The Murphy report is a cry for deep spiritual renewal

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.

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About Quentin

Science Editor, Catholic Herald. Portrait © Jacqueline Alma
This entry was posted in Bio-ethics, Catholic Herald, Moral judgment, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

23 Responses to The Murphy report is a cry for deep spiritual renewal

  1. claret says:

    Does anyone reading this leader have even the slightest hope that anything will change? We will continue to take ‘comfort’ that the procedures already introduced for dealing with complaints of abuse will now be fully investigated by the civil authorities, (as should have been the case anyway;) and that the procedures for applicants to the clergy means they will be more rigorously assessed (as should have been the case anyway.) However that is as far as it will go. Any hope of a radical change in authority or the relinquishing of power is a vain hope.
    Already this report is history. Is there any commitment within the Church to produce it own report and act on the recommendations as should be the case. Is there the slightest indication that all the promises of much more meaningful and ordered laity involvement will come to fruition? Is there any kind of recognition that the structures of the Church are such that authority will always remain in the hands of a disproportinate few and therefore should be changed?
    Not a hope for any of it. (For example who are going to be the ones to ‘ask our Bishops for a day of solemn reparation’ as suggested in the last paragraph of the leader? No such ‘ones’ as any kind of collective body even exist. Has any Diocesan Bishop in the UK even publicly mentioned the Dublin Report within their own Diocese? Has there even been a mention of it from any Catholic pulpit in England?)

  2. Superview says:

    There was no mention of it on Sunday from the pulpit in our parish. It will have been no oversight: it is prudent to ignore the issue, with the full and confident expectation that the flock will forget about it. But I’m afraid to say, and I would dearly like to be wrong, that he will also have found it personally difficult to recognise any defect in the Hierarchy’s judgement. There is something atavistic about a certain breed of priest emerging at present, who loathe the modern world.
    Claret speaks with the authentic voice and the credentials of an insider. Is there any institutional process, system, mechanism or channel by which the heirarchy – and I’m not afraid to say the pope – can be asked to account for what has happened?
    Is there any evidence to the contrary that the Church as an hierarchical institution is as immune from criticism – especially from the laity – as it ever was?

  3. I take the full force of Claret’s and Superview’s comments. And I will give them real thought. However, do take note that the Catholic Herald, which is a newspaper habitually very loyal to the Church, has gone on record directly criticising the “hierarchy of power” and not stopping short of using the phrase “den of thieves”.

    So there is a big move in itself.

    Now have both of you written, or are you preparing to write, to your bishop (copy to your pp of course) quoting the CH (copy and paste off the web if you like), requesting such a day of reparation, and asking how he proposes to react to the scandal of the Murphy report within his diocese? And how many others will do the same?

    Opinions are great, getting off your backside is better.

  4. claret says:

    Quentin,
    Regretably the last line of your post suggests to me that you have already made the assumption that I/we are only prepared to ‘sound off’ on a messageboard and that is the sum total of our contribution.
    If such is your assumption then you have no right to make it.
    I have written to the Bishop but history teaches me that it is a well practised tactic to ignore letters altogether in that no reply is forthcoming or simply to offer some bland response.
    Bishops should not need to be prompted by the laity or other clergy to do their duty.
    On the first Sunday after this report was issued a ‘letter from the Bishop’ was read out at every Mass in our Diocese. It was the annual ‘First Sunday of Advent’ type letter. Not one mention of the Murphy report. I was saddened by this but not at all surprised.
    A golden ( heaven sent?) opportunity to begin some kind of reparation was lost.
    As is quoted in ‘A Man for All Seasons’ ….Silence construes consent.

