Joining with my brother bishops here in the West: Bishops Christy Jones of Elphin, John Kirby of Clonfert, John Fleming of Killala, Martin Drennan of Galway and Brendan Kelly of Achonry, I warmly welcome you all here this evening for the Knock launch of the spiritual support service ‘Towards Peace’. In particular I wish to extend a special welcome to survivors, to all who have suffered abuse, to members of their families and to all who work in various committees to ensure that the Catholic Church will be a safe place where all children are cherished.
It is so disconcerting that a ministry which ought to have brought hope and healing instead brought harm and hurt and left in its wake brokenness, betrayal and disillusionment. A ministry which should have brought light, brought darkness, a ministry intended to bring joy, brought deep sadness. There is no doubt that the ministries of priesthood and religious life have been seriously tarnished by such evil actions.
Endeavouring to address the horrific crimes perpetrated by priests or religious, the Bishops of Ireland, along with the Conference of Religious of Ireland and the Irish Missionary Union, published Towards Healing and Renewal in 2011 to mark the first anniversary of the publication of the Pastoral Letter of the Holy Father Pope Benedict XVI to the Catholics of Ireland. In Towards and Healing and Renewal the bishops, CORI and IMU made a commitment to support three key safeguarding initiatives:
- Firstly, the National Board for Safeguarding of Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland. Over the past number of years the National Board has been reviewing the safeguarding standards and structures of dioceses and religious congregations throughout Ireland, North and South. The National Board has set guidelines which are being implemented and which are being monitored on a continual basis. Co-operation with the statutory bodies – An Garda Síochána and the Health Service Executive – and the sharing of information with them, is now standard practice. As a result everyone, and in particular parents, can feel secure that the Church is a safe place for their children. I acknowledge that this lesson was learned the hard way, however we are determined to make sure that it will never be forgotten.
- Secondly, recognising that survivors have been damaged in many different ways including physically, emotionally and psychologically, the three sponsoring bodies which I have already mentioned established Towards Healing, the free and confidential helpline and counselling referral service. Towards Healing offers access to professional counsellors who work with those who have been abused to enable them to achieve peace and live lives to the full.
- Thirdly – recognising that the faith of survivors has been severely undermined by the abuse scandal which has also caused some to abandon their faith, while it has undermined the faith of others and their trust in God and in the Church – bishops, CORI and IMU responded by meeting and listening to survivors who requested the establishment of a new spiritual support initiative. The result is Towards Peace, which is being launched here in the West this evening, and which was launched in the South last Sunday, and which will be launched in the North and East at a later date.
I am delighted to welcome here this evening Mrs. Una Allen, Chair of the Board and Sister Mary Whyte who acts as the Coordinator of the service. Both Una and Sister Mary are trained in the areas of psychology and spiritual direction and they work with others who are also skilled to offer spiritual support. While the Towards Peace initiative is geared mainly towards those who have suffered abuse, there is recognition that families, friends and indeed the people of God at large have been affected in different ways by the scandal.
Towards Peace aims to reach out to give purpose to the pain suffered by survivors and to assist in putting the fragments of faith together again. It is a fresh approach which seeks to enable survivors recognise and rejoice in their dignity as women and men created in the image and likeness of God. Through Towards Peace people will be able to focus upon and deepen their relationship with their brothers and sisters in the community of God’s people. I greatly welcome this evening’s launch of Towards Peace and I commend its important role to the life of the Church in Ireland.
Archbishop Michael Neary is Archbishop of Tuam.