The last time I attended mass – the Sunday before the report of the commission on child abuse in the Dublin diocese was released – the priest told the assembled faithful about a website that instructed people about how to leave the Catholic Church, www.countmeout.ie.
As is often the way with homilies or sermons, several weeks after the hearing you can remember anecdotes from the message but fail to recall what point the speaker was making. Much as I rack my brain now, I can’t remember the point he was trying to make, although I do know he was not recommending that all those assembled exit the Catholic fold!
Exiting or abandoning the Catholic Church has become a popular choice for people in Ireland disillusioned with the widespread abuse, and subsequent cover-up, of children by priests in parishes and schools. I am not Irish, and I am not Catholic, but I am married to an Irish Catholic who has simply refused to walk round the corner to attend Sunday mass for the past two weeks. He was never abused by a priest and doesn’t personally know anyone who was abused. Not even the lure of a very good choir singing Christmas carols has been enough to entice him.
I don’t have any strong institutional attachment to the Catholic Church. But as someone who identifies as a Christian it makes me ashamed to see the way my fellow Christians, in positions of leadership, not only abused the most vulnerable but then contrived to put the welfare of their institution above the welfare of human beings.
Wednesday’s apology and plea for forgiveness from the bishops of the Irish Catholic Church may be a start, but to me it doesn’t seem radical enough. Maybe it is easy for an ‘outsider’ like me, a ‘Protestant’ no less, to complain that the church could and should do something more concrete to atone for the abuse. Get rid of the leadership that allowed this to happen. Voluntarily surrender control of the schools. Let the leaders abstain from mass for a period of time, or declare a national day of mourning for the victims. Rather than an arid apology read by bishops far away, I think the church could devise a meaningful liturgy of repentance in parishes all around Ireland.
Count me out? I think many Irish Catholics will stay if they can see a humbler, less hierarchical Catholic Church at work in this nation. But whether the church leadership recognises this is another matter.