Two/three years ago I was one of a small group of Bishops who had a series of meetings with representatives of survivors of clerical and institutional abuse.
The purpose of these meetings was to hear the stories the survivors had to tell, and to see what the Church could do to try to make amends for the terrible suffering that had been inflicted on them by some of its members.
As the meetings progressed two issues began to emerge:
- The need for a Counselling and Support Service to support survivors of institutional, clerical and religious abuse.
- The need for a Spiritual Support Service for those whose faith had been damaged by abuse and who wished to continue their search for meaning and for God.
To respond to the first issue, the need for Counselling and Support, the Church set up Towards Healing in 2011. To date this service has provided Counselling and Support to over 5,000 clients.
To engage with the second issue, the need to help those whose faith has been damaged by abuse, the Church has now set up Towards Peace.
These two services are survivor-led, in that they are a direct response to what the survivors said they would like to see happen, a direct response to help survivors come to terms and cope with what happened to them.
In Chapter 30 of the Book of Isaiah there is a passage which speaks about the ‘’ bread of suffering and the water of distress.’’ In the passage the prophet speaks of God ‘’ dressing the wounds and healing the bruises his blows have left on his people.’’
I remember once hearing a preacher commenting on this passage of Scripture and he used a phrase which I hope is appropriate today, he summed up the message of the passage by saying ‘’ the hand that hurts is the hand that heals.’’
Our hand, the hand of our church has hurt many people, it has hurt them deeply, it has hurt them in ways we do not always fully understand.
Towards Peace is set up in the hope that the hand which has hurt can also be the hand which helps to heal.
This can only happen if the survivors, despite the awful things that have happened to them at the hands of the church, can come to believe that the hand which has hurt them so badly, the hand which in the words of Isaiah has made them ‘’ experience the bread of suffering and the water of distress,’’ still wants to dress their wounds and heal their bruises.
A day such as this fills us with remorse for what has happened, but it also imbues us with a spirit of hope for what may happen yet.
It dares us to believe that the hand that hurts can also be the hand that heals. In that spirit, it is now my privilege to declare ’ Towards Peace’ launched in the Diocese of Ferns.
“Towards Peace, a Spiritual Support Service for those whose faith has been damaged by abuse, was launched on Thursday 10th December in the Riverside Hotel Enniscorthy by Bishop Denis Brennan. Contact Person: Sr Mary Whyte, Tel. 01-5053028 Email. firstname.lastname@example.org“>email@example.com “