Sep 3, 2018

A new beginning - Bishop Leahy

A new beginning

It’s just a week since we had Pope Francis among us. I know many of you were present in Dublin or Knock.

I am pleased to be here today because, in a way, you are a sign of the new beginning the Catholic Church is experiencing in Ireland.  Until relatively recently, we were a homogenous group of Irish-born people who, practically speaking, took our being catholic for granted as almost part of a social package of being Irish.

Today, however, we have vibrant communities such as yours, the Syro-Malabar community, or the Polish community or the Filipino communities. Each group brings with it a new expression of being catholic. And that helps us imagine that the traditional way we thought of the Catholic Church is not set in stone.

One week on from the Pope’s visit, it is important to take steps not to let the significance of the visit begin to disappear from our minds and hearts.

We are inspired by that visit more than ever to make a new beginning, just as you have in coming to this country of welcomes.


I was hugely heartened by the hundreds of thousands who turned out for Pope Francis’ visit.  Those who lined the streets in Dublin, attended Croke Park, the Phoenix Park and, of course, that special morning in Knock. It was an affirmation of the deep faith of people, their love of God, their deep spirituality and their mercifulness towards a Church that has, while enriching them in many ways, failed them badly in a most shocking way.

There were many powerful moments along that all too brief 36-hour journey that touched us all; a mix of darkness and light and rightly so.

There were the apologies and acknowledgements throughout of abuse in the Church; Pope Francis’ own words, deep and heartfelt, at public engagements. His words at his meeting with victims confirming his horror over what happened.  Never has a Pope spoken with such passion using such strong words; never has a Pope connected on this level.

This was essential and there was more.  Like his reaching out to all on the margins, not least his meeting with the Capuchin brothers and the homeless – his words there very striking when he described their work as ‘they help you without taking away your dignity. That's the face of Jesus Christ’.

His joy at the depth of faith and celebration as people sang and danced through unforgettable hours at Croke Park. The beautiful mix of joy and solemnity of Knock and the Phoenix Park.  His silent prayer at Knock and the Pro-Cathedral. There was also the Taoiseach’s striking address. And the statements of protest at Tuam and in Dublin, which must also be acknowledged.

36 hours that reflected all about the Church in Ireland today.

It was not, of course, 1979 in terms of the numbers that celebrated.  But this is not Ireland of 1979, nor is it the Church of 1979.  Today it’s a Church that has gone through humiliation and purification.  There was a blindness in the Church then as to what was lurking within but today our eyes are open.

Yet one undeniable constant between now and 1979 was the sense of celebration of our faith.  It was everywhere I turned.  At a time when many have - for one reason or another, not least the scandals that have hit the church – shied away from public expressions of faith, people felt released from shackles for the weekend.  The freedom and joy as they celebrated being part of God’s kingdom was remarkable and not seen since 1979 in this country.  I can only imagine how much God saw it and thought it was good.


Clearly those who attended the ceremonies in Dublin and Knock have a deep love of their faith and we must continue to nourish that. It is our mission. The sins of the past cannot be allowed to cloud over that mission.

However, we also have an obligation to those who feel alienated, hurt and disavowed by the grave crimes committed by clergy and religious. We must continue to meet and reach out to them. We must repair the damage and pursue justice.

We must do more to encourage those who have been abused in any way but have not already come forward, to report their abuse. We must do this to support them, help with healing if possible, identify those responsible and bring justice.

As a community rooted in God’s love, fidelity and mercy, we can and are called to walk this road with them.

We can never accept that we are doing enough.

Huge strides have been made in safeguarding; the Church increasingly closer to being the sanctuary that God would want.

Recently, lingering doubts about Church transparency have been expressed. In the recent past, however, dioceses and religious orders have opened their doors both to the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church and to the HSE, who have issued audits. The Church must always co-operate fully with state authorities in this area.

As for those who have abused in the Church, we need to continue our pursuit of truth, justice and healing.  Most episodes of abuse stretch back into decades but if anyone has any information regarding anything relating to any member of clergy or religious, we need to know and, moreover, the authorities need to know.

If there remains any member of the clergy or religious who is hiding some dark secret or intention in the area of abuse of minors I plead with them to come forward immediately and own up to this, again to state and church authorities. Do not put yourself in a situation where the poison within can infect others. There is no place for this in God’s house.

Nonetheless, without ever eclipsing the acknowledgement of the negative, we need to be careful that we don’t pull ourselves down as a society, reading our past only in its negativity. That would be untrue to the past and not fair to the present and hamper future possibilities

I would make an appeal that, as a society, we do not quench or suffocate the possibilities of new beginnings that were enkindled last weekend.


And we do have a new beginning. It began last weekend, a real turning point on this every-lasting journey of following God. Everything good and bad set out before us.  And as it should be.

We move away from this most special time renewed and enriched by the joyful expression of faith by hundreds of thousands.  Also, by the knowledge that it is a Church that has taken enormous strides that would have been unimaginable four decades ago and beyond.  A Church that has faced the evil within, has worked tirelessly to cast it out and put stringent measures in place to protect against its return.

But above all, a Church that is still out there, reaching those on the margins, people fighting homelessness, ill-health, bereavement, poverty and so much more. A Church that is accompanying millions day by day in all kinds of ways – from baptisms to weddings to funerals, building local communities and offering horizons of consolation, meaning and hope.

I take all expressions, positive and negative, from this special time as an invitation; a collective voice that we must listen and respond to. The Pope has given us, as bishops in Ireland, a clear mandate to do this listening.

We have begun the process here in Limerick through our Synod of two years ago but we must now, renewed by the energy and honesty of last weekend, go forward with great hope. The words spoken over the past week and more have brought us closer. We now commit to action.

The future is an opportunity for doing things we have never done before. But we can only achieve this together.

One week on from the Pope’s visit, I make a humble plea to all who want to begin with us again in a new way, what the Taoiseach called a new covenant; let’s rebuild a Church at the service of Irish society.

I particularly speak to those who were walking away in the distance but had their heads turned at the weekend to see a shard of light from a familiar place.

That is the light of God and it is a light for all. We want to bring that light that breaks through the darkness with us and meet people where they are.

Let us then, in rebuilding this together, rekindle the flame from baptism, so it burns bright in all of us.

It's a flame that will unite us, lift our hearts and souls and give peace, bringing us closer to God’s idea for us all and making of us all one family united in love for one another.

I pray that the Spirit who heals will inspire us to repair and re-build our Church together. Your enthusiastic presence here today is a sign of hope for us.

Let us begin again!