Greenhill Road, Coleraine, N. Ireland, BT51 3JE
31st March 2006
Very Rev Dr S. Hegarty
St Eugene’s Cathedral
Dear Dr Hegarty,
In the course of our evaluation of our meeting with you on March 10th a number of questions arose to which we do not know the answers. The first is this:
1. In the event of someone known to us requesting pastoral care relating to incidents
of clerical child sex abuse, to whom in your recommendation should we refer
You will be aware, I’m sure, of the difficulty that many survivors have in approaching parish clergy, or indeed any clergy, in this regard. This is surely one of the reasons that survivors are often permanently lost to the church altogether.
As events last year publicly raised questions that are still unanswered in relation to the organisation ‘NEST’, it is not clear to us that the diocese has any pastoral outreach to victims to which we could confidently refer them – and to which we could also point as evidence that the programme declared in ‘Towards Healing’ is ongoing in the diocese.
Can you help us in this regard?
With a view to raising confidence that ‘Towards Healing’ is indeed meeting with a substantive response in the diocese, further questions arise out of your declaration to us that there exists a pastoral council for the diocese. As no such structure is mentioned in the diocesan directory, and as none of us has ever head of it, can you tell us:
2. When did the diocesan pastoral council last meet?
3. Who are its chairperson and members?
4. Has it at any stage since February 2005 addressed the programme outlined in
‘Towards Healing’ with a view to implementation in the diocese?
5. Does it have in hand a pastoral development plan for the diocese?
6. If so, could we please have a copy?
Subsequent to our meeting with you we discovered the following recommendation from Pope John Paul II to the Irish bishops on their last Ad Limina visit in 1999:
“There is likewise a need for new forms of prayer and apostolate, new structures and programmes that help to build a greater sense of belonging to the ecclesial community, a new flourishing of associations and movements capable of showing the perennial youth of the Church and of being a genuine leaven in society. Your personal closeness is needed in supporting and guiding already existing associations of the faithful, many of which have extraordinary merits in the life of the Church in Ireland, as well as the new groups and movements which the Holy Spirit is constantly generating in the Church in response to changing needs.”
We wish to place on record our conviction that the continuing absence of ‘structures of belonging’ in this diocese seven years after the pope’s recommendation (notwithstanding, for example, the ‘Ministry and Change’ process and recommendations), is a profound tragedy. It necessarily evokes a reflection on the many references in St Matthew’s Gospel to the questions and penalties we may all suffer for unfruitfulness.
(On behalf of the executive
committee of VotF Ulster)