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How to Begin to Apologize

Jul 17, 2011 — Categories: ,

Early this year, the Archbishop of Dublin and the Archbishop of Boston, presided over “A Liturgy of Lament and Repentance.” The service was offered for the victims and survivors of sexual abuse by priests.

Early this year, the Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, and Cardinal Séan O’Malley, the Archbishop of Boston, presided over “A Liturgy of Lament and Repentance.”  The service was offered for the victims and survivors of sexual abuse by priests.  In the liturgy, Archbishop Martin made a lengthy statement unlike most of what we hear from Bishops and church leaders. Martin’s response did not sound like it was written by lawyers but by a pastor with genuine concern for his people.  Here are some excerpts that are the beginnings of an apology.
He acknowledges the utter inadequacy of words alone.
“There are moments where silence and listening are more important than words and what we say.  What can I say to you who are victims of sexual abuse by priests of the Archdiocese of Dublin or by religious?   I would not be honest and sincere if I were to say that I know what you have suffered.  I may try to understand, but that suffering is yours.  Only you know what it means to have been abused sexually or in some other way.  I can try to imagine the horrors of being abused when just a child, helpless and innocent.  I can try to imagine how this abuse has haunted your life until today and sadly may continue even for the rest of your lives. . . .”

He names the sin and takes responsibility.
“The Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese Dublin has been wounded by the sins of abusers and by the response to you for which we all share responsibility. . .
I, as Archbishop of Dublin and as Diarmuid Martin, stand here in this silence and I ask forgiveness of God and I ask for the first steps of forgiveness from of all the survivors of abuse.”

He thanks the survivors for their courage, a rare response in church circles.
“There is a time for silence.  But there is also another silence: a silence which is a sign of not wanting to respond, a silence which is a failure of courage and truth. There are men and women in this Cathedral today to whom we must express our immense gratitude for the fact that they did not remain silent.   Despite the hurt it cost them they had the courage to speak out, to speak out, to speak out and to speak out again and again, courageously and with determination even in the face of unbelief and rejection.  . . .
Again the Church in this Archdiocese thanks you for your courage. I in my own name apologise for the insensitivity and even hurtful and nasty reactions that you may have encountered.  I appeal to you to continue to speak out.   There is still a long path to journey in honesty before we can truly merit forgiveness.”

He places this history of abuse, the scandal of institutional response, and this liturgical moment in a theological context.
“There is a third level of silence in our midst this afternoon.  It is the silence of the cross.  I was asked who should preside at this liturgy.  My answer was not a Cardinal or an Archbishop but the Cross of Jesus Christ.   We gather before the cross of Jesus which presides over us and judges us.  It is the Cross of Jesus that judges whether our words and our hearts are sincere.

. . . No one who shared any responsibility for what happened in the Church of Jesus Christ in this Archdiocese can ask forgiveness of these who were abused without first recognising the injustice done and their own failure for what took place.

. . .We gather under the sign of the cross which judges us but which ultimately liberates us.”

Finally, he does not “heal the wound lightly, saying, ‘peace, peace,’ where there is no peace.”
“This afternoon is only a first step.  It would be easy for all of us to go away this afternoon somehow feeling good but feeling also “that is that now”, “it’s over”, “now we can get back to normal”.  The Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again.  It will always bear this wound within it.  The Archdiocese of Dublin can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace and he or she can rejoice in being fully the person that God in his plan wants them to be.”

It was a good and noticeable effort.  Let us pray that these words are turned into the actions of justice-making.  We live in hope.

Rev. Dr. Marie M. Fortune
FaithTrust Institute


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