Mar 30, 2010

Archbishop Collins on the priesthood & abuse

Tuesday morning, more than 300 priests of the Archdiocese of Toronto gathered for the annual Chrism Mass, where the oils used to celebrate the sacraments in the coming year are blessed and distributed.

It's also an opportunity for the priests of the Archdiocese to renew their vows. As the departed during the final procession, the laity in attendance burst into applause, in grateful appreciation for the dedicated service that all of our clergy give to the Archdiocese day in and day out.

As part of today's homily, the Archbishop covered a number of topics - the meaning of the Chrism Mass, the responsibilities of the priesthood. He also took a few minutes to address the current situation the church is facing in Europe as well as affirming the leadership of Pope Benedict XVI. Archbishop Collins has done numerous interviews over the last several days on the topic, including CBC's Metro Morning, the Globe & Mail, Sun Media, etc. He also spoke to half a dozen reporters after today's Chrism Mass with more articles likely to appear on the story in the coming days.

If you'd like to peruse a hard copy of the entire homily it is available to read here or to listen here.

The section dealing with the current abuse crisis in the church is excerpted below:

People expect that one who is consecrated with the holy oil of Chrism, will act in an exemplary manner, and never betray the trust which people know they should be able to place in a Catholic priest. At his ordination we pray: Bless this chosen man, and set him apart for his sacred duties. And yet to our shame some have used the awesome gift of the holy priesthood for base personal gratification, betraying the innocent and devastating their lives.

When that happens, our first concern must be for those innocent young people who have been abused, to help them overcome their suffering, and to resolve to take whatever steps are needed to be as sure as is possible that this does not happen again. We have all had to learn through failures and mistakes and that is especially true of bishops, who have sometimes failed in their responsibility to act effectively.

For this diocese, anyone who looks at our website can see the policies that are in place to help us to act rightly, but we must never be satisfied. We cannot escape the horror of this by pointing out that almost all priests serve faithfully, though that fact is a grace that gives joy to the Catholic people, whose love and prayerful support sustains us all. But even one priest gone wrong causes immense harm, and throughout the world priests have done unspeakable evil.

We should be grateful for the attention which the media devotes to the sins of Catholic clergy, even if constant repetition may give the false impression that Catholic clergy are particularly sinful. That attention is a profound tribute to the priesthood which we celebrate at this Mass of the Chrism. People instinctively expect holiness in a Catholic priest, and are especially appalled when he does evil.

As we look to the continuing painful purification of the Church, we all need in a particular way to give thanks to God for the leadership of Joseph Ratzinger, as Cardinal and Pope, who has acted decisively, fairly, consistently, and courageously to purify the priesthood and to make the Church a safe place for everyone. Anyone with any knowledge of this terrible reality realizes that Pope Benedict has led the way in confronting this evil.

As this day we celebrate the Mass of the Chrism, and are reminded once more of the profound consecration to Christ that is at the heart of the priesthood, this year we celebrate the year of the priest. We call to mind the faithful priests who inspired us to respond to the call to the priesthood. We resolve to live each day as faithful priests, in joyful service of Our Lord.

Photo: Archdiocese of Toronto

Mar 29, 2010

Addressing Worldwide Claims of Abuse

As we enter the holiest week of the church year, media everywhere are reporting on abuse scandals in the church and doing all that they can to link these dark clouds in our history to Pope Benedict XVI.

We need to start by addressing the root issue - abuse in the church. It is unacceptable, shameful and scandalous that there were dark periods in our church's history where those in positions of leadership and trust betrayed those responsibilities. There are many who feel that the church is being unjustly targeted - we should all remember that if there was no abuse, we wouldn't be having this discussion. We are ashamed that there was rampant sexual abuse of minors by clergy throughout the world and that this abuse was not dealt with more directly and pastorally. Yes, the spotlight is being shone on us but it is also our responsibilitiy to set the bar at the highest level.

Dioceses around the world have suffered for the sins of its abusers - in some instances, one case of clergy abuse has bankrupted an entire diocese. Canada went through our own investigation, soul searching and culture change in the 1990's with the Canadian Conference of Catholic Bishops' "From Pain to Hope" along with new guidelines for dealing with these cases in dioceses across the country. You can access the safe environment policies of the Archdiocese of Toronto on our website. Any case of alleged misconduct is investigated immediately and, if criminal activity is suspected, reported to the appropriate civil authorities within one hour, if not sooner.

The United States went through a similar period in the early 2000's. Now we see almost every american diocese with a child protection office intended to address any claims of misconduct that are alleged to have taken place. To suggest that nothing has been done to address this situation is completely inaccurate.

As is the case in many crisis, sometimes facts get thrown out the window. In the current feeding frenzy, led by the New York Times, some critical facts have gone unreported or worse, inaccurately presented. For those interested in getting accurate perspective on the accusations leveled against the Holy Father, I would suggest two recent pieces:

1) Keeping the record straight on Benedict and the crisis - blog post by John Allen, respected journalist and author who writes for the National Catholic Reporter. He also is a regular commentator for CNN and spent many years reporting from the Vatican. Click on the link above to see his blog post.

2) A Response to the New York Times - post by Father Raymond De Souza, priest of the Diocese of Kingston, Ontario and columnist for the National Post. In his article, Fr. De Souza talks specifically about the "Milwaukee" case, the role of Pope Benedict and information that was not part of the NY Times piece.

