Drafts of pope's pastoral letter circulate in the Holy See


DRAFT VERSIONS of the pope’s forthcoming pastoral letter to the Irish faithful have begun to circulate in the Holy See, Vatican insiders have reported.

Initial indications are that the letter will not be overly concerned with the current administrative, bureaucratic and organisational problems of the Irish church.

Rather, it is expected to offer encouragement to the faithful, reminding them of the crucial role of the early Irish church in the spread of Christianity.

The pastoral letter, a highly unusual papal initiative announced by the pope himself following a Vatican meeting with Cardinal Seán Brady and Archbishop Diarmuid Martin early last month, represents a comprehensive and formal response by Pope Benedict not just to the fallout of the Murphy report, but also to the overall implications of the Irish church’s 15-year long clerical sex abuse crisis.

The Murphy report, published in November, dealt with how the Dublin archdiocese handled complaints of sexual abuse of children by priests. The report said the archdiocese had had an “obsessive concern with secrecy and the avoidance of scandal” and had “little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child”.

On previous occasions, Pope Benedict has issued forthright condemnations of clerical sex abuse, none more so than when as the Cardinal Prefect for the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he read the meditations during the Via Crucis procession at Easter 2005, a few days before the death of his predecessor, John Paul II and his own subsequent election as pope.

In his meditation on the ninth station of the cross, the then Cardinal Ratzinger said: “How much filth there is in the church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to him! How much pride, how much self-complacency!”

Whilst those words would suggest that the pope will once again issue an uncompromising condemnation of clerical sex abuse, Vatican insiders say that it would be wrong to see the pastoral letter as merely a massive wrap over collective Irish knuckles.

When the pope met Cardinal Brady and Archbishop Martin last month, he was flanked by many of his most senior curia advisors, including the secretary of state, Cardinal Tarcisio Bertone, the Prefect for the Congregation of Bishops, Cardinal Giovanni Battista Re, the Prefect for the Congregation For the Doctrine of the Faith, Cardinal William Levada, the Prefect for the Congregation of the Clergy, Cardinal Claudio Hummes, the Prefect of the Congregation of Consecrated Life (Religious Orders) Franc Rodé as well as the papal nuncio in Ireland, Archbishop Giuseppe Leanza. It is believed that a draft copy of the pastoral letter, which has been co-ordinated by the secretariat of state, has already been sent to the above congregations.