This morning, Benedict XVI received prelates from the Irish Episcopal Conference, who have just completed their ad limina visit.
At the start of his English-language address to them, the Pope dwelt upon the Irish people's “constant witness to their faith in Christ and their fidelity to the Holy See,” as well as their “outstanding contribution to the life of the Church,” and their extraordinary missionary courage.
He called on the prelates to help their faithful “to recognize the inability of the secular, materialist culture to bring true satisfaction and joy. Be bold in speaking to them of the joy that comes from following Christ and living according to His commandments.”
“Even though it is necessary to speak out strongly against the evils that threaten us,” he proceeded, “we must correct the idea that Catholicism is merely 'a collection of prohibitions.' Sound catechesis and careful 'formation of the heart' are needed here, and in this regard you are blessed in Ireland with solid resources in your network of Catholic schools.”
“Superficial presentations of Catholic teaching must be avoided, because only the fullness of the faith can communicate the liberating power of the Gospel,” said Pope Benedict, underlining the importance of “exercising vigilance over the quality of the syllabuses and the course-books used.”
“In the exercise of your pastoral ministry, you have had to respond in recent years to many heart-rending cases of sexual abuse of minors. These are all the more tragic when the abuser is a cleric. The wounds caused by such acts run deep, and it is an urgent task to rebuild confidence and trust where these have been damaged. In your continuing efforts to deal effectively with this problem, it is important to establish the truth of what happened in the past, to take whatever steps are necessary to prevent it from occurring again, to ensure that the principles of justice are fully respected and, above all, to bring healing to the victims and to all those affected by these egregious crimes. In this way, the Church in Ireland will grow stronger and be ever more capable of giving witness to the redemptive power of the Cross of Christ.”
“The fine work and selfless dedication of the great majority of priests and religious in Ireland should not be obscured by the transgressions of some of their brethren. I am certain that the people understand this, and continue to regard their clergy with affection and esteem.”
The Pope recalled how “at one time, Ireland was blessed with an abundance of priestly and religious vocations,” but in recent years the number has fallen sharply. “Pray, therefore, the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into His harvest,” he told the bishops.
“I am pleased to learn that many of your dioceses have adopted the practice of silent prayer for vocations before the Blessed Sacrament. This should be warmly encouraged. Yet above all, it falls to you, the bishops, and to your clergy to offer young people an inspiring and attractive vision of the ordained priesthood.”
“Even if Christian commitment is considered unfashionable in some circles, there is a real spiritual hunger and a generous desire to serve others among the young people of Ireland.”
In closing his address, the Holy Father considered the question of Northern Ireland, noting that, “although the path is arduous, much progress has been made in recent times. It is my prayer that the committed efforts of those concerned will lead to the creation of a society marked by a spirit of reconciliation, mutual respect and willing cooperation for the common good of all.”
(This update courtesy of Vatican Information Service.)