It's important that, through this entire story cycle, Catholic commentators tread carefully. While it's easy to resort to name calling and declaring this a witch hunt against the Holy Father, we need to speak to the facts. Once again, first and foremost, we need to keep in mind that behind all these stories, scandals and commentary, there are victims, people who were seriously abused by the church. We cannot reverse this sordid history but we must do all that we can to put victims first. If there is information that needs to come forward, clarification, documentation, we need to be transparent and provide it.

At the same time, we recognize, that sadly, the standards that our society has embraced for protecting the most vulnerable in 2010 are much different than they were in the 1970's. Criminal background checks, screening, protocol for allegations, dealing with the root cause of these problems, all of these were much different for the church, schools and other public organizations. And it moves beyond an organizational culture. How many parents felt spanking their child was the appropriate response to bad behaviour? How many women lived in abusive relationships because there was no support system to address such a situation? The list goes on and on. If we could only turn back the clock but sadly, that is not the case.

So we must move forward as leaders: transparent and accountable. We are a church of more than a billion, filled with imperfect members - each one of us with shortcomings and failings. If these situations ever present themselves again, we need to have mechanisms in place to deal with them immediately.

We also recognize the huge numbers of priests and religious who serve faithfully day after day, year after year. We pray for them in these times of crisis, that they may continue to lead and demonstrate that a calling to religious life is indeed noble, filled with committed holy men and women. Hundreds of thousands of religious around the world continue to give selflessly to the church - through the clouds of darkness, the light that they shine throughout the world must not be forgotten.

Mar 24, 2010

30 Years Later... Remembering Archbishop Oscar Romero

March 24, 2010 is the 30th anniversary of the death of Archbishop Oscar Romero. A reflection by Stephen Scharper on the life of the late church leader was originally published in the Toronto Star on March 19 and appears, in its entirety below. Let us continue to pray for all those people of faith who have paid the ultimate sacrifice. May they rest in peace and may their legacy continue to inspire...

The Toronto Star
A martyr's enduring legacy
March 19, 2010
Stephen Bede Scharper

On March 24, 1980, Archbishop Oscar Romero of El Salvador was felled by an assassin's bullet as he celebrated Mass. An outspoken critic of the political violence and systemic poverty of his nation, Romero had become a symbol of hope and liberation for many of Latin America's poor, and an internationally celebrated advocate for human dignity.

Next week marks the 30th anniversary of Romero's death, and special commemorations of his life and martyrdom are planned around the world, including in San Salvador, where his legacy has been almost as divisive in death as his criticisms of the ruling elite were during his life.

The subject of a major motion picture, Romero (1989), starring Raul Julia, and numerous biographies, including Scott Wright's just published Oscar Romero and the Communion of the Saints (Orbis Books), Romero was viewed as a conservative, soft-spoken "compromise" candidate when made archbishop in 1977. However, after witnessing the early morning clean up of bloodstained corpses on San Salvador's streets, victims of paramilitary death squads, and the slaying of his good friend, Father Rutilio Grande, Romero became a powerful critic of such government sanctioned atrocities.

He once noted that the gospel "illuminates beautiful things, but also things which we would rather not see." In his Sunday homilies, broadcast via radio throughout the country, he denounced not only the military repression, but also the dreadful economic conditions that would help fuel a civil war in El Salvador from 1980 to 1992 that claimed 75,000 lives, including those of 18 priests, numerous women religious, and thousands of rural catechists.

For many, Romero was a living exemplar of "liberation theology," which tried to read the Christian gospel not from the perspective of the privileged, but through the "prisms of the poor." With the reading assistance of the social sciences, liberation theologians rejected economic "developmentalism" promoted by many affluent countries and instead proffered the term "liberation," which advocated social, economic and political change as well as spiritual renewal. This theological thrust asserts that the contemporary church must wield not only the teaspoons of charity, but also the bulldozers of justice, and become the "voice of the voiceless."

Not surprisingly, such a stance led to both government crackdowns and ecclesial sanctions, spawning Vatican investigations that led to the silencing and chastising of several priests and liberation theologians, including Jesuit priest Jon Sobrino of El Salvador, an adviser to Romero.

There is hope now, though, that Romero's journey to canonization, allegedly stalled for political reasons at the Vatican, might be given a boost at next week's celebrations.

San Salvador Archbishop José Luis Escobar Alas told a news conference last month that the bishops of El Salvador had written to Rome to ask that Romero be canonized "as soon as possible." And in January, Salvadoran President Mauricio Funes apologized for the government's role in human rights abuses during the civil war. Last November, he acknowledged official complicity in the 1989 murders of six priests, their housekeeper and her daughter on the campus of Central American University. According to the National Catholic Reporter, Funes is expected to mark the Romero anniversary with a similar admission of government involvement in Romero's death, dispelling concerns that canonization might create a breach between the Vatican and the Salvadoran government.

Shortly before his murder, awash in death threats, Romero claimed, "If they kill me, I will rise again in the Salvadoran people." Thirty years later, his spirit and memory live on, not only in the people of El Salvador, but in the hearts of all those who keep the faith in and speak out for the dignity of the human person.

Stephen Bede Scharper, former editor at Orbis Books, is with the Centre for the Study of Religion and the Centre for Environment, University of Toronto. His column appears every fourth Friday.

Artwork: Caritas Australia

Mar 22, 2010

Pope Apologizes to Irish Abuse Victims

Below you will find in its entirety, the pastoral letter issued Saturday by the Holy Father to the people of Ireland.


