The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, made a special visit to All Souls Catholic Church in Coventry, on Sunday 19 February, a parish where Bede Walsh served as a priest.
The visit followed the statement made by Archbishop Longley at Cathedral House, Birmingham, on 7 February after Bede Walsh, a Catholic priest in the Archdiocese of Birmingham, was convicted by a jury of 21 sexual offences against eight boys. The offences took place between the 1970s and the early 1990s. Bede Walsh is due to be sentenced on 9 March.
The Archbishop of Birmingham and Canon Timothy Menezes, the Vicar General, spoke to parishioners both before and after the 11.15am Mass.
During his homily, Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “When I was last with you in Coventry to celebrate Mass here at All Souls I came to bless your statue of Our Lady Queen of Peace in the parish garden. That was during September 2011 and I am grateful to the Parish Priest, Father Michael Brandon, for welcoming me back today.
“Many things have happened in the intervening months – many events and celebrations that will have brought great joy into the life of this Coventry parish community – and at the same time the unfolding of some events that have undoubtedly brought their share of confusion, sadness and suffering.
“I know that you will appreciate that I cannot enter here into great detail about all the events or news that have been so disturbing over recent days. But neither can I simply ignore things which will have been before you on the television news or in the Coventry newspapers – because it is never helpful to our spiritual wellbeing to try to block such things out entirely from our prayers. Along with the gifts of bread and wine that we offer in this Mass we need to bring all our concerns into the presence of God.
“As we prepare for the season of Lent beginning this Wednesday, today’s Gospel emphasises that Jesus Christ is the one who brings wholeness and healing into our lives and the lives of all those who suffer as individuals or as communities. Sometimes a wound has to be exposed to the light of day before it can begin to heal.”
Archbishop Longley told the congregation that he was offering the Mass especially for their intentions at a most difficult moment in the life of their parish. He said: “Yet it is also a moment when your witness as a Christian community is more than ever important. It is never easy to be under scrutiny or to know that we are being watched critically by others, and yet it is in these very circumstances that we can reflect most powerfully the love of God that we ourselves have received, and the faith that sustains us.
“This moment offers an opportunity to demonstrate our confidence in Christ’s healing power, our trust in his forgiveness and our own compassion for all those who suffer.
“It is important that we regularly hold in our prayers individuals, families and parish and local communities affected directly or indirectly by any betrayal of trust experienced in the Church. I know that this is well appreciated by the Coventry’s Catholic communities.”
The Archbishop of Birmingham emphasised: “It contradicts the Gospel that anyone should look for the presence of Christ, among us as one who serves, only for their faith in his Church to be undermined. It can be a long and difficult journey to find peace of mind and to build up sufficient confidence once again to approach the Church’s ministers in their search for understanding, spiritual guidance and support.
“It is only right that we expect those who are ordained to reflect the compassionate presence of Jesus among us. I am grateful that the parish communities of Coventry are very rarely disappointed in this expectation.
“Our priests and deacons, together with those in formation at our seminaries wish to follow the Lord’s example by having compassionate feelings for others and by accepting and respecting people’s dignity as Jesus himself did.
“I ask you to pray today for those who have pastoral responsibility in the Church – especially the deacons and priests in the parishes of Coventry – that they may have the strength and wisdom to exercise it under the guidance of the Word of God.”
Archbishop Longley concluded his homily: “During the Papal Visit in September 2010 Pope Benedict XVI remembered the people of Coventry at the beatification of Blessed John Henry Newman. Recalling the seventieth anniversary of the Battle of Britain the Holy Father said: “For me as one who lived and suffered through the dark days of the Nazi regime in Germany, it is deeply moving to be here with you…, and to recall how many of your fellow citizens sacrificed their lives, courageously resisting the forces of that evil ideology. My thoughts go in particular to nearby Coventry, which suffered such heavy bombardment and massive loss of life in November 1940.”
“In the course of his homily the day before in Westminster Cathedral the Holy Father had offered some powerful words which are a comfort to us today and which enable us once again to feel united with him in his own witness to the love of Christ.
“Pope Benedict said: ‘I think of the immense suffering caused by the abuse of children, especially within the Church and by her ministers. Above all, I express my deep sorrow to the innocent victims of these unspeakable crimes, along with my hope that the power of Christ’s grace, his sacrifice of reconciliation, will bring deep healing and peace to their lives. I also acknowledge, with you, the shame and humiliation which all of us have suffered because of these sins; and I invite you to offer it to the Lord with trust that this chastisement will contribute to the healing of the victims, the purification of the Church and the renewal of her age-old commitment to the education and care of young people.’
“Pope Benedict concluded: ‘I express my gratitude for the efforts being made to address this problem responsibly, and I ask all of you to show your concern for the victims and solidarity with your priests.’
Archbishop Bernard Longley added: “May these wise words help us to move forward and witness over the coming weeks and months here in Coventry ever more effectively to the powerful presence of our Lord Jesus Christ in the midst of this parish community of yours which he loves and will always guide.”