Easter is the most important part of the liturgical year. The services that we attended were all very moving. The sense of the joy of the resurrection was made very real for us as we learnt of the death of my Aunt Jean (widow of my dad's brother John) who lived in America. She had been ill with cancer for some time and is now at peace and reunited with John.
The Mass of the last supper on Thursday was very moving. it was followed by a period of quiet prayer and contemplation and then night prayers; with all that has been happening in the Catholic Church recently there was plenty to think and pray about. Then on Good Friday there was the march through Bromley with all the other local churches led by the Salvation Army Band. It was great to be with the churches and concentrate on what unites us all rather than the differences. The prayers were led by different priests/pastors from different churches including our Parish Priest, Father Tom. Then in the afternoon there was Good Friday service starting at 3pm. which included the Veneration of The Cross and distribution of Holy Communion; there being no Masses said on Good Friday.
On Holy Saturday we went to the Vigil Mass; this starts outside the church around the fire which is blessed and the Easter Candle is lit from it. As we enter, the Church it is in total darkness, apart from the light of Christ emanating from the candle, we all have candles which are lit from the Easter Candle. It is very moving as the light gradually fills the Church. At this Mass three adults were received into the Church and were baptised; then the whole congregation renewed their baptismal promises, then Mass was celebrated. After the service was over we retired to the Church hall to celebrate with those who had just been received into the Church. Julia was able to join us in a drink; she had given up alcohol for Lent including all puddings that contained any drink!
All of the Easter services were packed which was good to see, especially as they are long although none of them seemed long at the time. The Easter Vigil lasted about two and a half hours although it seemed to me to be very little longer than a normal Mass which is about an hour. Father Tom did not shy away from mentioning the current child abuse scandal that is currently rocking the Church. As he said, and as Archbishop Vincent Nichols has said in his excellent article in The Times, see below. It is not just the abuse, which is wicked and evil, but the systematic cover up by those who should have known better. One can argue that the abuse was not committed by the Church but by evil people. The cover up tough was committed by those in the authority in the Church and that casts a shadow over the whole Church, sadly some in the Vatican do not understand the widespread anger and upset that there is in the Church at present.
"The child abuse committed within the Roman Catholic Church and its concealment is deeply shocking and totally unacceptable. I am ashamed of what happened, and understand the outrage and anger it has provoked.
That shame and anger centres on the damage done to every single abused child. Abuse damages, often irrevocably, a child’s ability to trust another, to fashion stable relationships, to sustain self-esteem. When it is inflicted within a religious context, it damages that child’s relationship to God. Today, not for the first time, I express my unreserved shame and sorrow for what has happened to many in the Church.
My shame is compounded, as is the anger of many, at the mistaken judgments made within the Church: that reassurance from a suspect could be believed; that credible allegations were deemed to be “unbelievable”; that the reputation of the Church mattered more than safeguarding children. These wrong reactions arise whenever and wherever allegations of abuse are made, whether within a family or a Church. We have to insist that the safety of the child comes first because the child is powerless.
Serious mistakes have been made within the Catholic Church. There is some misunderstanding about the Church, too. Within the Church there is a legal structure, its canon law. It is the duty of each diocesan bishop to administer that law. Certain serious offences against that law have to be referred to the Holy See to ensure proper justice. Some of these offences are not criminal in public law (such as profanation of the sacraments), others (such as offences against children) are. The role of the Holy See is to offer guidance to ensure that proper procedures are followed, including the confidentially needed to protect the good name of witnesses, victims and the accused until the trial is completed. It is no different from any other responsible legal procedure.
This “secrecy” is nothing to do with the confidentiality, or “seal” of the confessional, which is protected for reasons of the rights of conscience.
The relationship between the administration of church law and the criminal law in any particular state is a point of real difficulty and misunderstanding. Nothing in the requirement of canon law prohibits or impedes the reporting of criminal offences to the police. Since 2001 the Holy See, working through the Congregation for the Doctrine of Faith, has encouraged that course of action on dioceses who have received evidence about child abuse and which the diocesan authorities are responsible for pursuing. The canonical procedure is best put on hold until the criminal investigation is complete, whatever its outcome. This is what is needed. That it has not happened consistently is deeply regrettable.
In England and Wales, since 2001, the agreed policy followed by the bishops has been to report all allegations of child abuse, no matter from how far in the past, to the police or social services. By doing so and by having clear safeguarding procedures in place in every parish as well as independent supervision at diocesan and national level, we have built good relationships with those authorities in these matters, including, in some areas, co-operation in the supervision of offenders in the community.
What of the role of Pope Benedict? When he was in charge of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith he led important changes made in church law: the inclusion in canon law of internet offences against children, the extension of child abuse offences to include the sexual abuse of all under 18, the case by case waiving of the statue of limitation and the establishment of a fast-track dismissal from the clerical state for offenders. He is not an idle observer. His actions speak as well as his words.
Every year since 2002 the Catholic Church in England and Wales has made public the exact number of allegations made within the Church, the number reported to the police, the action taken and the outcome. As far as I know, no other organisation in this country does this. It is not a cover-up; it is clear and total disclosure. The purpose of doing so is not to defend the Church. It is to make plain that in the Catholic Church in England and Wales there is no hiding place for those who seek to harm children. On this we are determined.
One more fact. In the past 40 years, less than half of 1 per cent of Catholic priests in England and Wales (0.4 per cent) have faced allegations of child abuse. Fewer have been found guilty. Do not misunderstand me. One is too many. One broken child is a tragedy and a disgrace. One case alone is enough to justify anger and outrage. The work of safeguarding, within any organisation and within our society as a whole, is demanding but absolutely necessary. The Catholic Church here is committed to safeguarding children and all vulnerable people.
Vincent Nichols, Archbishop of Westminster
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