The abuse of children in the care of the Catholic Church is a tragedy. The way the Irish Catholic Church has dealt with the abuse is descending ever more rapidly into farce.
It’s been a tough week for the church, as revelations have emerged about clergy in high places devising oaths of secrecy and pay-offs to keep abused children quiet, and then defending those actions. This gives the impression of a church whose top priority is protecting its own institutional reputation. It seems willing to apologise only after it has been caught.
Today Donal McKeown, the auxiliary Bishop of Down and Connor, has said that he is certain that more abuse cases will emerge. This is undoubtedly so. It is also undoubtedly the case that the slow, one scandalous story per day way in which these cases are coming to public attention has been disastrous for the church leadership. Bishop McKeown says,
"I think whatever the truth is it has got to come out and the sooner it comes out the better."
"We have got to handle the truth, because it is the only way for people to get any sort of healing."
Thus far, the way the Church has reacted to the scandals has done more to wound than to heal.
A prime example of this is the defence of the Church’s actions given by Monsignor Maurice Dooley on the Tuesday edition of the BBC’s Talk Back with William Crawley. When Crawley said that it was the responsibility of everyone in society to protect children, Dooley essentially said that no, this was not the case. He also said that the children and parents in the case in question could have gone to the police, but that the institutional church was not obliged to.
In my post on this blog on Sunday, I asked if we had lost our capacity to be shocked by the scandals in the Irish Catholic Church. Personally, I was beginning to move from shock to a general dismayed acceptance. But this interviewed shocked me. It can still be heard here (scroll forward 30 min).
Yesterday Dooley’s bishop, Dermot Clifford, Archbishop of Cashel & Emly and Apostolic Administrator of the Diocese of Cloyne, distanced the church from Dooley’s remarks and said he would not be commenting again on the matter. But the damage has already been done.
I agree with Bishop McKeown’s idea that the truth should be revealed. This is slightly different from his statement that it will be revealed.
McKeown has recognised that the stories are going to keep coming. The Catholic Church can keep reacting to them in a defensive and an increasingly farcical way. Or, perhaps, it can choose to take the lead in revealing the truth and providing some solace to the victims. The Pope’s promised pastoral letter to the Irish faithful will be read in masses this Sunday, but it remains to be seen if this will contain the commitment to meaningful action that so many Irish Catholics crave.
Writing in today’s Irish Independent, John Cooney recognises this, arguing that the Church must break its ‘addiction to secrecy’.
Putting aside potential legal or criminal aspects of the abuse cases, it would not require a lot of creativity to convert already existing church structures, such as parish pastoral councils, into forums where victims could hear the truth from the clerics – rather than being subjected to defensive statements from senior clerics mediated through the press. This just might provide them with some support in dealing with their pain.
Of course, it may already be too late for many victims to be willing to take the risk of going back to their church to seek acknowledgement, justice and healing.