I have lived in Cloughjordan for over eleven years and one of the things that makes me want to stay here is the tremendous amount of ecumenical goodwill and cooperation throughout the wider Christian community.
I know I have hurt and angered many Roman Catholics by what I have said in recent days following the publication of the Murphy Report. I apologize unreservedly for doing so. It was not my intention though I feared it was inevitable. However that does not absolve me from the need to say I am sorry for the hurt I have caused, especially to the vast majority of my Roman Catholic sisters and brothers who are already so hurt and horrified by the findings of the Murphy Report. Neither do I seek to become a distraction from what must be the focus of this report and that is the survivors. They are who this is about, not my pride or any high moral ground that some might think I seek to occupy.
So, why did I get involved in this? Why like most representatives of other churches did I not maintain a polite silence?
The principal reason was out of a genuine concern for the survivors which must be paramount. They are not just the business or the concern of Roman Catholics. All Irish citizens be they Catholic, Protestant, Jew or Muslim, Atheist or Agnostic have a responsibility to them. We owe it to them to make sure that no institution, religious or secular is allowed to do this ever again. My own church incidentally is not blameless in this area and in all I have said I would never want to suggest otherwise.
The second reason I felt the compulsion to speak out may surprise some in the light of all I have said. It is my love for the Roman Catholic Church and so many of its people priests, lay and religious. I have said it before in other forums that I owe my priestly vocation primarily to the support and nurture of members of that Church. I would especially point to a very formative period in my faith journey when I attended Gortnor Abbey Co-ed Convent in Crossmolina Co. Mayo. There the Sisters of Jesus & Mary modeled open and inclusive Christian Community in a way that left a lasting impression on me. They have been with me throughout my journey and took up the front row of Christ Church cathedral at my Ordination. Their sense of vocation and outreach beyond denominational boundaries has been a huge influence on my ministry.
There are so many others I could mention but please understand that in the light of my experience I couldn’t contemplate ‘kicking’ the Roman Catholic Church at any time (As the Irish Catholic newspaper alledged) and especially now. I consider the Roman Catholic Church as a sister Church – Yes there are differences and ongoing pain in that relationship due to the ban on Eucharistic hospitality and the official position of the Roman Catholic Church which is that as an Anglican priest my orders are ‘null and void’. But it is not all one sided. To my continuing shame we in the Church of Ireland have still failed to distance ourselves from the historic but deeply sectarian ‘39 Articles of Religion’ which are published in all our prayer books, and to which all those ordained must subscribe (I crossed my fingers when I had to subscribe to them as do many but that is not enough – they should be consigned to history where they belong).
But for all our problems I see our churches as friends. Relationships on the ground where it really matters are excellent in most cases and increasingly we are working side by side in a new Ireland which has less and less time for Christian disunity and recognizes it for the scandal that it is. And yes, churches should as the editorial in the ‘Irish Catholic’ suggested ‘offer support and prayers’ to each other in difficult times. But how do we best support one another? Is it by polite silence or is it by speaking openly and honestly to a friend? Surely the days of ‘Tea-cup ecumenism’ and the forced politeness that went with it are dead? I hope so. I hope our relationships have matured beyond that. I believe they have and that is why I felt I could speak as I did.
I want the Roman Catholic Church to triumph over this Cancer that is destroying it because Ireland needs a vibrant and effective Roman Catholic Church whose integrity is unquestioned. And so I made comments about the role of the Nuncio in obstructing the enquiry and about the primacy of survivors. I asked questions about the possible role of compulsory celibacy and a morality that can excuse lying to protect abusers. I highlighted these issues because I honestly believe that they are issues the Roman Catholic Church must address if it is not to be destroyed by militant secularists and sectarian bigots (some to my shame from my own Church of Ireland) who will unlike me happily dance on its grave. I believe it is that serious and as a friend I am not going to sit back and let it happen.
Yours with genuine regret for the hurt I have caused. Stephen