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 CNS Story:

OCONNOR-PRIESTS Jun-15-2010 (680 words) xxxi

English cardinal cites past mistake, says he wants to help remove abuse

By Simon Caldwell
Catholic News Service

LONDON (CNS) -- An English cardinal severely criticized for his mishandling of a pedophile priest said he has become a "wounded healer" who aimed to help rid the Catholic Church of the evil of child abuse.

Cardinal Cormac Murphy-O'Connor, retired archbishop of Westminster, told Irish priests gathered at St. Patrick's College in Maynooth, near Dublin, that his ministry as a bishop was marred by a single mistake made in the 1990s while he was bishop of Arundel and Brighton, in southern England.

"The things I remember about my life as a priest are not the successes but rather the failures, and one particular and painful failure occurred 10 years ago when, owing to my grave mishandling of a priest who was an abuser, I was attacked and vilified for nearly two years," the cardinal said in a June 15 speech at Ireland's national seminary and pontifical university.

"How well I remember the feelings of failure and isolation and shame, not so much for myself but for my family, my diocese, for the Catholic people of England and Wales who, to a certain extent, felt the shame of my own failure and of child abuse in general," he said.

"But I also began to understand in a new way, by talking with victims, the pain and grave damage done to them," he said. "I say this to show, I suppose, that I myself am not free from blame but have had to learn from mistakes to become, as someone described it, a wounded healer.

"From that experience I learned yet again to pray for perseverance, obedience to my vocation, and of suffering in a way which I did not expect and which, in the end, brought some positive benefit because of the national safeguarding policies, procedures and structures which are now in place and used in all our parishes and dioceses in England and Wales."

He referred to his appointment of Father Michael Hill as chaplain to Gatwick Airport, near London, despite receiving credible allegations against him.

Father Hill went on to abuse again, and one of his victims was a 14-year-old boy confined to a wheelchair because he had cerebral palsy. The priest was later jailed for five years.

In May, Pope Benedict XVI named the 77-year-old cardinal, who was born in England to Irish parents, as one of nine apostolic visitors to Ireland after a series of clerical abuse scandals.

He has been given responsibility for the Archdiocese of Armagh, Northern Ireland, historically seen as the most pre-eminent of the four Irish archdioceses.

The cardinal said he was invited as a guest speaker to Maynooth Union 2010 -- a celebration bringing together the "jubilee classes" of priests ordained in 1950, 1960 and 1985, along with many others -- before his appointment.

He told the priests that their sense of loss, betrayal and mistrust was nothing compared to suffering of the victims of abuse.

He also invited his audience to learn from St. Luke's Gospel account of the "road to Emmaus," when Jesus mysteriously accompanied two disciples mourning his crucifixion.

The cardinal explained how the story suggested that hope and renewal could grow from shame and devastation.

"My sense is that we are on that same road as those disciples," said Cardinal Murphy-O'Connor.

"Though the recent revelations about child abuse and the failure at so many levels of the church's leadership can make it difficult, I believe we can have confidence in the road that we are walking," he said.

"I want to assure you, there is the joy of resurrection after suffering and death," he added.

The cardinal said it was clear that the church could not repeat the "formulas of the past" that had given rise to the abuse crisis.

"Some have spoken of this time as the 'dark night' of the church in Ireland," he said. "Yet, painful though the dark night is, we know it is also a time of learning; a time of purifying and of trusting. In the dark night, all we have is our faith that God has not abandoned us."


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