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph




God of our fathers,
renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,
the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,
the charity which purifies and opens our hearts
to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.
Lord Jesus Christ,
may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment
to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness,
holiness and generous service to society.
Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,
inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal
for the Church in Ireland.
May our sorrow and our tears,
our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,
and our firm purpose of amendment
bear an abundant harvest of grace
for the deepening of the faith
in our families, parishes, schools and communities,
for the spiritual progress of Irish society,
and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peace
within the whole human family.
To you, Triune God,
confident in the loving protection of Mary,
Queen of Ireland, our Mother,
and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints,
do we entrust ourselves, our children,
and the needs of the Church in Ireland.


Archived References  
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2010
Statement by Bishop Colm O'Reilly on the Dublin Report
Bishop Colm O'Reilly video interview for Mission Sunday 2009
Message on Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock 2009
Homily by Bishop Colm for Trinity Sunday, on 150 years of SVP in Longford.
Bishop Colm's Pastoral Letter Easter 2009
Bishop Colm's Christmas Message 2008
Bishop's Letter to the Diocese, Easter 2008, 'on the way forward'.
Bishop's Message for the Year of Vocation
Bishop's Homily at Diocesan Pilgrimage to Knock, Sept 2007
Message from Bishop Colm on Ferns Report
Message from Bishop Colm on the death of Pope John Paul II
Homily by Bishop Colm at Requiem Mass for Pope John Paul II in St. Mel's Cathedral, 7th April
Statement from the Bishop, 27th May 2006
Homily at Clonmacnois Pattern Day, 2006
Bishop's Christmas Message 2005
Message from Bishop Colm for Vocations Sunday 2005