Pastoral Letter from Bishop Toal

Pastoral Letter from Bishop Toal

To view this Pastoral Letter as a PDF document click here.

From the Rt. Rev. Joseph Toal STB KC*HS
Apostolic Administrator
Diocese of Motherwell


Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

I wish you every blessing as we begin 2014 as we pray today for peace throughout the world.

As we celebrate the Feast of the Epiphany I ask your continued prayers for the choice of a new bishop for the Diocese of Motherwell. As we ponder today the visit of the wise men to the child Jesus in Bethlehem, we pray that the new Bishop will be a holy priest, able to make wise decisions for the benefit of all in the Diocese. It will indeed be a challenging task and your care and prayerful support for the bishop will be essential.

The ministry of the bishop is fundamental in every diocese — he is the successor of the apostles and so continues the apostolic ministry as mandated by Our Lord Jesus Christ. He shares this apostolic ministry with his priests, and also the ministry of service and pastoral care with his deacons. The Bishop is represented in each parish therefore by the priests and deacons and all that they do flows from their ordination by the bishop and their communion with him in the ordained ministry. Any sense therefore that a parish priest works independently of his bishop is mistaken, and it really matters that each parish fosters a sense of unity and community with the Diocese, particularly in the person of the bishop. It is necessary then that a sense of communal effort and sharing between the parishes remains strong and the temptation towards isolationism and “doing our own thing” is resisted.

When I met with the diocesan priests after becoming Apostolic Administrator in May last year I was made aware of how troubled and distressed they felt by the publication of Fr Matthew Despard’s book, Crisis in the Priesthood. Through the succeeding months I have often heard of further concern and anxiety for those named or referred to in this book, both clergy and laity. It has been necessary for me to support those whose integrity has been questioned in this publication, and to continue the canonical process initiated by Bishop Devine through which Fr Despard’s actions in publishing this book will be judged. Having given the matter a lot of thought and prayer, and being aware of the distress within the Diocese, I decided that Fr Despard should be required to stand down from his parochial duties, live outside his parish, and not be permitted to carry out any public ministry while his case is being dealt with by the Scottish Inter-Diocesan Tribunal. Fr Despard fmds it difficult to accept this and indeed questions my authority to take any action in his regard. In reply to that I believe that the Holy See, in view of the distress in the Diocese, chose to appoint a Bishop as Apostolic Administrator when Bishop Devine’s retirement was accepted rather than allow the election of a Diocesan Administrator from among the Diocesan priests. This was done so that the Bishop chosen would have the authority to make the difficult decisions necessary for the good of the Diocese. I have tried to carry out the responsibilities given to me, and continue to ask Fr Despard to do what I have requested. I would ask those who continue to support him to prevail upon him to obey my instructions, and in particular to cooperate fully in assisting Fr Nolan as Administrator of St John Ogilvie’s Parish, High Blantyre.

In bringing this matter to your attention I have used the word distress a number of times and I acknowledge the distress and pain we have felt, particularly during the past year, in regard to revelations about sexual misconduct and abusive behaviour by some Scottish clergy and religious. Further allegations, and the subsequent extensive reporting, may well arise and we will continue to suffer with those whose pain is made known to us and to carry a heavy cross as Catholics in Scotland. This is our lot at present and we must turn to the Lord continually to sustain us in difficult times and to guide us- by the Holy Spirit both in acknowledging past failures and in facing the future cleansed and renewed by his grace. As Pope Francis so powerfully tells us we must know the Lord Jesus personally and allow the Joy of the Gospel to pervade our hearts and our lives and all that we do in his name.

I make a special plea to you all on behalf of the priests who continue to serve you faithfully across the parishes of this Diocese. Please continue to love and support them, so that they continue to be encouraged and enthused in their ministry on your behalf. It is wrong to assume or to imply that all priests are suspect because of the failings of a few and it is necessary to uphold and defend the good name of our priests. Please be careful in jumping to conclusions and accepting at face value all that is printed or made public in the media. Freedom of speech is a necessary part of living in society but it has to be supported by regard for the truth and the proper protection of others’ good name and character. Of course as bishops, priests and deacons we have been made strongly aware in recent times that we must be faithful to the vocation gifted to us by the Lord and live our lives fully in accord with what we have received and’the responsibilities that come with it. This is not always easy, and our lives, like others, can be marked by sin and failure, so our own trust in the mercy of God and the forgiveness of our brothers and sisters is a necessary foundation for our ministry of reconciliation and healing in the Lord’s name. I ask your prayers for all who share in the sacred ministry that we may be faithful and holy men, humble servants of the Lord, who give our lives to him and his people trusting that he continues to work through the earthenware vessels he has chosen.

With my prayers for you all and renewed good wishes for the times ahead.
Yours in the Lord,
+ Joseph Toal
Apostolic Administrator of Motherwell Diocese.

Diocesan Centre, Coursington Road, Motherwell. ML 11 PP
T: 01698-269114
Scottish Registered Charity No. SCO1 1041

To view this Pastoral Letter as a PDF document click Here

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