The much anticipated pastoral letter of Pope Benedict to the faithful of Ireland, regarding the abuse crisis, has been released. There is also a summary available. While specifically directed towards the Church in Ireland, this letter is important for Catholics everywhere, especially in those countries hit by an abuse crisis themselves.
Note, though, that this is a pastoral letter. It is written by the pope as pastor, and is therefore not a text that holds any legal power. As the pope has said earlier, it should be read for what it is, as a pastoral letter, an attempt by the pope as visible head of the Church to reach out to the victims, the offenders, the clergy and all the faithful.
I have heard the current abuse crisis described as the most serious since the Reformation, and while I doubt it is, there is no question that it is a very serious issue. Abuse is never to be tolerated, least of all in the Church. But we must also not lose sight of the context: in the latter half of the 20th century, western society as a whole became heavily sexualised, and abuses happened in many layers of society. As Archbishop Nichols of Westminster said last night in an interview for the BBC, the major part of sexual abuses were not committed by celibate clergy or religious, but happened within families.
But still, as Bishop de Korte wrote earlier this week: “The dirt in someone else’s street does not make our own street less dirty”. It is vitally important that the Church looks at herself now and takes serious steps to combat abuse within her ranks and also to make sure justice is done to the victims and the accused alike.
I will be making the pope’s letter available in Dutch as soon as possible.