The Most Reverend Bernard Longley, Archbishop of Birmingham, made a special visit to St Giles’ Cheadle, Staffordshire, on Sunday 12 February.
The visit followed the statement made by Archbishop Longley at Cathedral House, Birmingham, on Tuesday, 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 after the 10.30am Mass.
During his homily, Archbishop Bernard Longley said: “It is a year since I was last with you to celebrate Mass here at St Giles and I am grateful to the Parish Priest, Father Sandy Brown, for welcoming me back today. Many things have happened in the intervening year – many events and celebrations that will have brought great joy into the life of this 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 understand and appreciate that it cannot be my purpose in the course of preaching God’s Word during this Mass to enter into great detail about all the events or news that have been so disturbing over recent days. But neither is it helpful to our spiritual wellbeing to try to block such things out entirely from our prayers and our worship in God’s presence.
“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. The leper in St Mark’s Gospel had to come to Jesus and show himself to the Lord before he could be healed. We are strengthened and re-assured when we see the compassion of Christ and his readiness to reach out with his healing touch: Feeling sorry for him, Jesus stretched out his hand and touched him.”
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.”
The Archbishop emphasised: “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.”
Archbishop Longley stressed: “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 the search for 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 our parish communities are very rarely disappointed in this expectation.
“Our priests and deacons, together with those in formation at our seminaries, are motivated by a desire to be like our Lord. They wish to follow his example by having compassionate feelings for others and by reaching out as Jesus did. I ask you to pray today for those who have pastoral responsibility in the Church that they may have the strength and wisdom to exercise it after the mind of Christ himself.”
The Archbishop concluded by quoting from the words given by Pope Benedict XVI during his homily in Westminster Cathedral during the Papal Visit in September 2010, and on the day before he came to Birmingham to beatify Blessed John Henry Newman.
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.’
Archbishop Bernard Longley added: “May these wise words help us to move forward and to witness, ever more effectively, over the coming weeks and months 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.”