1. Dear Brothers and Sisters of the Church in Ireland, it is with great concern that I write to you as Pastor of the universal Church. Like yourselves, I have been deeply disturbed by the information which has come to light regarding the abuse of children and vulnerable young people by members of the Church in Ireland, particularly by priests and religious. I can only share in the dismay and the sense of betrayal that so many of you have experienced on learning of these sinful and criminal acts and the way Church authorities in Ireland dealt with them.

As you know, I recently invited the Irish bishops to a meeting here in Rome to give an account of their handling of these matters in the past and to outline the steps they have taken to respond to this grave situation. Together with senior officials of the Roman Curia, I listened to what they had to say, both individually and as a group, as they offered an analysis of mistakes made and lessons learned, and a description of the programmes and protocols now in place. Our discussions were frank and constructive. I am confident that, as a result, the bishops will now be in a stronger position to carry forward the work of repairing past injustices and confronting the broader issues associated with the abuse of minors in a way consonant with the demands of justice and the teachings of the Gospel.

2. For my part, considering the gravity of these offences, and the often inadequate response to them on the part of the ecclesiastical authorities in your country, I have decided to write this Pastoral Letter to express my closeness to you and to propose a path of healing, renewal and reparation.

It is true, as many in your country have pointed out, that the problem of child abuse is peculiar neither to Ireland nor to the Church. Nevertheless, the task you now face is to address the problem of abuse that has occurred within the Irish Catholic community, and to do so with courage and determination. No one imagines that this painful situation will be resolved swiftly. Real progress has been made, yet much more remains to be done. Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the healing power of God’s grace.

At the same time, I must also express my conviction that, in order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children. Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.

As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1). Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal. It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.

3. Historically, the Catholics of Ireland have proved an enormous force for good at home and abroad. Celtic monks like Saint Columbanus spread the Gospel in Western Europe and laid the foundations of medieval monastic culture. The ideals of holiness, charity and transcendent wisdom born of the Christian faith found expression in the building of churches and monasteries and the establishment of schools, libraries and hospitals, all of which helped to consolidate the spiritual identity of Europe. Those Irish missionaries drew their strength and inspiration from the firm faith, strong leadership and upright morals of the Church in their native land.

From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long period of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of faith alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances. Saint Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example of a host of courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing to lay down their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel. After Catholic Emancipation, the Church was free to grow once more. Families and countless individuals who had preserved the faith in times of trial became the catalyst for the great resurgence of Irish Catholicism in the nineteenth century. The Church provided education, especially for the poor, and this was to make a major contribution to Irish society. Among the fruits of the new Catholic schools was a rise in vocations: generations of missionary priests, sisters and brothers left their homeland to serve in every continent, especially in the English-speaking world. They were remarkable not only for their great numbers, but for the strength of their faith and the steadfastness of their pastoral commitment. Many dioceses, especially in Africa, America and Australia, benefited from the presence of Irish clergy and religious who preached the Gospel and established parishes, schools and universities, clinics and hospitals that served both Catholics and the community at large, with particular attention to the needs of the poor.

In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church. Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.

4. In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularization of Irish society. Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values. All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected. Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel. The programme of renewal proposed by the Second Vatican Council was sometimes misinterpreted and indeed, in the light of the profound social changes that were taking place, it was far from easy to know how best to implement it. In particular, there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations. It is in this overall context that we must try to understand the disturbing problem of child sexual abuse, which has contributed in no small measure to the weakening of faith and the loss of respect for the Church and her teachings.

Only by examining carefully the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found. Certainly, among the contributing factors we can include: inadequate procedures for determining the suitability of candidates for the priesthood and the religious life; insufficient human, moral, intellectual and spiritual formation in seminaries and novitiates; a tendency in society to favour the clergy and other authority figures; and a misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties and to safeguard the dignity of every person. Urgent action is needed to address these factors, which have had such tragic consequences in the lives of victims and their families, and have obscured the light of the Gospel to a degree that not even centuries of persecution succeeded in doing.

5. On several occasions since my election to the See of Peter, I have met with victims of sexual abuse, as indeed I am ready to do in the future. I have sat with them, I have listened to their stories, I have acknowledged their suffering, and I have prayed with them and for them. Earlier in my pontificate, in my concern to address this matter, I asked the bishops of Ireland, “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” (Address to the Bishops of Ireland, 28 October 2006).

With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal. I now turn to you with words that come from my heart, and I wish to speak to each of you individually and to all of you as brothers and sisters in the Lord.

6. To the victims of abuse and their families

You have suffered grievously and I am truly sorry. I know that nothing can undo the wrong you have endured. Your trust has been betrayed and your dignity has been violated. Many of you found that, when you were courageous enough to speak of what happened to you, no one would listen. Those of you who were abused in residential institutions must have felt that there was no escape from your sufferings. It is understandable that you find it hard to forgive or be reconciled with the Church. In her name, I openly express the shame and remorse that we all feel. At the same time, I ask you not to lose hope. It is in the communion of the Church that we encounter the person of Jesus Christ, who was himself a victim of injustice and sin. Like you, he still bears the wounds of his own unjust suffering. He understands the depths of your pain and its enduring effect upon your lives and your relationships, including your relationship with the Church. I know some of you find it difficult even to enter the doors of a church after all that has occurred. Yet Christ’s own wounds, transformed by his redemptive sufferings, are the very means by which the power of evil is broken and we are reborn to life and hope. I believe deeply in the healing power of his self-sacrificing love – even in the darkest and most hopeless situations – to bring liberation and the promise of a new beginning.

