My friends,

Scores of Church officials, from the Pope on down, have condemned the terrible sexual and child abuse scandal in Ireland, and its systematic cover-up, for which the Church is responsible.

They may as well have been whispering Latin into a dead microphone.

Until yesterday it seems, no victim of this horrendous episode has heard an apology or a kind word that meant anything to them.

But then came "Mother Mary" -- Irish President Mary McAleese. She asked almost 300 people who had suffered abuse -- many of whom are now in their 70s or 80s -- to her residence in the Phoenix Park, where they would hear her apologize to them on behalf of the people of Ireland.

But her words were far more eloquent and touching than anything anybody has managed, or even imagined:

The invitation to Aras an Uachtaráin today is an expression of the massive public wish to let you know how deeply your stories have struck a chord. For so long your suffering seemed to make strangers of you in your own land. Today, we simply seek to be family to each other, to assert our common care for one another and to acknowledge that what was done to those of you who are survivors of abuse in institutional care, not only damaged your precious lives but diminished our society.

Your experiences are monuments to our failure to cherish our children. Our most precious monument to you has to be our determination to be that Republic where children are cherished equally not just in lofty words but in everyday deeds.

The people of Ireland are desperately sorry for the many ways in which you were not cherished, in the abuse itself, in the silence, in the failure to act, in the failure to listen, hear and believe in time.

In their name, I offer every one here and all those whose little lives were robbed of the joys of childhood our heartfelt sorrow.

There is an old Irish phrase, giorrian beirt bothar – two shorten the road. As you leave here this afternoon, I hope you will feel that the road ahead, while still daunting, has been shortened for each of you in a special way and that where once you were on your own, you now have company that cares.

Many, if not most, in the audience, wept tears of relief and even joy. One said he finally felt proud to be Irish again.

Mary McAleese presided over one of the largest true mass healings I have ever heard of.

But it was not her power or position as President of the Republic that worked this wonder. It was, simply, her. A woman. A mother. This is the power Mary McAleese called upon, and it did not fail.

Who else does a hurt child cry out for? Who else can make the pain go away? Who else can "make it all better?"

Only a mother. It is rightly said that there is no greater love on Earth than a mother's for her children; only God's perfect, changeless, and unchangeable Love for All His Children can be greater.

The male domination of the Church -- partly historical, partly theological, partly Biblical -- is part of the problem in both the crime and the conspiracy of the child abuse scandal. This is why in this case, its words, even those with pure and genuine love and humility, seem so hollow. Especially when compared with the God-given special compassion and empathy of a woman and a mother. I have never seen it so clearly as I have from reading the stories of President McAleese's speech and the overwhelming reaction to it -- both by the attending victims, and by people around the world.

It is perhaps not ironic at all that President McAleese bears the name of the Mother of Humanity, the Mother of Our Lord, the Queen of Heaven: the Blessed Virgin Mary.I still remember the first time I celebrated a Mass which included the Stations of the Cross. For a priest, it is a deeply moving experience to be part of the Passion of Our Lord.

My own dear mother, may she rest in peace -- also named Mary -- was of course there for the occasion. When I came to the Thirteenth Station, which recalls how Jesus was taken down from The Cross and lain in His heartbroken Mother's Arms, I was overcome with emotion as I thought of such unbearable sadness, and had to stop for a few moments to regain my composure.

After the Mass -- which I had wanted to be "perfect" -- I was explaining (perhaps apologizing) to some parishioners why I had faltered.

My mother brushed my hurt away, as only a mother can.

"That's all right, Timmy. You were just fine."

God bless Mary McAleese for the healing she has done, and may God bless all of you!

-- Father Tim

News story: Tears as Irish President apologizes to abuse victims

Photo gallery of Presidential reception for abuse victims