The truth is that the long struggle of survivors to be heard and respected by church authorities has revealed a culture within the Church that many would simply describe as unchristian. People do not recognise the gentle, endless love of the Lord in narrow interpretations of responsibility and a basic lack of compassion and humility. This has been profoundly dispiriting for all who care about the Church. As I stated in my contribution at the recent gathering of Irish Bishops with the Holy Father - 'Let us be clear, our failures have damaged our people's faith and the strength of our witness'.
The truth is also that the Church is 'at the same time holy and always in need of being purified, always follows the way of penance and renewal' (Lumen Gentium 8). I believe the spiritual well-being of the People of God demands that this principle of the Church as always in need of reform, which was embraced at the Second Vatican Council, should again come to the forefront of Church life. I believe, as I said at the recent Vatican gathering 'that the goal should be a new fellowship (cf. Acts 4:32-37); a deeper sharing of the mission that transcends the kind of clerical culture that led us here.'
In his Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, as well as stressing the need for justice for survivors, Pope Benedict called for 'a new vision... to inspire present and future generations'. Baroness Nuala O'Loan, who addressed two subsequent open forums in our diocese, surely spoke for many when she said such a vision 'must involve an open, transparent, accountable Church... valuing each person as made in the image of God'. I believe that there is a tremendous wellspring of support for her conviction that 'walking away from our Church is not an option' and that, although 'working to reform it is going to involve a long and hard road... it is one which we must and can walk'.
As I recounted at the Chrism Mass in Holy Week, this fidelity and commitment is being lived out in a real and active way by members of the Church every day. I think of all the inspiring deeds of so many in our diocese - in pre-sacramental programmes, on school boards, in youth ministry, in our work with Trocaire, as part of our annual diocesan 'Reach Out' initiatives, in our Polish and African chaplaincies, in liturgy groups, in church choirs, in care for the aged, in bereavement groups, and in all the countless other acts of Christian kindness carried out unseen.
As I leave office today, this will be my abiding memory of my time as Bishop of Kildare & Leighlin - the witness of faith, hope and love in which we have been able to share in so many ways as the People of God, laity, religious and clergy, in this diocese. I offer my heartfelt thanks to one and all. It has been a privilege to serve among you these past eight years and to be part of all this.
I have every confidence that the diocese will continue on this path and rise to the challenges that lie ahead. In this season of Easter we are inspired by the account of the early Church's proclamation of the Good News of the Risen Lord in the Acts of the Apostles. The Holy Spirit who strengthened and unified those first believers is still at work in our day. I would like to end as I began eight years ago at the time of my installation with this prayer for the Diocese of Kildare & Leighlin:
Lord, bless the faith community which traces its origins to Brigid, Conleth and Laserian.
May it be outstanding in charity as St. Brigid was,
may it be constant in faith as St. Conleth of Old Connell,
wise and prayerful as St. Laserian of Leighlin.
Bless its Bishop, priests, religious and laity;
fill them with the light of your love.
Bless its young people; help them to seek your truth.
Bless all who are poor or weak or wounded by life's hurts;
grant them justice, light and hope.
Sin e ar ngui tre Criost ar dTiarna, Amen.