Speaking to you as a pastor concerned for the good of all God’s children, I humbly ask you to consider what I have said. I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church – a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you will come to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you. I am confident that in this way you will be able to find reconciliation, deep inner healing and peace.

7. To priests and religious who have abused children

You betrayed the trust that was placed in you by innocent young people and their parents, and you must answer for it before Almighty God and before properly constituted tribunals. You have forfeited the esteem of the people of Ireland and brought shame and dishonour upon your confreres. Those of you who are priests violated the sanctity of the sacrament of Holy Orders in which Christ makes himself present in us and in our actions. Together with the immense harm done to victims, great damage has been done to the Church and to the public perception of the priesthood and religious life.

I urge you to examine your conscience, take responsibility for the sins you have committed, and humbly express your sorrow. Sincere repentance opens the door to God’s forgiveness and the grace of true amendment. By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged, you should seek to atone personally for your actions. Christ’s redeeming sacrifice has the power to forgive even the gravest of sins, and to bring forth good from even the most terrible evil. At the same time, God’s justice summons us to give an account of our actions and to conceal nothing. Openly acknowledge your guilt, submit yourselves to the demands of justice, but do not despair of God’s mercy.

8. To parents

You have been deeply shocked to learn of the terrible things that took place in what ought to be the safest and most secure environment of all. In today’s world it is not easy to build a home and to bring up children. They deserve to grow up in security, loved and cherished, with a strong sense of their identity and worth. They have a right to be educated in authentic moral values rooted in the dignity of the human person, to be inspired by the truth of our Catholic faith and to learn ways of behaving and acting that lead to healthy self-esteem and lasting happiness. This noble but demanding task is entrusted in the first place to you, their parents. I urge you to play your part in ensuring the best possible care of children, both at home and in society as a whole, while the Church, for her part, continues to implement the measures adopted in recent years to protect young people in parish and school environments. As you carry out your vital responsibilities, be assured that I remain close to you and I offer you the support of my prayers.

9. To the children and young people of Ireland

I wish to offer you a particular word of encouragement. Your experience of the Church is very different from that of your parents and grandparents. The world has changed greatly since they were your age. Yet all people, in every generation, are called to travel the same path through life, whatever their circumstances may be. We are all scandalized by the sins and failures of some of the Church's members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people. But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8). He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you. Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust! He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others. Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart. Together with your fellow Catholics in Ireland, I look to you to be faithful disciples of our Lord and to bring your much-needed enthusiasm and idealism to the rebuilding and renewal of our beloved Church.

10. To the priests and religious of Ireland

All of us are suffering as a result of the sins of our confreres who betrayed a sacred trust or failed to deal justly and responsibly with allegations of abuse. In view of the outrage and indignation which this has provoked, not only among the lay faithful but among yourselves and your religious communities, many of you feel personally discouraged, even abandoned. I am also aware that in some people’s eyes you are tainted by association, and viewed as if you were somehow responsible for the misdeeds of others. At this painful time, I want to acknowledge the dedication of your priestly and religious lives and apostolates, and I invite you to reaffirm your faith in Christ, your love of his Church and your confidence in the Gospel's promise of redemption, forgiveness and interior renewal. In this way, you will demonstrate for all to see that where sin abounds, grace abounds all the more (cf. Rom 5:20).

I know that many of you are disappointed, bewildered and angered by the way these matters have been handled by some of your superiors. Yet, it is essential that you cooperate closely with those in authority and help to ensure that the measures adopted to respond to the crisis will be truly evangelical, just and effective. Above all, I urge you to become ever more clearly men and women of prayer, courageously following the path of conversion, purification and reconciliation. In this way, the Church in Ireland will draw new life and vitality from your witness to the Lord's redeeming power made visible in your lives.

11. To my brother bishops

It cannot be denied that some of you and your predecessors failed, at times grievously, to apply the long-established norms of canon law to the crime of child abuse. Serious mistakes were made in responding to allegations. I recognize how difficult it was to grasp the extent and complexity of the problem, to obtain reliable information and to make the right decisions in the light of conflicting expert advice. Nevertheless, it must be admitted that grave errors of judgement were made and failures of leadership occurred. All this has seriously undermined your credibility and effectiveness. I appreciate the efforts you have made to remedy past mistakes and to guarantee that they do not happen again. Besides fully implementing the norms of canon law in addressing cases of child abuse, continue to cooperate with the civil authorities in their area of competence. Clearly, religious superiors should do likewise. They too have taken part in recent discussions here in Rome with a view to establishing a clear and consistent approach to these matters. It is imperative that the child safety norms of the Church in Ireland be continually revised and updated and that they be applied fully and impartially in conformity with canon law.

Only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives. This must arise, first and foremost, from your own self-examination, inner purification and spiritual renewal. The Irish people rightly expect you to be men of God, to be holy, to live simply, to pursue personal conversion daily. For them, in the words of Saint Augustine, you are a bishop; yet with them you are called to be a follower of Christ (cf. Sermon 340, 1). I therefore exhort you to renew your sense of accountability before God, to grow in solidarity with your people and to deepen your pastoral concern for all the members of your flock. In particular, I ask you to be attentive to the spiritual and moral lives of each one of your priests. Set them an example by your own lives, be close to them, listen to their concerns, offer them encouragement at this difficult time and stir up the flame of their love for Christ and their commitment to the service of their brothers and sisters.

