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.
25 May 2014