Thursday, March 25, 2010

I Didn't Know That: Something Interesting About Pope Benedict's Letter to the Irish

I've heard about the pope's letter, people saying that it was too mild, that there should also have been a letter to Germans and others, and so forth.

However, this has been the first time I've read anything that really surprised me. Turns out Pope Benedict has done something very new in that letter and it has slipped past everyone, more or less. Emphasis added is mine.
ROME, March 25, 2010 – Law and grace. Where earthly justice does not reach, the hand of God can. With his letter dated March 19, Benedict XVI has given the Catholics of Ireland an order never before given by a pope of the modern era to an entire national Church.

He told them not only to bring the guilty before the canonical and civil courts, but to put themselves collectively in a state of penance and purification. And not in the privacy of their consciences, but in a public form, before the eyes of all, even of their most implacable and mocking adversaries. Fasting, prayer, reading the Bible, and works of charity on all the Fridays from now until Easter of next year. Frequent sacramental confession. Continual adoration of Jesus – “ himself a victim of injustice and sin” – present in the sacred host, exposed on the altars of the churches. And for all the bishops, priests, and religious, without exception, a special period of “mission,” a long and strict course of spiritual exercises for a radical review of life.

It’s a daring step, this one taken by Pope Benedict. Because not even the prophet Jonah believed any longer that God would forgive Nineveh its sins, in spite of the penitential ashes and sackcloth worn by all, from the king to the lowliest beast of burden. ...
Read all of Sandro Magister's article here.


  1. We actually have an option of writing a paper regarding this letter for our Pastoral Theology class.

    One of the things the prof emphasized as we discussed it and the situation in class is this: the world in criticizing it is for some reason thinking that the letter is the totality of the Church's response to the problem. It is not. And he's right. When you look at how people are judging this letter, they clearly think that this is all the Pope is doing.

    And as Sandro Magister points out...the content itself addresses other actions!

    Thanks...hadn't read the letter in detail yet and hadn't noticed that spot. Cool catch!

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  4. I find that surprising too. And a bit disturbing. Is Sandro Magister suggesting that like Nineveh, Ireland has sinned? What sin did they commit that they need to do public penance and be purified?

    Colour me confused.

    And as for Papal orders in the modern era -- how about some penances for the abusing clergy? Maybe walking to a cathedral in sackcloth and ashes and being flogged?? That's the kind of medieval penance the people of Ireland might welcome. (all that Henry II/Becket talk...)

  5. I think it turns more on the collective nature of sin. The idea that one person's sin affects the whole Church, even the whole of humanity in just the same way that one person's prayer or humility (properly directed) or love of God can affect the whole community properly. I look at it, in a sense, (without really knowing the Pope's intention) as a similar thing to my fasting on first Friday's and offering it for an end to abortion.

    I wonder if such a thing had been told to American Catholics if it would have helped us to see a collective nature for our actions and lack of actions. Sinwise and otherwise. Just wondering and thinking aloud on all this you know ... reflectively. Not saying that I know. But that was how it hit me.

    And I agree about the sackcloth and ashes for the guilty.

  6. Yeah, I can see that, I guess.


  7. I was reading Murder in the Marais (Cara Black - recommended) and it centers around old Nazi war crimes.

    Made me think of this conversation and things like Germany's national shame over WWII, the U.S.'s national shame over slavery ... things like that.

    I could see this in that same light as well.

  8. The other side of collective sin is collective helping. Even if we don't know each other, even if the offenders are dead, even if we weren't born when sins were committed and offenses suffered... we can still do penance and make reparation for each other. We are part of the same species, and part of the Body of Christ.