Reading the Ferns Report is difficult and disturbing. As a pastoral minister with young adults I feel that the matters raised by the Report need to be faced head on rather than avoided. An opportunity to test this belief came when I was scheduled to preside at the Gospel Mass on 30th October: the Sunday following the publication of the Report.
I was greatly helped by being on the Sli Eile team and bringing others in on the mass homily. On most pastoral occasions when something important is in the air the Slí EileTeam gathers to discern the appropriate response. What we came up with on this occasion wasn’t an official team response, but it was a great help to me as presider.
The Mass opened with a reference to Halloween, and after a quiet Penitential Rite followed by the readings the Homily was devoted exclusively to the issues raised by the Ferns Report. From the team discussion, we agreed that the homily would acknowledge the damage done, examine the report in the light of the Gospel (ironically the Pharisees not practicing what they preach) and try to distil some message of hope from it. Then, after some reflective time, the congregation was invited to a discussion planned for the following Sunday: an opportunity to voice feelings and thoughts in a private forum where both a child protection officer and diocesan representative would be present.
The reactions of the congregation after the Mass were wholly positive. But I am beginning to learn that feedback to celebrants at the church door always seems to be positive, so you have to wait a while if you want to hear what people really think. Subsequent observations made it clear that as presider I did not get it absolutely right. But the spirit present, evoked by the Gospel music and ably encouraged by numerous lay ministries, made up for my deficiencies. This full involvement of lay people in liturgical ministries visually and emotionally situates the presider in proper relation to the people of God. And on this Sunday, made it easier for me to address the Ferns Report.
These were the guidelines I followed as I prepared the first draft of the Homily and I offer them should they be of any help in pastoral ministry. And I welcome any thoughts or opinions at firstname.lastname@example.org.
• Acknowledge the evil of clerical child sexual abuse
• Acknowledge the hurt during liturgy
• Do not in any way excuse what has happened
• Do not spread the blame for child sexual abuse: there are more appropriate forums for this
• Ritualize healing by some gentle movement involving people
• Focus on Jesus’s way of being as shown in the Gospels
• Connect it for yourself with the 2nd Week of the Exercises: Jesus’s humble way
• Do not under-estimate young people’s disgust
• Do not over-estimate young people’s knowledge of or interest in the report
Finally, I feel that we have to acknowledge the damage following these latest findings and reflect carefully on appropriate pastoral approaches. Approaches that reflect Gospel values purely and simply. A helpful question for young people is: “what would Jesus do in these circumstances?”