The lay faithful, too, should be encouraged to play their proper part in the life of the Church. See that they are formed in such a way that they can offer an articulate and convincing account of the Gospel in the midst of modern society (cf. 1 Pet 3:15) and cooperate more fully in the Church’s life and mission. This in turn will help you once again become credible leaders and witnesses to the redeeming truth of Christ.

12. To all the faithful of Ireland

A young person’s experience of the Church should always bear fruit in a personal and life-giving encounter with Jesus Christ within a loving, nourishing community. In this environment, young people should be encouraged to grow to their full human and spiritual stature, to aspire to high ideals of holiness, charity and truth, and to draw inspiration from the riches of a great religious and cultural tradition. In our increasingly secularized society, where even we Christians often find it difficult to speak of the transcendent dimension of our existence, we need to find new ways to pass on to young people the beauty and richness of friendship with Jesus Christ in the communion of his Church. In confronting the present crisis, measures to deal justly with individual crimes are essential, yet on their own they are not enough: a new vision is needed, to inspire present and future generations to treasure the gift of our common faith. By treading the path marked out by the Gospel, by observing the commandments and by conforming your lives ever more closely to the figure of Jesus Christ, you will surely experience the profound renewal that is so urgently needed at this time. I invite you all to persevere along this path.

13. Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it is out of deep concern for all of you at this painful time in which the fragility of the human condition has been so starkly revealed that I have wished to offer these words of encouragement and support. I hope that you will receive them as a sign of my spiritual closeness and my confidence in your ability to respond to the challenges of the present hour by drawing renewed inspiration and strength from Ireland’s noble traditions of fidelity to the Gospel, perseverance in the faith and steadfastness in the pursuit of holiness.In solidarity with all of you, I am praying earnestly that, by God’s grace, the wounds afflicting so many individuals and families may be healed and that the Church in Ireland may experience a season of rebirth and spiritual renewal.

14. I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.

At the conclusion of my meeting with the Irish bishops, I asked that Lent this year be set aside as a time to pray for an outpouring of God’s mercy and the Holy Spirit’s gifts of holiness and strength upon the Church in your country. I now invite all of you to devote your Friday penances, for a period of one year, between now and Easter 2011, to this intention. I ask you to offer up your fasting, your prayer, your reading of Scripture and your works of mercy in order to obtain the grace of healing and renewal for the Church in Ireland. I encourage you to discover anew the sacrament of Reconciliation and to avail yourselves more frequently of the transforming power of its grace.

Particular attention should also be given to Eucharistic adoration, and in every diocese there should be churches or chapels specifically devoted to this purpose. I ask parishes, seminaries, religious houses and monasteries to organize periods of Eucharistic adoration, so that all have an opportunity to take part. Through intense prayer before the real presence of the Lord, you can make reparation for the sins of abuse that have done so much harm, at the same time imploring the grace of renewed strength and a deeper sense of mission on the part of all bishops, priests, religious and lay faithful.

I am confident that this programme will lead to a rebirth of the Church in Ireland in the fullness of God’s own truth, for it is the truth that sets us free (cf. Jn 8:32).

Furthermore, having consulted and prayed about the matter, I intend to hold an Apostolic Visitation of certain dioceses in Ireland, as well as seminaries and religious congregations. Arrangements for the Visitation, which is intended to assist the local Church on her path of renewal, will be made in cooperation with the competent offices of the Roman Curia and the Irish Episcopal Conference. The details will be announced in due course.

I also propose that a nationwide Mission be held for all bishops, priests and religious. It is my hope that, by drawing on the expertise of experienced preachers and retreat-givers from Ireland and from elsewhere, and by exploring anew the conciliar documents, the liturgical rites of ordination and profession, and recent pontifical teaching, you will come to a more profound appreciation of your respective vocations, so as to rediscover the roots of your faith in Jesus Christ and to drink deeply from the springs of living water that he offers you through his Church.

In this Year for Priests, I commend to you most particularly the figure of Saint John Mary Vianney, who had such a rich understanding of the mystery of the priesthood. “The priest”, he wrote, “holds the key to the treasures of heaven: it is he who opens the door: he is the steward of the good Lord; the administrator of his goods.” The Curé d’Ars understood well how greatly blessed a community is when served by a good and holy priest: “A good shepherd, a pastor after God’s heart, is the greatest treasure which the good Lord can grant to a parish, and one of the most precious gifts of divine mercy.” Through the intercession of Saint John Mary Vianney, may the priesthood in Ireland be revitalized, and may the whole Church in Ireland grow in appreciation for the great gift of the priestly ministry.

I take this opportunity to thank in anticipation all those who will be involved in the work of organizing the Apostolic Visitation and the Mission, as well as the many men and women throughout Ireland already working for the safety of children in church environments. Since the time when the gravity and extent of the problem of child sexual abuse in Catholic institutions first began to be fully grasped, the Church has done an immense amount of work in many parts of the world in order to address and remedy it. While no effort should be spared in improving and updating existing procedures, I am encouraged by the fact that the current safeguarding practices adopted by local Churches are being seen, in some parts of the world, as a model for other institutions to follow.

I wish to conclude this Letter with a special Prayer for the Church in Ireland, which I send to you with the care of a father for his children and with the affection of a fellow Christian, scandalized and hurt by what has occurred in our beloved Church. As you make use of this prayer in your families, parishes and communities, may the Blessed Virgin Mary protect and guide each of you to a closer union with her Son, crucified and risen. With great affection and unswerving confidence in God’s promises, I cordially impart to all of you my Apostolic Blessing as a pledge of strength and peace in the Lord.

