It is the eve of Advent Sunday as I put these thoughts together – A day on which we are called upon to ‘cast away the works of darkness and to put on the armour of light’. It could hardly be more appropriate in the aftermath of the Murphy Report which is surely a tale of darkness and depravity almost unparalleled in our nation’s history. We must indeed cast away these ‘works of darkness’ but that is not enough; we must ‘put on the armour of light’, i.e. we must do whatever needs to be done to protect the most vulnerable from those who would prey on them and those despicable individuals who would cover their sordid tracks.
So where do we start?
Starting at the top, we should expel the Papal Nuncio who along with his colleagues in the Vatican, including the Pope and his predecessors has demonstrated absolute contempt for the legal authorities of this State. They have actively frustrated and subverted the criminal investigation of clerical child abuse through non-cooperation and non-disclosure. This has undoubtedly delayed the uncovering of abusers and meant that many more young vulnerable lives have been damaged and in some cases destroyed. If any other nation’s representatives had facilitated this we would have no qualms about sending them packing. Our actions now will demonstrate whether this state has truly broken free from the shackles of the Vatican.
Anyone named in the report, be they cardinal, bishop, priest or lay, garda or civilian, should be investigated and where evidence of criminal behaviour or neglect is found they must be prosecuted, not for the sake of revenge, but for justice, in particular justice for those who paid the ultimate price at the hands of these vile abusers.
The ‘formation’ of priests will have to be investigated – If there is something inherent in it that has bred so many abusive clergy then that needs to be identified and challenged. My own church, the Church of Ireland, part of the Anglican Communion is not immune to clerical child abuse but it is far less prevalent and has been at broadly similar levels to that in society as a whole. I have a strong suspicion that the high incidence in the Roman Catholic church is not unrelated to compulsory celibacy – Whether these deviant individuals are attracted to a boys only club with access to vulnerable children or perhaps that the repression of sexuality within the priesthood leads to such twisted manifestations of sexual behaviour I am not sure – I suspect both are factors. This is not an excuse however – There is no excuse for this abominable crime.
In the light of what has happened the church can no longer simply say they are forbidden to talk about priestly celibacy! If this discipline contributes in any way to the situation it is certainly not of God. Historically it was not primarily theological but pragmatic reasons that led to the discipline of compulsory celibacy in the Roman Church and it only became universal in the 12th Century. It may need a radical rethink!
Similarly if there is something in that same formation that supports and reinforces the culture of silence that has sheltered abusers then that too needs to be determined. If the concept of ‘Mental Reservation’, used by Cardinal Connell to justify lying about abusers to civil authorities, is as mainstream in so called Catholic Moral Theology as it now appears one would have to wonder just how moral that theology is. It seems to me that morality has been supplanted by a perverted legalism that is not so much immoral as amoral.
Up till now I have been reluctant to comment on this issue in a sister church – As a convinced and committed ecumenist, which I still am, I did not want to be seen to be point scoring, but this is to serious to hold back for fear of jeopardising friendships. The deliberate and systematic cover up is inexcusable and a complete betrayal of children and the Gospel – Incidentally I think the disconnect is not remotely as prevalent on the ground among the parish clergy – The problem seems to be at higher levels where some bishops have not only let down children but also the vast majority of clergy who were not abusers and now find themselves tarred with the same brush.
We are very lucky in this diocese of Killaloe where I am based to have a Roman Catholic bishop of the stature of Bishop Willie Walsh who has consistently represented the marginalised and put them first – He understands that the role of the church is on the margins not dominating and controlling society. Christianity and power don’t mix! That is another lesson that all the churches, my own included have to take on board. We are called to be ‘not of this world’ which does not mean that we are above the law and a law onto ourselves but rather that we are called to minister to those who this world would hurt and destroy. Ironically in a selfish attempt to hold onto a power that should never have been held by the church, some have destroyed those who they were entrusted to protect. I can only hope and pray that this is truly the end of this tragic chapter in our nation’s history – firstly for the sake of children who of their nature remain vulnerable regardless of child protection policies, and secondly for a church which set free from its bondage to power could do so much more good among those who have been marginalised in so many ways in our world today.
This post referenced in Irish Times today in article by Patsy McGarry: HERE
And also on RTE Drivetime 30/11/09 HERE approx 55 mins in from beginning of show
Nuncio responds Here