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Homily at Penitential Liturgy of Summit on Protection of Minors

The Situation of the Prodigal Son ‘changes as he recognizes himself, and admits to having made a mistake, confesses this to his father, speaks openly about it, and is ready to accept the consequences,’ Reminds President of Ghanaian Bishops’ Conference

Archbishop of Tamale, Philip Naameh, President of the Episcopal Conference of Ghana, gave the homily at the Penitential Celebration which took place at 5:30 this afternoon, in the Sala Regia of the Vatican’s Apostolic Palace, on the third day of the Summit on the Protection of Minors in the Church, Feb. 21-24, 2019. Here is the Vatican-provided text:

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Dear brothers, dear sisters,

The Gospel of the prodigal son is well known to us. We have often recounted it, and often preached about it. It is almost taken for granted in our congregations and communities, to address the sinners and to encourage them to repent. We perhaps already do this so routinely that we forget something important. We readily forget to apply this scripture to ourselves, to see ourselves as we are, namely as prodigal sons.

Just like the prodigal son in the Gospel, we have also demanded our inheritance, got it, and now we are busy squandering it. The current abuse crisis is an expression of this. The Lord has entrusted us with the management of the goods of salvation, he trusts that we will fulfil his mission, proclaim the Good News, and help to establish the kingdom of God. But what do we do? Do we do justice to what is entrusted to us? We will not be able to answer this question with a sincere yes, beyond all doubts. Too often we have kept quiet, looked the other way, avoided conflicts – we were too smug to confront ourselves with the dark sides of our Church. We have thereby squandered the trust placed in us – especially with regard to abuse within the area of responsibility of the Church, which is primarily our responsibility. We have not afforded people the protection they are entitled to, have destroyed hopes, and people were massively violated in both body and soul.

The prodigal son in the Gospel loses everything – not only his inheritance, but also his social status, his good standing, his reputation. We should not be surprised if we suffer a similar fate, if people talk badly about us, if there is distrust toward us, if some threaten to withdraw their material support. We should not complain about this, but instead ask what we should do differently. No one can exempt themselves, nobody can say: but I have personally not done anything wrong. We are a brotherhood, we bear responsibility not only for ourselves, but also for every other member of our brotherhood, and for the brotherhood as a whole.

What must we do differently, and where should we start? Let us look again at the prodigal son in the Gospel. For him, the situation starts to take a turn for the better when he decides to be very humble, to perform very simple tasks, and not to demand any privileges. His situation changes as he recognises himself, and admits to having made a mistake, confesses this to his father, speaks openly about it, and is ready to accept the consequences. In this way, the Father experiences great joy at the return of his prodigal son, and facilitates the brothers’ mutual acceptance.

Can we also do this? Are we willing to do so? The current meeting will reveal this, must reveal this, if we want to show that we are worthy sons of the Lord, our Heavenly Father. As we have heard and discussed today and the previous two days, this includes taking responsibility, demonstrating accountability, and establishing transparency.

There is a long road ahead of us, to actually implement all of this sustainably in an appropriate manner. We have made different progress, and attained different speeds. The current meeting was only one step of many. We should not believe that just because we have begun to change something together, that all difficulties have thereby been eliminated. As with the son who returns home in the Gospel, everything is not yet accomplished – at the very least, he must still win over his brother again. We should also do the same: win over our brothers and sisters in the congregations and communities, regain their trust, and re-establish their willingness to cooperate with us, to contribute to establishing the kingdom of God.

[Vatican-provided text] [Original text: English]

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