From the Vatican, 19 March 2010, on the Solemnity of Saint Joseph

Prayer for the Church in Ireland

God of our fathers,renew us in the faith which is our life and salvation,the hope which promises forgiveness and interior renewal,the charity which purifies and opens our hearts to love you, and in you, each of our brothers and sisters.

Lord Jesus Christ,may the Church in Ireland renew her age-old commitment to the education of our young people in the way of truth and goodness, holiness and generous service to society.
Holy Spirit, comforter, advocate and guide,inspire a new springtime of holiness and apostolic zeal for the Church in Ireland.

May our sorrow and our tears,our sincere effort to redress past wrongs,and our firm purpose of amendment bear an abundant harvest of gracefor the deepening of the faithin our families, parishes, schools and communities, for the spiritual progress of Irish society, and the growth of charity, justice, joy and peacewithin the whole human family.

To you, Triune God, confident in the loving protection of Mary, Queen of Ireland, our Mother, and of Saint Patrick, Saint Brigid and all the saints, do we entrust ourselves, our children, and the needs of the Church in Ireland.


Mar 19, 2010

Social Media & Evangelization

If you're reading this blog, you're part of the new social media universe. At times, we may feel as though it's hard to keep up. YouTube, Twitter, Blogging, Podcasts, Facebook - where does one start and how do you stay on top of it all? I know, I know to all those "connected" I'm so 2005 and haven't even mentioned "stumble upon" or "digg".

I can remember attending the 2009 Catholic Media Convention after a presentation trumpeting the merits of these new social media tools. In a small group discussion with the editor of an American diocesan newspaper, my colleague looked defeated. He looked at our group and shrugged, "I can barely get a paper out every week, now I've gotta blog, tweet and podcast? There's just not enough hours in the day."

In many ways, he's right. If we want to devote time to these new social media tools, something usually has to give. There are only so many resources to go around and how do you best deploy them?

We've faced that reality here at the Archdiocese of Toronto. I guess that's why you might say we've dipped our foot into the pool before jumping in head first. One of the first priorities when the office was restructured in 2006 was to enhance our online focus.

A complete reconstruction of took place within 9 months of the PR & Communications team arriving on scene in January of 2006. Since then, we've seen website traffic increase year after year in leaps and bounds to where most months we see more than a million hits, 50,000 and hundreds of thousands of page views. We're also able to track where people enter and exit the site, its most popular pages and where (in the world) people are visiting from. Lots of people want to build a website but the key is knowing how you'll keep it fresh and updated. If it's stale and out of date, people will quickly check out.

As I like to say to priests when we meet, we have tens of thousands of visitors who are coming in the church through a different door. These may be individuals who are active in their faith, those who have stepped away from the church, those wanting to learn more, etc. To me, having a strong online presence is an essential part of our evangelization efforts in 2010.

So if you've noticed in the last week or so, has had a small facelift - no botox we promise. You can now find scrolling photos that highlight key upcoming events and initiatives. We've also been able to highlight the Around the Arch blog so that you can see real time updates of the latest entries. In addition, there's a simple link to follow us on Twitter and a video in the bottom right corner of the site that will change from time to time. It may be a ShareLife campaign awareness piece, the latest Lectio Divina from Archbishop Collins or other special messages. Of course, if you've got ideas of how we can enhance the site, we'd always love to hear from you. Kudos to our resident web and graphic designer, Emanuel Pires for all his work on this. And as he likes to say, "There's more to come...".

In his 2010 message for World Communications Day, Pope Benedict XVI invited priests to learn more about these new communication tools and to embrace them as part of their ministry. Of course, we always need to be aware that just because something is posted in the blogosphere doesn't mean it's necessarily accurate or even at times, appropriate. I've certainly fielded many a call with rumours and innuendo that came from blog posts only to assure callers that their information was, shall we say, less than accurate. In other cases, the posts help shed light on an issue or bring something to our attention that may not otherwise be known.

That said, it gives everyone the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. Through tools like Twitter, a simple search on "catholic" can show us what's being said in the twittersphere about a given topic. From where I sit, I'd rather be aware of what's being discussed than to be blind-sided and unaware of a hot topic that may be percolating online.

In all of this, we need to recognize that you could spend all day surfing the net and trolling various bloggers to see what's out there. I've built some simple parameters about how much time I spend in this regard and determining the best forum to respond if there are inaccuracies floating out there. Some companies like Southwest Airlines and Starwood Hotels have hired people full time to do nothing but monitor the buzz out there on their particular product. We just don't have the resources to do that and I like to think that the Catholic Church, with more than a billion people, leaves room for lots of dialogue and discussion, something I always welcome, as long as it is done respectfully.

For some who work with the church, we're moving too fast, too slow, too little, too much. That's the challenge of a diverse family. To give you a sense of technology moving at different speeds, there is still a parish in the Archdiocese that ships the content for their weekly bulletin off to the printer via typewriten script (yes, on a typewriter). On the other side of things, 80% of our parishes select email as their preferred method of communication (vs fax). Some of our priests host and post regular blog entries and participate in discussion forums online while others would be flustered (not twittered) if you quizzed them on this technology.

