Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Abuse

Friday February 26 2020:

2020 Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Abuse.

The Conference of Catholic Bishops have announced a fourth Day of Prayer for Survivors and Victims of Abuse. This was approved by Pope Francis in September 2016, the choice of date to be left to each Conference. It is set for the First Friday of Lent; this year, the fourth year of the event, it is on Friday 28 February.

Some resources can be found at

Information and resources from the Catholic Church in England and Wales:
Their day this year is Friday 3 April.

It is right and loving that we keep those who have been abused in our prayers – not just those abused by priests, but the far larger number abused by others, including by members of their own families. With so much attention to abuse by priests, those abused by others may perhaps feel as if they are less important or less worthy of attention. All sexual abuse is utterly abhorrent – it seems wrong to say that some instances are less serious than others. There are many in our parishes who were abused, and who never spoke of it, but learned whether successfully or not to deal with it. If the ball-park figure of one-in-four is approximately accurate, we must remember this as we look into the faces of our congregations, and as they look into ours.

There are, however, two other aspects which seem forgotten, and which would certainly be controversial, but are also vital.

First is the matter of praying for those who carried out the abuse, whether clergy or not, and their families and friends. As sinners, we must pray for all sinners. I know some priests who have abused. However abhorrent their actions, they are our fellow-Christians and our brothers and sisters. Their isolation afterwards, especially in the face of public anger, is not a solution. Whether they have acknowledged their guilt or not, we must not exclude them from our prayers.

What the families of those who have abused experience is also difficult to imagine. There must be great anguish at the actions of one of their own family. These surely must be included in our prayers.

The gospel reading  for  Sunday 23 February (Matthew 5:38-48) challenges all of us who are disciples of Jesus to a way beyond the expected human response: “You have learned how it was said: Eye for eye and tooth for tooth … You must love your neighbour and hate your enemy … but I say to you: love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you …” Surely those guilty of abuse of any vulnerable person, whether sexual, physical or emotional, must be included. Including them in our prayer does not pretend it never happened; rather, it points to a way forward which may seem humanly impossible. It is, however, the way taught and practiced by Jesus, who makes it possible for us also.

Secondly: Those against whom false allegations have been made, whether clergy or not. Even when (and if) vindicated, this experience can take a terrible toll on them, mentally, spiritually and physically, and yet they seem rarely to be heard. A verdict of innocent does not remove the fact of having faced investigation and trial. An innocent verdict gets nothing like the publicity of the allegation. And, having faced the stress of the process, the one accused falsely could prefer as little publicity as possible.

It may be argued that giving attention to these other aspects would take from our support for those who have been abused; this of course must not be the case.

If we confine our attention only to those within the Catholic Church or in the clergy and religious, we are failing to fulfil our mission. Without in any way ignoring the abuse within the church, and the failures to deal effectively with it, we must not let that abuse blind us to the wider problem in society. We must also remember the difficulties faced in decades gone by in coming to know the full scope and nature of the abuse, and in understanding how to most effectively help both those who were abused and those who abused.

The church has faced similar challenges in the matter of funerals of those who were involved in violent action in the Troubles. Such funerals were interpreted by some as supporting those violent actions, which of course is not the case. Similarly sensitive is the matter of funerals of those involved in violent crime. The love and mercy of God are for all people without exception.

This kind of very difficult situation was faced also 100 years ago, at the time of the War of Independence and the Civil War. There was no one united approach by church authorities at the time. There is still heated controversy about an appropriate manner of commemorating those events and actions.

Pádraig McCarthy

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