  5. eclaire says:

    I will not thank you, Quentin, for doing your best to push the Catholic Herald in the direction YOU want it to go. (I do hope at least someone at the CH is aware of what’s transpiring here). There is nothing wrong with being loyal to the Church and if the CH ever ceases to be so, I, for one, will no longer subscribe to it. The Church is far, far more than its history of hideous scandals.
    I am also very surprised that Claret accepted the CH’s request for only one day of reparation (his argument centres around whether this day will indeed take place or not). I should have thought he would have been outraged at the idea of a mere day! In my view, this is a paltry request when we consider the gravity of the crimes. Reparation should be a continuous process (from now until the end of time) and all the clergy and the laity should be involved (individually and privately, as well as collectively and publically – film the process on EWTN, or elsewhere). This is prayer (and through prayer, humility), and as I wrote elsewhere, there seems to be a serious lack of both at most levels in the Church (and amongst many of us – oh yes, but I forgot, prayer is not powerful enough a force to bring about change is it? – and further, does precious little towards helping us exercise our marvellous intellect – in any case, we’re all too busy). The CH did very well to begin the article by saying we should all pray – and pray with fervour on our knees.
    Some changes can, and do need to be made, and, yes, these are long overdue. I admit that I am nowhere near being very knowledgeable about Church structure, so I have no ready solutions to offer, neither can I refer to this report, that document, or those figures. However, whilst I think the laity need to have a voice (and one that is heard and acted upon – on occasions especially such as these), I think that giving too much authority to the laity would be a disastrous step and can only lead to chaos; it will leave the Church in shambles – but then, this is the end that, I am sure, some want. If we claim to be Catholics, I believe we must believe that the Pope and bishops have legitimate authority, and yes, I do agree, that this authority needs to be checked because we are all sinful. Personally, I am not ashamed to say that having very limited knowledge on Church matters, I would place my trust in what holy and faithful catholic priests such as the CH’s Pastor Iuventus and Fr Tim Finigan might say on these matters – but perhaps they are too ‘atavistic’ for some.

  6. Claret, I do appreciate and respect the strength of your feelings in this matter. But I made no assumption that you had not taken any action. I am delighted that you have, in view of your suggestion that there is no point in anyone doing anything since no one will take any notice anyhow.
    Eclaire, do you expect me not to give real thought to serious comments made on this blog? I do hope not. The Catholic Herald has laid out its position with clarity. And I thoroughly support that position. Indeed I think the more of its loyalty for its willingness to criticise in this case. Just to put your mind at rest, I have kept the Editor of the CH fully informed about blog comments (although of course he reads the blog regularly himself).
    You are very wise in reposing your trust in sound guides, if, as you say, you have little knowledge of these matters.

  7. eclaire says:

    (Sorry…just re-read what I wrote above and I should have written ‘publicly’!)
    I shall certainly speak to my parish priest (whom I trust) and see what he suggests.

  8. Horace says:

    I have been reading the comments – and frankly I don’t know what to say.

    There is one link, however, that might interest readers of this blog:-

    http://douthat.blogs.nytimes.com/2009/12/01/the-tragedy-of-irish-catholicism/

    to me these comments ring true.

  9. st.joseph says:

    Do we hear many Bishops speaking out much about the ‘human sacrafice’ of 200,000 a year babies slaughtered in our hospitals,clinics and centres, around England. This is just as much a scandal in our Country and all over the World-except in Ireland
    This is performed by those who are also in power and ought to know better’ Doctors who are leading respectable lives, living off of the ‘blood money’ of innocent children.We also must hold our heads in shame’ those who stand by and do nothing!

    Our Bishops need to be out in the streets supporting the unborn, an example shown by the March for Life in America,and the ‘Priests for Life’ who are the Saints in our Clergy today. Maybe when all this scandal has gone away -or maybe before, we could spend a little of our time and money supporting them.
    Perhaps if one has the time-maybe read Our Lady’s message at Fatima whereby she speaks about the Bishops and Priests.