So it's important that we strike the right balance. Hopefully these online resources will help evangelize to our local and global community. There's nothing like the face to face engagement that comes with our faith community, building up the body of Christ as we support one another in our parishes, schools and homes. But adding a few new recipes to the mix keeps us aware of just how far reaching our online tools can be, "speaking" to a whole new group of people who appreciate the church using these modern tools.

So, in moderation, we'll keep working at it and hopefully still find enough time in the day to get to the 123 other things on our "to do" list. Just don't ask me to tweet about them...

Photos: CNN

Mar 16, 2010

A Great Day for the Irish...

It's that time of Lent where the traditional purple is shelved albeit just for a day as Irish and all those who claim to be Irish one day of the year join in the celebration of St. Patrick's Day, March 17.

For those who would like to get a flavour of all things Irish from a spiritual perspective, head on down to St. Michael's Cathedral for the annual St. Patrick's Day mass on Wednesday morning at 10:00 a.m. One of our newest auxiliary bishops, the Most Rev. William McGrattan will be presiding. The Irish Ambassador to Canada, His Excellency Declan Kelly, will also be in attendance.

There is always a colourful mix of the Irish community on display. One of my favourite moments is the offertory procession which brings together people from many cultural backgrounds in their native dress, recognizing that while, the Irish remain passionate about their roots, they also recognize the diverse community of the Archdiocese of Toronto, taking time to emphasize the importance of working alongside all cultural traditions.

Known today as the patron saint of Ireland, St. Patrick was considered one of the original missionaries, spending youthful years as a slave. In fact it was this confinement that led him to Christianity. A quick biography of St. Patrick below:

387 Patrick is born in Scotland or Roman Britain to parents Calpurnius and Conchessa. His birth name was Maewyn Succat and he took the name Patricus (Roman name for Patrick) when he became a priest. His father was a Deacon but was not considered to be a religious man as he took the position for its tax benefits.

403 Patrick is captured by Irish raiders and put into slavery at the age of 16. He spends 6 years in captivity working as a shepherd for an Irish chieftain in Antrim. Before he was captured, Patrick was not particularly religious but turned to God for comfort during his enslavement and became a devout Christian.

409 He escapes Ireland after God told him in a dream to leave by going to the coast to find passage aboard a ship. He does and he returns to Britain. He becomes a priest and goes to study in a French monastery.

432 Patrick is sent to Ireland as a bishop. Patrick begins a thirty year project of converting the Irish people to Christianity. Legend has it that Patrick drove the snakes from Ireland. Actually, snakes were never on the Emerald Isle. The legend is probably more symbolic of the conversion of the Irish people as Patrick drove pagans from Ireland. Snakes hadbeen a symbol of evil since the Garden of Eden story in Genesis. Another legend is that Patrick used the Shamrock to explain the Trinity to the uneducated Irish people. The Shamrock has been associated with St. Patrick and the Irish ever since. Today 93% of Ireland is Catholic.

466 Patrick dies on March 17th; now celebrated as his feast day. He is buried near Downpatrick with Saint Brigid and Saint Columba.

As the Irish often say, may the road rise to reach you and may the wind always be at your back, this St. Patrick's Day and every day!! And, if nothing else, it's a great day to make the most of all things green in your wardrobe. St. Patrick, pray for us!


Mar 11, 2010

Mid-Lent Spiritual Check Up...

As we hit the half-way mark of Lent, it's time for a spiritual check-up. Have we let the days slip by without taking time to focus on the traditional prayer, fasting and almsgiving opportunities that are in our midst? If the answer is yes, let's stop for a moment and consider how we can take the rest of this Lenten journey and make the most of it. While there are literally hundreds of opportunities across the Archdiocese of Toronto to get your spiritual tune-up, here's a few tangible suggestions that might help you get started:

Lectio Divina takes place monthly at St. Michael's Cathedral between September and June. Just so happens that the March LD takes place this Sunday (March 14) at 7:00 p.m. We start with Vespers and then Archbishop Collins reads aloud a small scripture passage in full then returns to a few lines reading aloud, allowing for brief reflection and the most important component, silence. Now you can't claim there's any Sunday afternoon or evening gold medal games on. And if you miss it, within a few days, we offer Lectio Divina in full online. It's worth a look.

The 40 Days for Life continues this Lent until March 28 and provides an opportunity to pray peacefully in a pro-life setting for unborn children everywhere. If you have an hour or two to spare in the Dufferin/Lawrence area, consider helping out. You can visit the 40 days life website to learn more.

Fasting - yes, there's many out there that have already given up something for Lent whether it be alcohol, junk food, meat on Fridays or other days as well...Take some time this Lent to consider a technological fast - a break from the Internet, TV, Twitter, Facebook, etc. Yes, many of us (yours truly included) use these tools in our every day work and for pleasure as well. Yet we need to be mindful of the amount of time spent "connected" with technology which may take us away from being "connected" with those we care most about. Perhaps a fast is in order...

Almsgiving - we've already talked about in these pages but a reminder never hurts. The annual ShareLife appeal is in full swing with ShareLife Sunday coming up on March 21. Helping more than 225,000 people each year is a very tangible way to help out. Better yet, learn a little more about a ShareLife agency and continue volunteering some of your time helping out. Not only will you feel better about where you donation is going, you'll get a chance to appreciate that sometimes helping others is in fact, a reward, not a sacrifice.

