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6) Letter to Catholics of Ireland, March 19th, 2010
Pope Benedict will be a Pope long remembered for his work in trying to do the nearly impossible - repair the Church’s reputation on the sex-abuse front. Prior to his election, many pundits would have been 100% positive that Joseph Cardinal Ratzinger would have been about the worst person to pick in terms of ability to help reach out to those victimized by members of the clergy.
Those pundits could not have been more wrong. Pope Benedict did much to stream-line rules and regulations dealing with sexual abuse by priests, making it much easier for priests to be disciplined more intensely and more quickly. Pope Benedict also went out of his way to meet with victims as part of his papal visits to countries (including an unscheduled stop in the United States).
In 2010, Pope Benedict also made news on this front through his authoring of a letter to the Catholics of Ireland, a nation that, much like the U.S., has been rocked by very public and horrific priest abuse.
In the letter, Pope Benedict first let the Irish Catholics know that he brought the Irish bishops in for a meeting. In that meeting, it is well-known that the gentle Benedict essentially laid into the Irish bishops for their handling of cases in the past.
Pope Benedict also lets the Irish Catholic Church know why he chose to write the letter, stating: “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.”
Pope Benedict proposed several solutions
1) That the Church in Ireland embrace the Lenten season as a time for renewal
2) That the Church in Ireland turn to Eucharistic adoration
3) He also let Irish Catholics know that the Vatican would be conducting visitations (translation: the sheriff is coming, and hears are going to roll)
4) He proposed a nationwide mission for all of the priests and bishops of Ireland to attend for renewal as well
It was another major move by the Pope to assure Catholics that while the crimes can’t be undone, he, as Pope, was continuing to work vigorously to fix all that could be fixed moving forward. As he noted in conclusion to the letter:
“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.”
His constant and passionate tackling of this issue on all fronts, and his refusal to run from the problem but to instead run at it will, in my opinion, put Pope Benedict’s handling of the sex-abuse crisis on a short list of what history will remember to be his legacy.