A much-neglected Catholic notion is that of reparation. It is linked with confession, forgiveness, prayer, penance and fasting. In confession you got a penance but you also had to do reparation, that is, make good the damage you did. In simple terms, you got your penance for the act of wrongdoing and you paid back in reparation to ‘fix what you had broken’. In some ways, it was both a physical (reparation) and spiritual (penance) act.
The Pope’s visit here is one of reparation, the start of the healing road. This time it is the institutional church that needs to make the reparation. From what the Pope said (especially at Knock and in the Phoenix Park) it appears that the journey of reparation has started.
In Knock, Pope Francis spoke about the ‘open wound’ of child abuse by church people. He said that it is time to be ‘firm and decisive’ because that is the demand of truth and justice. Sometimes we need to make reparation for the sins of others. That is what the Pope is saying. That is what the Church needs to do.
Reparation has been the call of abuse survivors for a long time. Their call went unheeded. After a fruitful meeting with survivors on Saturday last in Dublin, the Pope has put the wheels of reparation in motion. He will have to continue that task, as difficult as it will be, with so many Church ‘insiders’ in denial. These are the people who hold the institutional Church aloft as untouchable.
In the Phoenix Park, as part of the penitential rite at the start of Mass, the Pope asked for forgiveness over abuse and the cover-up by some bishops. “We ask forgiveness for the abuses in Ireland, abuses of power and conscience; sexual abuses on the part of qualified members of the church.”
Pope Francis continued: “In a special way, we ask forgiveness for all the abuses committed in various types of institutions run by religious men and women and other members of the church and we also ask forgiveness for all the cases of labour exploitation to which so many young people were subjected…
“We ask forgiveness for the times that, as a church, we have not looked at the survivors of any type of abuse with compassion in the search for justice and truth, and with concrete actions…We ask forgiveness for some members of the hierarchy who did not take care of these painful situations and kept silent - we ask forgiveness.”
During the penitential rite the Pope was applauded four times by members of the congregation, especially when he asked for forgiveness for ‘all the times single mothers had been told that to seek their children, whom they had been separated from, was a mortal sin, and sons and daughters who were told the same…This is not a mortal sin’.
Oh that the energy used by those who stand in the way of reform could be utilised positively. The easy thing to do is condemn these people. A better option is to ‘convert’ them. Look what happened St Paul after his conversion. Better that the ‘stumbling blocks’ be renewed and experience the healing of a loving God. Too often we hear public condemnation asking for ‘the wrath of God’s judgement’. We are called to love not judge, even when in pain. Leadership is not about judgement but being fair, firm and decisive.
Last week there were a few disquieting headlines from politicians before Pope Francis arrived. Kettle, pot and black sprang to mind. The Church has its Br Kevins, Sr Stans and Fr Peter McVerrys dealing with the homelessness the Government has failed to address.
More importantly, we hear from believers calling for Church reform. Reform means action, not mere words. We have had reams of words, now we need the work that those words demand to give them meaning. It will be a difficult road, especially for the Pope.
So much damage has been done by inaction, lies and wilful neglect. Our prayer is that reparation becomes a Church reality. That prayer is part of a reform movement within the Church. Let the healing begin…