UK Catholics to do penance for abuse errors

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".

Austen Ivereigh


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Molly Roach
8 years 9 months ago
I pray that the bishops, archbishops and cardinals responsible for hiding, reassigning, and protecting perpetrators act with responsible honor and resign the sacred offices they have so brutally betrayed.   Sorry about the wolves just doesn't cut it.
Jeff Bagnell
8 years 9 months ago
Yes you'd think the hierarchy would do the penance on this one.  
8 years 9 months ago
Because  the abuse happened on the Catholic laity watch.. because we were not watching.. . Therefore Penance/prayer by all is appropriate. Remember the cry out in 1945 when the concentration camps were opened? . 'where are the good Germans'??? I have heard the 'fallen away' and the other Christians say,  what were you people thinking/doing?
8 years 9 months ago
@Molly -

I don't understand how resignation of the Church hierarchy members is their only responsible act of atonement. What, is the Catholic laity now determining what the appropriate penance is for sins and how Canon law should be interpreted?

Someone help me here: As is see it, there are the laws of the states where the abuses have occurred, and those states have their procedures for handling such criminal matters, be they retributive or rehabilitative or otherwise.

Beyond that, isn't this a Church matter that the hierarchy, with the power of the Holy Spirit, are equipped to handle without the opinion, judgment, and pressure of the public? And if you don't believe the latter, don't you belong in a different church? Or is there some democratic aspect of Catholicism that I was never taught in Sunday school?
John Raymer
8 years 9 months ago
Mike, I will be glad to help you. There are two types of crimes here. The first consists of civil crimes: sexual abuse of minors and, maybe, criminal conspiracy on the part of bishops who moved the perpetrators around. Most of the civil crimes have been rendered moot by statutes of limitations.

The second consists of spiritual crimes. Sexual abuse of a minor by a priest is a devastating spiritual crime. The priest typically instills a deep sense of guilt and shame into the victim that renders her or him unable to speak of the crime for many years. Because the priest is exalted by the community as the vicar of Christ, no one will believe the victim. We exalt our priests as Vicars of Christ; we exalt our Church as the Mediatrix of Salvation. Whose faith could withstand the discovery that Christ is an abuser and the Church is the Mediatrix of Damnation?

The spiritual abuse is then multiplied when the bishop turns out to be a facilitator of the abuse, either by being incompetant at his job or by being so callous as to move the abuser around "to avoid scandal" - in other words, to keep from looking bad to the people in Rome he is trying to impress.

None of us wants to believe it is true. We read one excuse after another in our blogs. We blame the media for attacking Holy Mother Church. We blame it on Vatican II; we blame it on switching from Latin; we blame it on anything that has changed in the past 40 years.

We are seeing exactly what St. Paul described as "spiritual wickedness in high places," and it shakes our vision of the church deeply.
8 years 9 months ago
The Church instructs us. Why Penance and Reparation?
If we ask, why penance and reparation, the first answer is: Because God wants it.

But if we press the question: Why does God want it? Then we must say, because in His mysterious wisdom, His justice requires it. We may legitimately say, without really understanding it, that He has no choice. Having given us a free will, if we abuse liberty, we must use our freedom to repay to God the love we have stolen from Him (which is penance) and repair the damage we have done (which is reparation).

Notice, all along I have been using the first person plural, "WE", because penance and reparation are owed to God not only because I have individually sinned, but because we human beings have sinned and are sinning, in our day, on a scale never before conceived in the annals of history.

We know better than Cain after he killed his brother, Abel. We are our brother's keepers. We are mysteriously co-responsible for what other people do wrong. There is a profound sense in which all of us are somehow to do penance and make reparation, not only for our sinful misdeeds, but for the sins of our country and, indeed, for the sins of the whole human race.

We return to our question: Why penance and reparation? Because, in Christ's words, "Unless you do penance, you shall all likewise perish".

Is it any wonder that on Pentecost Sunday, after Peter preached his sermon, and rebuked the people for their sins, and they asked him, "what must we do," his first word to the multitude was the imperative verb, "Repent!"

Is it any wonder that Our Lady of Fatima's message to a sinful world in our day, may be summarized in the same imperative, "Do penance."

Indeed, the calamities that we have so far seen in this present century: two world wars with more casualties than in all the previous wars of history, and the threat of a nuclear holocaust that hangs over us like a tornado cloud. All of this is God's warning to do penance and reparation. Why? Because God is not mocked.

You do not offend God with impunity. You do not sin without retribution. You do not ignore the will of the Almighty and expect the Almighty to ignore what you do.

What bears emphasis, however, is that this retribution is either to be paid willingly, with our penance and reparation, or will be paid unwillingly within the divine punishment.

The divine logic is simple, awfully simple, and all we have to do is learn what God is telling us. Either we do penance and reparation because we want to, or we shall suffer (against our will) the consequences of our sins in this life, and in the life to come.

But remember, this penance and reparation is to be done not only for what we have personally done wrong. It is for all the pride and lust, for all the cruelty and greed, for all the envy and laziness and gluttony of a sin-laden human family.

God is merciful and in fact as our Holy Father has told us, Jesus Christ is the Incarnation of divine mercy. But God's mercy is conditional. It is conditional on our practice of penance and reparation. A very holy Jesuit understood all of these things. I pass them on for those who have ears...
Robert Mickens
8 years 9 months ago
Penance during the Easter Season?  
8 years 9 months ago

-lovely meditation on the devotion to the Sacred Heart of Jesus/need for penance/reparation/expiation...

It can be found at: -

...12. And truly the spirit of expiation or reparation has always had the first and foremost place in the worship given to the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus, and nothing is more in keeping with the origin, the character, the power, and the distinctive practices of this form of devotion, as appears from the record of history and custom, as well as from the sacred liturgy and the acts of the Sovereign Pontiffs. For when Christ manifested Himself to Margaret Mary, and declared to her the infinitude of His love, at the same time, in the manner of a mourner, He complained that so many and such great injuries were done to Him by ungrateful men - and we would that these words in which He made this complaint were fixed in the minds of the faithful, and were never blotted out by oblivion: "Behold this Heart" - He said - "which has loved men so much and has loaded them with all benefits, and for this boundless love has had no return but neglect, and contumely, and this often from those who were bound by a debt and duty of a more special love." In order that these faults might be washed away, He then recommended several things to be done, and in particular the following as most pleasing to Himself, namely that men should approach the Altar with this purpose of expiating sin, making what is called a Communion of Reparation, - and that they should likewise make expiatory supplications and prayers, prolonged for a whole hour, - which is rightly called the "Holy Hour." These pious exercises have been approved by the Church and have also been enriched with copious indulgences...

Penance knows no season...
Jim McCrea
8 years 9 months ago
"What, is the Catholic laity now determining what the appropriate penance is for sins and how Canon law should be interpreted?"
Could they be any worse at it than the current crop of obfuscators and self-protectors have been?


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