  10. claret says:

    Quentin
    I really do not want this series of posts to become some kind of ‘tit-for-tat’ debate but I really must protest at your ‘choosing?’ to misquote my posts. I have read them all again very carefully and nowhere have I suggested, as you claim, ‘that there is no point in anyone doing anything since no-one will take any notice anyhow.’
    What I have said is that there is no mechanism within Church structures for complaints by lay persons in relation to the conduct of the Bishops and clergy over the handling of these abuse cases. In other words there is no body of lay opinion. How can there be when ( as I have stated, ) that even at parish level there is no obligation ( only a recommendation,) to even have a parish council.
    And for Eclair to state that I would be somehow satisfied with the CH’s request for a ‘one day reparation’ for all that has gone on before is so ridiculous it is scarcely worth responding to. She/he might however do me the courtesy of recognising that the ‘one day reparation’ was not my idea but that of the leader column in the CH and my response to that was to ask where will the impetus for even that one day come from! When there is no mechanism for even demanding just One Day!
    I would have thought it clear that for proper reparation to begin to take place (there can never be a full or even near reparation for the abuses that have taken place,) then there has to be a wholesale shift of power. For too long the laity have had to put up with a series of acknowledgements that they have a proper place in the decision making processes of the Church when this has never been any more that an ineffectual ‘lip service’ before carrying on as we always have in a clergy centered power trip that shows not the slightest interest in even relaxing it’s grip on that power much less actually sharing it!

  11. st.joseph says:

    Well said Quentin. When do Bishops listen to anyone who puts any thoughts forward. Probably most of the time they are not even polite enough to answer letters!. I am not criticising ,only making a comment on the truth of the matter

  12. Thank you, st.joseph. You and Claret echo remarks of many who have told me about their difficulties in getting a reply from bishops, and indeed from parish clergy. They feel, rightly or wrongly, that the cleric is in effect saying: you don’t matter enough to be worth a reply. I wonder if seminary training has a section on personal public relations. One caveat, I think a correspondent using snail mail, can only really expect a reply if an s.a.e. is enclosed. What is one letter and one stamp to the writer is perhaps 50 letters or more to the recipient.

    Your contribution of 5 December is very pertinent. Even if we condemn abortion there is a danger of becoming inured when it is so common in society. Couple of thoughts which I have found useful: if anyone mentions pro-choice to me, I asked whether we are talking about the baby’s choice or the mother’s choice. “Pro-choice” is this context is simply a dishonest slogan. Secondly I rarely use the word abortion; when challenged I simply say, “I dislike killing babies.” Usually shuts them up.
    Incidentally, my apologies to Claret for misunderstanding the tone of his earlier letter.

  13. eclaire says:

    I, too, apologize to Claret if I misunderstood him.

  14. st.joseph says:

    Thank you Quinten. I often felt like saying ‘killing babies,’ but one does not know if someone has had an abortion and is hiding grief. I feel we must be careful with words even though I can see your point. A priest said to me (a few) that mentioning anything like that from the Pulpit may upset those who have done so.
    I have wondered also if the silence from our Bishops and Priests on the issue of Irelands child abuse is for the same reason Just a thought. There must be many who are hiding hidden grief
    I am not making excuses for the clergy and I agree that a day or more for reparation ought to be done. I will write to my Bishop. Maybe if one sends letters by recorded delivery they may get a reply!

  15. st.joseph – of course you are right. I should have qualified my suggestion by saying that that would only be my approach in a debating mode. It would not be helpful dealing with an individual.

    Nevertheless I think you bring an important problem into the light. On the one hand we don’t want to hurt people unnecessarily, on the other what is the effect of us shying away from the truth, even for the best of reasons?

    I think it likely that at least some of the clergy, including the senior ones, would suspect that publicising the shameful behaviour recorded in the Ryan and Murphy reports would trigger some Catholics into abandoning their faith. I don’t as it happens agree with them; indeed I vigorously disagree. But their motives in keeping quiet are not necessarily caused by lack of concern or cowardice.

    I wonder what others think about this.

  16. Horace says:

    There have been no comments on my suggestion that the link I gave suggested an explanation that that ‘rings true’ so I thought that perhaps I should briefly explain the point that I was trying to make.

    Ross Douthat suggests that the reform of the Irish Church by Cardinal Paul Cullen in Victorian times produced a unified, rigorous, enthusiastic and militant form of Catholicism. It was “one of the most hierarchical and clericalist, with priests and bishops who were invested with nearly-unchallengeable authority, and who became accustomed to extraordinary deference from civil authorities” and on sexual matters, it was extremely puritanical.