Reconciliation - yes, it's the sacrament that many people talk about but don't always get around to. If you've ever heard Archbishop Collins speak, this is at the top of the list. I heard it best expressed by a Canadian bishop at World Youth Day 2002 in Toronto when he talked about walking around with a pebble in your shoe. It's not comfortable, it makes for difficult walking and you can't wait to get it out of there. Once you do, it's a whole new feeling, freedom, comfort. Kind of like the way you feel after experiencing the sacrament of reconciliation.

Kudos to the Diocese of London, Ontario for this year's "Sinners Wanted" campaign where every church in the diocese offered all day confessions on March 3. The initiative was modeled on an American program that began in 2007 and has since expanded to more than 20 dioceses. That's a lot of sins - forgiven!

So whether it's a pebble in the shoe or a pocketful of rocks, don't get weighed down this Lent. Remember those infomercials? This deal won't last forever, limited time offer, act now!! Well we're in the final weeks of Lent and this only comes along once a year. Let's make it the best home stretch ever so that when the joy of Easter Sunday arrives, we can truly say, Lent was lived to the full!!

Photos: Archdiocese of Toronto,

Mar 8, 2010

St. Anthony of Padua Returns to Canada

Those who follow the saints will recall a few weeks back the display of the body of St. Anthony of Padua in Italy, drawing tens of thousands to pray alongside one of our favorite saints. Well, for those who weren't in a position to make their way overseas, you have the opportunity to connect with St. Anthony through a visit currently underway and being coordinated by the Franciscan Friars.

There will be two opportunities to view a precious relic from his Basilica in Padua over the next 10 days in the Archdiocese of Toronto and Diocese of Hamilton. You may recall a similar visit in our community about this time last year.

The gatherings will include celebration of the eucharist in both english and italian followed by receptions where are all welcome. Here's the details:

Diocese of Hamilton - Wednesday, March 10, 2010 - 7 p.m. - The Church of St. Anthony of Padua - 830 Barton St. East (corner of Prospect North near Gage Ave.) in Hamilton, ON.

Archdiocese of Toronto - Thursday, March 11, 2010 - 7:30 p.m. - The Franciscan Church of St. Bonaventure - 1300 Leslie St. (south of Lawrence Ave. E)) Toronto, ON.

The relic will be accompanied by three friars from the Mesenger of St. Anthony in Padua. Many refer to St. Anthony as the "quickest" saint, having been canonized by Pope Gregory IX less than one year after his death in 1232. To this day, many Catholics pray to St. Anthony to help find things lost, whether it be material possessions or literally a traveler lost. Probably not the first saint that men who are driving in circles call to mind, St. Anthony passionately believed that the gospel was more than mere words but a call to action.

As he makes his way to Canada, we have the opportunity to pray with St. Anthony not just for what has been lost physically in our own lives but for the spiritual and emotional loss that we see in those we meet and, more importantly, those we have not, here at home and around the world.

The fascinating stories of the lives of our saints help us raise the bar on our own spirituality and the way we live our lives. St. Anthony of Padua, pray for us.

Mar 2, 2010

"Own the Altar" Program 2010

The first Tuesday in March is somewhat of a tradition in the Archdiocese of Toronto. For the last 20 years, the annual Ordinandi Dinner has taken place, providing the soon to be priests from the Archdiocese and beyond the chance to tell their moving vocation stories.

Due to increased demand, the dinner moved to a new Brampton location this year with more than 1,700 in attendance including hundreds of students from Catholic high schools throughout the Archdiocese.

It's always inspiring to hear the stories of the future priests in our community. Tuesday night was no different with 11 men sharing their personal journey. Your class of 2010 (God willing) will include: a widowed husband with three grown children, a former dairy farmer from Nova Scotia, immigrants from India, El Salvador, Poland and Croatia to name just a few. The seminarians who spoke last night will go on to serve in six dioceses across the country, with the Archdiocese of Toronto eagerly awaiting the arrival of five new shepherds.

More than a few of the vocation stories were nurtured from World Youth Days including Toronto's own in 2002. I can recall being asked days after the event what the impact would be in our country and around the world. It would, in many ways, takes months and years for things to come to fruition and now we're seeing some of those fruits ripening before our eyes.

Whenever you get a chance to hear these vocation stories, you're struck at just how diverse they are. That's the beauty of the priesthood and religious life. Our vocations come from all walks of life, backgrounds, skill sets, ethnic communities, ages and economic situations. You might say in that way that God is an equal opportunity employer.

Thanks to the Serra Clubs of the Archdiocese who work so diligently to make this event a success year to year. In a special way, they should be commended for their hard work in securing the attendance of more than 35 schools (including 6 university chaplaincies) with hundreds of young people on hand to hear the vocation stories. Who knows? Perhaps the Class of 2020 was in our midst...

While we're at it a "shout out" to the Catholic Women's League for their incredible support of the seminarians. As part of their presentation Tuesday night, they offered a "spiritual bouquet" to the Class of 2010 that included literally hundreds of thousands of masses, rosaries, novenas and other prayers in solidarity with those who have said "yes" to the call. The CWL tallies the spiritual support of its membership each year and the announcement of the spiritual bouquet is always greeted with oohs and ahs - a real reminder of the role that each one of us plays in nurturing vocations to the priesthod and religious life.

While we may not go so far as the Canadian Olympic Committee to start our unique "Own the Altar" program, 1,760+ people coming together in solidarity isn't a bad way to foster a culture of vocations in our Archdiocese. And we're not looking for medals, just a few good souls...

Photos: Archdiocese of Toronto