Although it is the Vatican and the Church in central Europe that have been under the spotlight over abuse recently, the media coverage has been so intense that the bishops of England and Wales have felt it necessary to respond publicly to the firestorm in an unusual statement.
All parishes in England and Wales will this weekend be publishing or reading out their call for Catholics to make the four Fridays in May days of prayer "in reparation and atonement" for the "terrible crimes" and "inadequate response by some church leaders" to abuse.
The criminal offences committed by some priests and religious are a profound scandal. They bring deep shame to the whole church. But shame is not enough. The abuse of children is a grievous sin against God. Therefore we focus not on shame but on our sorrow for these sins. They are the personal sins of only a very few. But we are bound together in the Body of Christ and, therefore, their sins touch us all.
We express our heartfelt apology and deep sorrow to those who have suffered abuse, those who have felt ignored, disbelieved or betrayed. We ask their pardon, and the pardon of God for these terrible deeds done in our midst. There can be no excuses.
Furthermore, we recognise the failings of some Bishops and Religious leaders in handling these matters. These, too, are aspects of this tragedy which we deeply regret and for which we apologise. The procedures now in place in our countries highlight what should have been done straightaway in the past. Full co-operation with statutory bodies is essential.
Now, we believe, is a time for deep prayer of reparation and atonement. We invite Catholics in England and Wales to make the four Fridays in May 2010 special days of prayer. Even when we are lost for words, we can place ourselves in silent prayer. We invite Catholics on these days to come before the Blessed Sacrament in our parishes to pray to God for healing, forgiveness and a renewed dedication. We pray for all who have suffered abuse; for those who mishandled these matters and added to the suffering of those affected. From this prayer we do not exclude those who have committed these sins of abuse. They have a journey of repentance and atonement to make.
The full statement is here.
The idea of penitential Fridays was suggested by Pope Benedict's letter to the Irish for a year (Easter 2010 to Easter 2011).
When he was prefect of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith following the 2001 reforms which demanded that all credible clerical abuse allegations be forwarded to his desk, the then Cardinal Ratzinger gave over his Fridays to reviewing the cases. He called them his "Friday penance".