By Richard Marsden
The Catholic Bishops of Australia are calling on the Catholic community to make the first four days of Lent a period of fasting and reparation in sorrow for the “tragedy” of child sex abuse within the Church.
In a letter published by the Australian Bishops Conference, Catholics are encouraged to pray at home and in their parishes - that is, both privately and publicly - for the healing of victims and survivors ahead of the Church giving its response to recommendations made by the Royal Commission into child sex abuse.
The bishops conference has also published texts of special liturgies and prayers for the period of reparation (February 14-17) on its website - including a Holy Hour and Benediction, a Penitential Celebration, and Evening Prayer of the Church.
In the Lenten statement, the bishops write: “Through fasting, we stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors of abuse whose much deeper hunger is for healing and peace in their lives. Through reparation, we make amends for the sin of those in the Church who abused children or failed to listen and act when they should have.” The message adds that these spiritual exercises “express our desire for God’s reconciling and healing grace.”
Prayers asking for forgiveness
Among the “prayers of the faithful” for the special Evening Prayer text is one asking for “forgiveness for the sins committed by Church authorities who covered up the abuses and ignored the suffering of victims.”
Other intercessions ask that abuse victims may experience “truth, justice and healing in their lives” and that all members of society will “honour human sexuality and treat all people with respect and decency.”
“We cannot undo the past”
Following the publication of the Royal Commission Report on December 15 which heavily criticised the Church, the bishops’ conference’s “Truth, justice and Healing Council” has been assessing its findings and is expected to respond to them in the coming months.
The bishops’ Lenten statement admits that apologies by Church leaders “have at time seemed too little – not because they were insincere, but because trust has been broken.” It adds: “We stand firm in our resolve to ensure that the abuse of children never happens again in the Catholic Church and to build new bonds of trust.
“We cannot undo the past. With God’s help, we can make the future better.”
Please find the full text of the statement by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference below:
A Message to the Catholic Community at the Beginning of Lent
DAYS OF FASTING AND REPARATION IN SORROW FOR CHILD SEXUAL ABUSE AND FOR THE HEALING OF VICTIMS
February 14-17, 2018
Dear brothers and sisters, Last December, the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse handed down its final report. Like the Australian Government and many other institutions, the Catholic bishops of Australia and leaders of religious institutes are currently studying the final report and its recommendations.
In the long years since the tragedy of child sexual abuse within the Catholic community became known, the Church has committed to policies, procedures and structures to respond better to survivors of abuse and their families, to establish professional standards for all ministers and Church workers, and to safeguard children and vulnerable people. For the Church, as for other institutions, this has involved gradual learning and development, and so it will continue to be.
Through these years, Australia’s bishops and other Church leaders have often expressed their sorrow and have offered their apology for what has occurred in the past – the harm suffered by victims and survivors, the instances of cover-up, the failure to believe survivors’ stories and to respond with compassion and justice, and the distress that many still experience.
Our apologies have at time seemed too little – not because they were insincere, but because trust has been broken. We stand firm in our resolve to ensure that the abuse of children never happens again in the Catholic Church and to build new bonds of trust.
With the Royal Commission concluded, our country and our Church enter into a new moment. We are calling upon the Catholic community in Australia to embrace this new moment by beginning the penitential season of Lent with four days of fasting and reparation. These are spiritual practices which express our desire for God’s reconciling and healing grace.
Through fasting, we stand in solidarity with the victims and survivors of abuse whose much deeper hunger is for healing and peace in their lives. Through reparation, we make amends for the sin of those in the Church who abused children or failed to listen and act when they should have.
The days of fasting and reparation in sorrow for child sexual abuse and for the healing of victims and survivors will be marked by prayer – in our homes and in our Catholic communities.
Please take to heart the importance of these days in preparing the Church to respond to the recommendations of the Royal Commission and to make the journey from Ash Wednesday to Easter. We cannot undo the past. With God’s help, we can make the future better.
Liturgical and other prayer resources can be accessed at www.catholic.org.au/fastingandreparation.