The Irish Catholic Church has counted the cost of its abuse scandals. And it is now it is prepared to ask its parishioners to pay for it. Yesterday the Bishop of Ferns Denis Brennan asked that parishioners – the everyday Catholics who have endured the scandal inflicted on their church by their leaders – to ‘pay €60,000 a year between them for 20 years towards compensation bills.’ A spokesman for the Bishop of Killaloe Willie Walsh has also said he would consider such a step, if short on cash.
This has prompted understandable outrage among victims, survivors, their supporters, and ordinary citizens. On his blog, Colm O’Gorman, founder of the One in Four victims group, writes,
[The church] has some nerve. Surely it recognises that it alone should pay for the consequences of its negligence, even if that means the sale of all its assets, including the Bishops Palace?
Better yet, if the Vatican is serious about the survival of the Catholic Church in Ireland, let it dip into its reserves. The people of the Diocese have paid enough and suffered enough because of Church failures. When I sued the Church, it was the hierarchy I pursued, not the people who sit in the pews. At a time when most families are struggling to make ends meet, the Church should stump up for its own failures.
Writing in today’s Irish Independent, child protection expert Shane Dunphy recalls his experiences growing up in Ferns, and the devastating effect this had on friends of his who were abused by priests. He expresses similar disgust at this proposition,
As I write this, I still see [my friend’s] face and feel him beside me shaking with terror. Mike was a boarder in St Peter’s. How many nights did he lie awake, terrified of what might happen to him? How many letters did he write home, begging not to have to stay another awful day in a place where predators stalked the hallways?
Bishop Brennan and his comrades suggest that [my friend’s] family might like to make a contribution to their war chest. I think it is sickening and shameful that they should even dream of such a thing. Some say that the church in Ferns may go bankrupt without help. I say let it. Perhaps going back to the days of the Mass Rocks might teach them some humility.
It is difficult to see how such a callous request for cash, from a hierarchy that is increasingly viewed with distrust and disdain, can do anything to foster healing and reconciliation within the Irish Catholic Church itself.
I find myself shaking my head in despair and wondering if some of the leaders of the church have any idea how the abuse and their handling of it have torn apart the lives of the victims? Beyond that, do they understand how this has damaged the faith even of those who have not been victims, but still want to believe that the Church embodies the good news of the gospel of Jesus Christ?