I dreaded this morning - I knew that the parish had been thrown into turmoil by my words on the Murphy Report. But I underestimated the generosity and love of my parishioners - I should have known better - I am blessed indeed to have so many great people in our church and in all the churches in this area. It has been a hellish week but at the end of it I feel that despite all the hurt and all the pain it was the right thing to do. Here is my sermon as delivered today:
Sermon – Advent 2 2009
Friends – This will not be a normal sermon – Indeed it is probably not a sermon at all but I owe it to you to explain myself for my statement on the Murphy report and all that followed last week.
I am painfully aware that I have upset and hurt some members of the RC community by my remarks on the report. I have written to Bishop Walsh and his clergy to apologize. That letter is to be carried in next weeks Guardian.
I also embarrassed and upset some of you. I have no idea how many and who, apart from those who have spoken to me, and among those who have come forward it has been a quite mixed response.
However those who are hurt and embarrassed are clearly deeply so and that is a source of huge regret to me. To you I apologize without reservation – It was never my intention but that may be cold comfort at this time. I do hope that with time the hurt will fade but that is something largely beyond my control. I actually seriously considered resigning in the last couple of days such was my distress at the results of my actions last week. I had some very kind calls and messages from a number of people from all sides of the community and only for them I would not be here today. Some were from Survivors of abuse, and they were I think what tipped the balance. And along with this some very hurtful things were said to me by people I consider friends, and I know that a lot of this is rooted in anger and hurt and the heat of the moment, but I like each one of you am human and not without feelings and sensitivity.
Yes I brought it on myself – no argument - Some here may think I deserve it and more? – None of you asked me to raise my head above the parapet and perhaps as some have suggested I would be better off keeping quiet.
Rightly or wrongly that’s not who I am – It never was and I don’t think it ever will be, even after all the horrible aftermath of the last week! It was keeping quiet that allowed children to be brutalized and so many lives destroyed.
Many have said it was not my place – Well whose place is it to speak up for children if it isn’t those of us who call ourselves Christian? Let me remind you what Jesus has to say:
“If any of you put a stumbling block before one of these little ones who believe in me, it would be better for you if a great millstone were hung around your neck and you were thrown into the sea” Mark 9:42
Biblical scholars are united in the belief that Jesus is here talking about either little children or young believers. Either way it is not in the least ambiguous. I am no fundamentalist but that is pretty straightforward. Children are children and abuse is abuse – it doesn’t matter what denomination they are. As Christians we are all responsible for ‘these little ones’
And the Murphy report is not just history – If it was I probably would have remained silent. When I read it, and I did read a large amount of it – I am still reading it – I saw a situation where there is ongoing non-cooperation with the State in child protection by certain individuals in a sister church at the highest level. I read of an explanation of how a lie is not a lie and how it is alright to cover up abusers for the sake of the church. I read of people still in office today who fundamentally failed the children in their care and who those children must still witness today in office without consequence for their failures And I asked serious questions about the whole area of compulsory celibacy because there has to be a reason why statistically there have been so many priest abusers in our sister church compared to other churches and may still be as yet undiscovered.
Yes we have had abusers in our church and while at a lower level it happens and is none the less devastating – And incidentally we all of us have a duty of care if we have any concerns to raise them with the relevant state authorities. If there is anything that can be done to minimize this risk then it should be investigated not simply brushed under the carpet as a subject forbidden to discuss. That is not a luxury any church has – we are all answerable to the law.
That is why I raised the thorny subject of compulsory celibacy. Where children are at risk there is no room for polite tip-toeing around each other. I am sorry for the pain I caused to those who least deserve it but it is nothing to the pain of those who have been brutalized by those who were supposed to be their spiritual guides and protectors and who may be abused in the future. All the child protection legislation is no guarantee of absolute safety. This world is not a safe place but we have a duty as Christians and following the instruction of Jesus to do our very best for ‘these little ones’
I didn’t make my statement to build a platform for myself as somebody suggested to me – indeed my biggest regret in all of this is that I have become a distraction from the important issue of the Survivors – We cannot afford the indulgence of turning this incident into an inter-church war – That would only further diminish these little ones who are our primary responsibility. I am going to read a poem that was sent to me directly this week by a survivor of Artane in Dublin:
A Survivor Responds
Dedicated to every abused adult (where-ever) whose childhood was stolen & to pray there is never another child who becomes another token of this horrible crime.
“The Story of me and Many More, A Child after the before”
I am the sky- whose cloak will not blue
I am the sea- whose tide will not turn
I am the moon- whose silver will not hue
I am the sun- whose orange will not burn
I am the day- whose light will not bright
I am the night- whose darkness will not light
I am the tree- whose root is dead
I am the flower- without a head
I am the fish- whose fins will not breathe
I am the bird- who will not eat seed
I am the scab- that just will not heal
I am the neural- that just cannot feel
I am a smile - that remains frozen
I am a choice- that was never chosen
I am a year — without a season
I am a reason - without a reason
I am a whisper - that cannot vibrate
I am a scream - that cannot migrate
I am a prison - whose cell will not open
I am the cell - where space is so choking
I am a house - that has no foundation
I am a country - without a nation
I am the hell - that is in my centre
I am the heaven — that has no banter
I am Christmas - without its infant
I am a gift box - without its present
I am the present — that is now past
I am the past - that is now present
I am a heart - without a soul
I am the secret - never told
I was lost - and still not found
I was frightened - no solace around
I am a curse - no man can swear
I am the abused - no one was there
I done no crime -1 served a dictum
I done no wrong — I am a victim
I was the wrong - that was never right
I was defenceless -1 could not fight
I was that child - who was un-nurtured
I am the man- that still is tortured
(To the Lucky ones who escaped this ordeal)
I am a child abused- a man confused
Just one of many- that were used
To you all - who escaped this ordeal?
If you were I -that is how it would feel?
To be a CHILD ABUSED
I was a Child once like many more
Then someone came and closed that Door
Since then I just gave up hoping
That it would ever again open
You SEE I am a CHILD ABUSED.
With a Title I didn’t choose
And when I became that abused child
That was the last day of my “Life”…!!!
Oh yes, to others it seemed like I had life
But inside, I was never really ever, “Alive”!
I somehow still believe there is a God
But ask over & over "Where the Hell he was"?
When I was a child being "Abused"!
Like so many others being "Abused"!
I am the parent of a child who will be forever vulnerable,
The parent of a child who will always be a child.
The parent of a child who will one day be alone in this world when Nicola and I are dead and gone
A child who may one day be in the care of those I will never meet
And if so, I hope there are people there who will speak and act without looking over their shoulder to protect him and others like him. I may not be able to help my son then but I make no apology for speaking for others who were and are the most treasured gift that any of us can ever receive – a child.