Irish Catholic Church and Sex Abuse: Tragedy & Farce

image 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.

One Response to Irish Catholic Church and Sex Abuse: Tragedy & Farce

  1. Tim Moore March 20, 2010 at 12:44 pm #

    Now that the Pastoral Letter to the Faithful of Ireland has been published, I find no surprises, although they tried, by announcing an Apostolic Visitation by the Pope to Ireland. The inevitable, yet welcome, apologies and condemnations have been made, and some emphasis has been made on reporting crimes to relevant state authorities and adhering to canon law.

    There is still much left unsaid about how the Catholic Church will deal with the years of cover-up which has is coming to light not just in Ireland, but numerous other countries, particularly the Pope’s native Germany.

    Here are just a few things that stood out for me in the letter:

    Urgent action was mentioned a few times in the letter, yet this was explained mostly in terms of continued and increased prayer, eucharistic adoration, and acts of penitence. There is no “concrete initiative” to increase lay participation or make any other changes to Church governance.

    The Pope urges Bishops that “only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church”. Nothing is said of the much-discussed reform of diocesan boundaries. Neither is anything specific said of releasing archived information on past cases of cover-up, or co-operating with civil law enforcement agencies in investigating crimes, which will dampen the excruciating drip-feed of new abuse allegations.

    Some may praise the Pope’s decision to address children and young people directly, yet I found the Pontiff’s explanation that it is in the organs of the Church that “you will find Jesus Christ” and “He will never betray your trust” rather hollow and distasteful.

    Benedict XVI tells of his apparent willingness to meet with victims of abuse. I hope that abuse survivors will see this take place soon. Yet His Holiness goes on to refer to previous encounters with victims of abuse. Does this add or take away value to the meeting with Irish victims? Is the Pope conveying that he’s heard it all before? If so, why was there no action to expose cover-up and work with civil authorities back then?

    The Pontiff explains that a major contributing factor to the current crisis is society’s favouring of the clergy. I disagree with this and question the Pope’s ability to assert this. It looks like an attempt to relativise the Church’s role in creating the crisis. It also begs the question of why the Church failed to address the apparent problem of society’s veneration of priests and religious.

    To return to the blog post, I believe that most people have formed an opinion on the Catholic Church in the light of recent scandals.

    I don’t feel that the Letter itself or further unpicking of the Pope’s words in the media and the blogosphere over the coming days will do much to change people’s minds. At best it buys more time for the hierarchy of the Church under fire.

    I feel that the energy spent discussing the scandals is now better spent supporting survivors of abuse in their action for change.

    The situation is indeed tragic. I emphasise again how much I believe the current scandal compromises the mission not only of millions of faithful, sincere Catholics, but also of all people of faith in the Christian tradition – and even beyond.

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