Sunday, 6 December 2009

The Sunday After......

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?

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
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.


D&E Harding said...

we admire you for speaking your mind and standing up for the truth.Perhaps more now will come outand tell the truth. Please no more talk of resignation.D&E Hardng

Stephen Neill said...

Thanks guys :-)
I'm staying put!

Póló said...

Shame on those who have driven you to bad thoughts of resignation. You are needed more than ever.

You are not only a pastor but a citizen and a parent and you have the right and the obligation to speak up for your flock, your family, and your fellow citizens.

You have taken a courageous, and restrained, stand, from the best of motives and you deserve the support of every right thinking person in this State.

Shame on the extremists in your own confession who attempt to undermine you. Shame on those of the RC persuasion who criticise you. The issue here is abuse, not institutional delicacy or, as you put it, tip toeing around the issues.

You are an inspiration to all of us. I do not share your faith but I salute your courage and concern. Would that there were more sermons like this in RC churches this Sunday, instead of vacillating rubbish from certain bishops.

May the force be with you. Your son will thank you for it when he is of an age to realise what his father stands for.

Vince said...

The only real worry I had re. you commenting was that it might have caused a double-tap turn where they are facing you with daggers drawn. It needed a while for the full impact to enter the minds of many people and I'm glad to say and see that we as a Nation can see beyond semi-sectarian differences.

Joc Sanders said...

Enough with apologies, Stephen! You are a good man, who spoke as you felt called to do. May we all get on with the job of consoling and supporting, both victims and those whose faith is sorely damaged!

Lorna said...

I would have hoped that people had the intelligence to recognise that you were not attacking any particular church but simply the acts by some people within what happened to be a Roman Catholic Church that practiced celibacy for its priests. It is a shame that so much has been made of this rather than concentrating on those who were guilty of such heinous crimes - those who committed them and those who condoned it.
Personally I'd like to see them all tarred and feathered etc but that is me speaking as a protective mother who can't abide any innocent child being hurt in any way.
We are a democracy - we have civil liberties and free speech. We should be able to call a spade a spade.
Well done Stephen, you have my admiration, for what you said initially and for your many blog posts and sermon on the subject.

Póló said...

Time for a little light relief. This is a piece I got more than 20 years ago and it is neat.

The only weakness in it, and one I was very conscious of at the time, was the Protestantism quip, but, not being a Protestant, I couldn't think of an appropriate one. Any commenters here with a better one and I will insert it?

And if that doesn't do it for you, try this one. My heart is really in this one.

Grannymar said...


I admire you for what you did. I should have told you at the time, but life interfered.

I was born into and raised in an RC family. Several of my relations were 'in the church'. My schooling was not a time I like to dwell on as I was a slow learner, a late developer, undersized and under weight. The nuns saw fit to pick on me at every hands turn causing physical (non-sexual) and mental torture for me. The scars are still deep in my soul, I can only imagine the torture in the souls of those sexually abused so abominably.

Unfortunately in my young days ‘Clergy’ were placed on pedestals beyond reproach. Children, if they dared to speak up, received further punishment for their complaints.

If a bus full of children were physically injured by a drunk driver and you spoke up, I bet the calls to your Rectory would be of support, why then are they of descent because the guilty wear their collars backwards?


I support you Stephen, and pray for God’s Blessing on your Ministry.


gaelikaa said...

Me too! Good for you! Never, ever be afraid to speak your mind!

Anonymous said...

What comes accross in your responses is your very big heart stephen.

If we never made mistakes what need for grace?

God bless,


Stephen Neill said...

Póló, Vince, Lorna, Joc, Marie, Gaelikka, K2 - Again thanks for all the recent comments - have been slow to respond as Nicki and I were in new York for a few days R & R - great timing it was ;-)Things have quietened down here thankfully and even most of those who took what I said as a peersonal attack have come round. I did appreciate your kind sentiments when the going got tough.

Bock the Robber said...

Why would you stay quiet about it when the whole country is convulsed? Haven't you every right to condemn the cover-up of a crime against our nation?

Stephen Neill said...

Bock - yes you are right - I had a bit of a wobble but stand over everything I said.

Bock the Robber said...

Stick with your feelings about this.

We're all outraged and if you weren't there would be something wrong with you.

Daniel Owen said...

Thank you Stephen for having the courage to be courageous in speaking what was on your heart and not in saying what you thought people wanted to hear.

Stephen Neill said...

Daniel - Thank you for your affirmation and kind words - Funnily enough I was just looking at your photo of this morning and was about to comment on it - I will now :-)

Grandmère Mimi said...

Like Grannymar, I grew up in the Roman Catholic Church. I attended Roman Cahtolic Schools for 16 years through university. For the most part, I was well taught.

About 13 years ago the child abuse in my RC diocese came to light with all the horrid details. What finally caused me to leave the church to which I belonged for 60 years was not so much the abuse, which was horrific enough, but the stories of the cover-up, of moving abusive priests from parish to parish to continue the abuse, of hush money paid to victims to buy their silence. One might say that the abusers are sick, but what about the supposedly sane authorities who covered up the abuse? That similar stories of cover-up in the RCC come from all over the world leads me to believe that the policy was set at the highest levels.

Our diocese is small, and I knew some of the priests and people who were involved. Finally, I had enough and left. For several months, I did not attend church, but I finally attended a service at the Episcopal church in my town, where I've been ever since.

There's much that I still love about the RCC. I'm quite grateful for my education by the nuns and the Jesuits. My experience during my schooling was overwhelmingly positive.

Honestly, Stephen, it's hard for me to see what you have to apologize for. You spoke the truth. I thank God that your people stood with you, because I believe that you did the right thing.

I live in the bayou country in south Louisiana in the US. Pardon my essay-length comment on my very first visit. May God bless you with many more years of fruitful ministry.

Stephen Neill said...

Grandmere Mimi - thanks so much for your response - I too feel that the clergy and religious on the ground are being let down at the highest level :(