This is the leading article from The Catholic Herald, issue 4 November 2009
O O O
The Ryan report on Irish child abuse, published in May, left us holding our collective breath, waiting for the publication of the Murphy inquiry into child abuse in the Archdiocese of Dublin. And it has proved again to be not so much another nail in the coffin as another nail in the Cross. The Body of Christ has been wounded, not by his enemies but by those who claimed to be his friends.
Our immediate task is to be on our knees: first, to pray for the victims; second, to pray for the priests who betrayed their vocations; third, to pray for those whose dereliction of duty put the reputation of the Church ahead of the command of love. And throughout we must remember that we “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God”.
It is in that spirit alone that we may start to ask the questions. We must never minimise the damage which sexual abuse so often does to the young. Those who have suffered know this; those who work with them in later life know this too. Yet it is common in many circumstances – including that of the close family. It is not typified as a clerical crime, nor indeed exclusive to any one sexual tendency. Like so many sexual sins, the temptations can be blindingly powerful, and what may seem to the perpetrator to be an almost trivial incident can have consequences which echo through a lifetime. Our only safeguard is to work continuously at the virtue of chastity, whether we are married or unmarried.
Though we may shrink with disgust from the sin, we recoil with a different emotion from the calculated cover-up, described by the report as “the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the Church and the preservation of its assets”. This was not spontaneous temptation but cold, institutionalised policy, carried out at senior levels – and implicitly encouraged by the neglect of the Holy See. The reputation of the Church was preserved at the direct cost of Christ’s little ones. Here at least holy anger is justified. “My house is a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves.”
And with holy anger may come hope. Is there a chance that the Church will be shocked into abandoning its cultural history of treating authority as a hierarchy of power and not as a hierarchy of loving service? Will we learn that we are a community bonded in our readiness to accept and love each other: “members of one another” – not just in words but in truth?
And since we are members of one another, should we not ask our bishops to declare a day of solemn reparation for the institutional and personal corruption with which we have wounded the Body of Christ?
O O O
A leader is the voice of a newspaper rather than of any particular person. But I happen to know that those who prepared this leader found all your comments, and the emails sent to me directly, very inspiring.
I want to thank everyone of you who helped. And discussion will I hope continue – including, if you wish, comment on the leader itself.