A priest-theologian has told the hierarchy that it should atone for Irish Church abuse with public fasting and abstinence.

Driving the news

Divine Word Missionary Vincent Twomey made the suggestion January 29 in a talk, “The Church in Ireland: The Present State and the Path Ahead”, at the University Church in Dublin.

“Repentance begins with the courageous facing-up to the past and the frank acknowledgment of wrongdoing”, recalled the emeritus professor of moral theology at Maynooth Seminary.

He said that recognition of wrongdoing could take the form of “an annual day of public fast and abstinence on the part of us priests and religious in reparation for both clerical and institutional abuse”.

Go deeper

As for the day that public penitence for Irish Church abuse could take place, Twomey suggested the first Friday in Lent.

On that day, clerics could fast, pray, go to confession and hold evening Prayer Services of Reparation and Reconciliation in cathedrals around Ireland, the theologian said.

“It should be a cry from the heart for God’s infinite mercy and forgiveness, and include prayers for the inner healing of the victims, for the damage done to their faith and to the credibility of the Church, but also prayers for the conversion of the perpetrators”, Twomey outlined.

“There is a great need for us to make reparation”, the theologian explained.

Why it matters

Twomey added that further facing-up to the “horrendous past” of Irish Church abuse could also take the form of the establishment of “public memorial[s]” at sites where particularly heinous Church-sponsored injust has taken place, such as the homes at Artane, Letterfrack or Goldenbridge.

“We must not forget, even though we might like to do so”, the theologian insisted.

For the record

Further on in his address, Twomey focused on the question of why the Irish Church is in the doldrums today, and what can be done to win back “that courage, imagination and initiative which was the mark of early Irish Christianity and which in different ways continued down through the centuries, at least up to the 19th century”.

The priest-theologian suggested that, along with gestures of penitence and reparation, the future Irish Church be marked with happier celebrations of the faith.

That, along with the conviction that “the past achievements of Irish Christianity, above all, but not only, the saints, have to be recognised as sources of pride and inspiration”.

“Pilgrimages on foot to the holy wells and other sacred sites, such as Clonmacnoise and Clonfert need greater attention, especially for the youth”, Twomey recommended.

Pride in the rich Irish Catholic tradition should be accompanied by a return to the basics of catechesis, Twomey said, so as to “rediscover the wonder, the spiritual richness of all the sacraments but, above all, the mystery that is the Mass”.

“We need desperately to revive, in a suitably modern way, prayer services and devotions – or create new Church services which appeal to the heart as well as the mind”, the priest-theologian implored.

Next on Novena:

Irish elections: Bishops demand answers on homelessness, environment, intolerance, youth

Reform finally for Ireland? New bishop backed “national gathering” for “deep reflection” on Church’s future

Irish bishop warns of “new culture trying to undo truths of Christianity from the ground up”

Tensions boil over in Irish Church as priests, laypeople beg bishops for real reform

Irish priests renew call to bishops to remedy lack of lay involvement in parishes

Bishop laments faith in Ireland met with “ridicule, insult and aggression”

Sacraments could “disappear” from Irish churches as priests become “endangered species”: cleric

What’s the Irish Church doing with its real estate holdings?


PhD in ancient Jewish/Christian history and philosophy. University ethics lecturer with 4 years' experience in religion journalism.