Pope Benedict writes to Ireland (by Sandro Magister)

Genesis of a Crime. The Revolution of the


The scandal of pedophilia has always been there, but it was magnified by the cultural revolution of half a century ago. Benedict XVI makes the claim in his letter to the Catholics of Ireland. Two cardinals and a sociologist comment

by Sandro Magister

ROME, March 25, 2010 – Law and grace. Where earthly justice does not reach, the hand of God can. With his letter dated March 19, Benedict XVI has given the Catholics of Ireland an order never before given by a pope of the modern era to an entire national Church.

He told them not only to bring the guilty before the canonical and civil courts, but to put themselves collectively in a state of penance and purification. And not in the privacy of their consciences, but in a public form, before the eyes of all, even of their most implacable and mocking adversaries. Fasting, prayer, reading the Bible, and works of charity on all the Fridays from now until Easter of next year. Frequent sacramental confession. Continual adoration of Jesus – ” himself a victim of injustice and sin” – present in the sacred host, exposed on the altars of the churches. And for all the bishops, priests, and religious, without exception, a special period of “mission,” a long and strict course of spiritual exercises for a radical review of life.

It’s a daring step, this one taken by Pope Benedict. Because not even the prophet Jonah believed any longer that God would forgive Nineveh its sins, in spite of the penitential ashes and sackcloth worn by all, from the king to the lowliest beast of burden.

And today as well, many conclude that the Church remains irremediably under condemnation, even after the letter in which the pope himself expresses shame and remorse for the abomination committed against children by some priests, with the culpable negligence of some bishops.

And yet God’s forgiveness descended even upon Nineveh, and the skeptical Jonah had to face this fact, and Michelangelo painted this very prophet at the top of the wall behind the altar in the Sistine Chapel, to show that God’s forgiveness is the key to everything, from the creation of the world to the last judgment.

On Sunday, March 21, while his letter was being read in the churches of Ireland, Benedict XVI commented to the faithful, at the Angelus in St. Peter’s Square, on Jesus’ forgiveness of the adulterous woman: “He knows what is in the heart of every man, he wants to condemn sin, but to save the sinner and unmask hypocrisy.” The hypocrisy of those who wanted to stone the woman, even though they were the first to sin.

Ruthless with sin, “beginning with our own,” and merciful towards persons. This is the lesson that Joseph Ratzinger wants to apply to the case of Ireland, and, by extension, to the entire Church.

On the one hand, the rigors of the law. The price of justice must be paid to the last penny. The dioceses, the seminaries, the religious congregations in which the abuse was allowed to run free have been warned: apostolic visitors will come from the Vatican to uncover what they have done, and even where there is nothing that can be prosecuted under civil law, canonical discipline will punish the negligent.

But at the same time, the pope is kindling the light of grace. He is opening the door of God’s forgiveness even to those guilty of the worst abominations, if they sincerely repent.

As for the foremost accusers, those most armed with stones to throw at the Church, none of them is without sin. It is a stretch for those who exalt sexuality as a pure instinct, free from any constraint, to object when it is abused.

The tragedy of some priests and religious, Benedict XVI has written in the letter, was in part that they gave in to these widespread “ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel,” to the point of justifying the unjustifiable.

A lapse that certainly cannot be attributed to Ratzinger as bishop and pope, not even by his staunchest adversaries, if they are sincere.


The commentary reproduced above is published in “L’espresso” no. 13, 2010, on newsstands March 26.

At the end, the commentary makes reference to a specific paragraph, the fourth, of Benedict XVI’s letter to the Catholics of Ireland.

It is the paragraph in which the pope looks at the factors that fostered, in the 1960’s, the expansion of sexual abuse among the clergy, and above all the incomprehension of its gravity.

Here it is in its entirety.



“In recent decades, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected.

“Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings.

“Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found. Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person. Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.”


The Pope’s Letter:  http://chiesa.espresso.repubblica.it/articolo/1342563?eng=y

E-mail: s.magister@espressoedit.it
Postal address: Sandro Magister, “L’espresso”, via C. Colombo 90, 00147 Roma

© 1999-2010  Gruppo Editoriale L’Espresso Spa – Partita IVA 00906801006


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s