Pope Benedict XVI announced today in Rome that this Friday, March 19, he will sign a pastoral letter addressed to the Irish people on the problem of clerical sex abuse in Ireland.
Those of us present today at the Wednesday general audience were surprised that the pope would use this informal occasion to make his announcement concerning clerical sexual abuse in Ireland. Usually, Pope Benedict is more attuned to the festive nature of these audiences. However, it is St. Patrick’s Day, a day the Irish people hold dear and the pope made it clear that he wants to respond quickly and firmly to the issue of clerical sex abuse in Ireland.
Under a bright blue sky and a brilliant sun, the pope seemed inspired as he began to speak of the love of God in the traditions of St. Thomas, St. Bonaventure and St. Francis of Assisi. The huge crowd gathered in St. Peter’s Square was excited and attentive to the words of the Holy Father. After urging the faithful on to greater love in several languages, including French, Italian and Spanish, he changed course when he began the English text of his talk.
As I sat on the raised platform just yards from the Holy Father with other pilgrims and visitors to Rome, I noted how joyous the scene was as various parish and university groups were announced in their own languages.
When the pope began to refer to clerical sexual abuse in Ireland, the crowd hushed and became somber. It was clear that the pope was using this public occasion to announce his pastoral letter on clerical sexual abuse in Ireland to underscore his determination not to sweep this issue under an ecclesiastical rug. Even the non-English speaking visitors seemed to sense the gravity in the pope’s voice.
The pastoral letter on clerical sexual abuse in Ireland will be signed by the pope on his name’s day this Friday, the Feast of St. Joseph and a national holiday in Italy. St. Joseph, the foster-father of Jesus is held up as an example of purity. He is often invoked as St. Joseph, the Chaste.
Though the pope will sign it on Friday, the letter on clerical sexual abuse in Ireland will be issued sometime after the signing, perhaps next week.
After announcing his letter on clerical sexual abuse in Ireland the pope said: “Read it for yourself with an open heart and in a spirit of faith. My hope is that it will help in the process of repentance, healing and renewal.”
Papal Letter to Irish Faithful to be Published Soon. Vatican Information Service.firstname.lastname@example.org
Personal report from Rome, Italy.