The first Friday of Lent next year is to be declared a dedicated day of prayer for survivors of clerical abuse.
The unprecedented move by the Catholic Church in this country is a response to a request by Pope Francis to bishops worldwide.
Abuse survivor, Marie Collins, who also sits on the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors in the Vatican, said the day “will make a difference to some victims as a gesture of acknowledgement of their hurt, and less so to others”.
Ms Collins said the day of prayer was the brainchild of a Canadian abuse survivor who asked her local church to include a prayer for survivors in its liturgy. The local priest refused. She then made a similar suggestion to the Commission for the Protection of Minors and Pope Francis liked the idea.
Last month, a new era of accountability began when it was decided by the Pope that the congregation of bishops and congregations of religious leaders in Rome will be able to discipline “deficient” bishops who have failed in safeguarding children. Up to now, such inquiries were carried out by the highly-secretive Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith.
Speaking at a National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church Conference yesterday, Archbishop Eamon Martin said “the day of prayer will provide an opportunity for parishes and congregations to pray for all those involved in safeguarding, for healing in the lives of those deeply wounded by abuse, for atonement and ongoing purification of all members of the church in this regard”.
This year’s safeguarding conference is to focus on two new safeguarding standards: Care of the complainant and care of the respondent.
“A few years ago it would have been difficult for us to address pastoral care for respondents at a safeguarding conference. Even today it is important for us not to deflect from the immense hurt and trauma of complainants by considering care for those accused of abuse. The work of mercy, however, compels us to reflect on the impact of accusations on those accused, on their family members and communities,” Archbishop Martin said.
“The Church’s response to those found guilty is one of the most delicate and controversial issues in safeguarding. In a society which demonises and clamours for exclusion of such offenders one wonders how to strike the balance between mercy and justice, seeking redemption for the offender while being careful not to compound the lifelong trauma of survivors. Whilst we must be mindful that when offenders are ostracised and cut off from support there is a greater danger of reoffending, it is widely recognised now that those found guilty of sexual abuse of minors cannot minister again as priests,” he said.
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