    This was a source of immense strength in the evangelisation of America but “a culture so intensely clerical, so politically high-handed, and so embarrassed . . by human sexuality” produced bishops “inclined to strong-arm the problem out of public sight instead of dealing with it as Christian leaders should.”

    To me this is an example of the ‘law of unintended consequences’ . This is not to mitigate, let alone excuse, heinous behaviour but does provide a credible explanation of how the unthinkable came about.

    Ross concludes:- “I suspect it isn’t a coincidence that the worst of the priest-abuse scandals have been concentrated in Ireland and America — and indeed, in Boston, the most Irish of American cities — rather than, say, in Italy or Poland or Latin America or Asia. “

  17. claret says:

    Thank you for the apologies from Quentin and eclaire.

    In response to Quentin’s query as to the motives of clergy as to why they kept quiet it is not one that can be answered easily. No doubt there were many factors involved and without some admissions we will never know the ‘reasoning’ behind the decisions that were made.
    What we do know is that there was collusion in crime and it must have been evident that these were not isolated incidents but repeat offending from which children needed protecting.
    It was also evident that it was acceptable, even desirable, to treat children as some kind of chattel to either ‘pleasure themselves with’ or to treat as little better than slaves. It was a disease that sat at the very heart of those whose primary duty was to provide a Christlike environment of love, care and protection.
    The Church is not just an institution of great longevity but is meant to be an example of Christian virtues.
    Incidentally I was surprised to see that despite the ‘leader column’ in the Catholic Herald being so direct the editor nevertheless took the decision to consign the story to the inside pages and left the front page to the story about Switzerland’s ban on Minarets and how the Church was opposed to the ban.
    Which of these two issues is the more important? I cannot speak for every catholic but quite frankly I cannot get too upset at the decision of the Swiss government for having the guts to take a stand when every other country falls over itself to reduce Christianity to a ‘bit part’ at best while promoting other religions to ones of greater status so as not to ’cause offence’ to them. Therefore the Church does not speak for me on this issue.
    I am though greatly upset at the continued revelations of child abuse. I see some of the victims are demanding similar enquiry reports into all the Irish Dioceses. I hope they get them although I dread what further revelations there are to be dredged up. I expect ther will be many. Will they be on the inside pages of th CH too , I wonder.

  18. I don’t know what motives guided the Editor’s choice of layout. But my guess is that he felt that the headlined exposure of the scandal on the front page would not be welcome to parents with curious young children – either in the church porch or casually at home. But I can assure you that his feelings on the matter certainly match our own.

  19. st.joseph says:

    I may sound puritanical and extreme, but whilst we are on the subject of newspapers reporting and the saving of our young children from exosure to obscenity with porn or ‘soft porn’ as some may wish to call it, we have only to see all the books that are displayed in the garages and book shops-in the eyes of young children and young teenagers, not forgetting all the adverts for chat lines in most newspapers-even local papers.
    Even the Sky Freeview advertise soft porn and indecencey. Young children can easily skip through the handset.
    Years ago there was a campaign for the shops and garages to put them on the top shelf but that doesnt always happen-anyway children can look up, and we cant leave them in the car! Perhaps we need another Mary Whitehouse God Rest her Soul……..

  20. Superview says:

    The article in the New York Times to which Horace referred on 4 Dec is persuasive in identifying a despotic strain in Irish clericalism as a possible explanation for the similar stories of child abuse and cover up in both Ireland and Boston USA. Within the article there is a quote from Philip Lawler (‘The Faithful Departed’, 2008) who observed that in the USA although maybe 5% of priests were guilty of abuse there were two thirds of the bishops involved in the cover-up.
    It is difficult to show moderation in response to details of this kind. Making the cause a particular Irish mutation, with an overlay of weakened moral fibre in the USA church, may do something to contain the malignancy for those who can’t bear to imagine a wider contagion. However, given the heirarchy’s unabashed claim to lead an organisation with centralised, absolute authority and control it is unlikely to convince others that the problem isn’t deeper, wider and higher.

    Quentin, also on 4 Dec, suggested, in colourful terms, that Claret and myself should write to our respective bishops. I ordinarily follow things through and leave few stones unturned, but in this instance I have hesitated. Last week we had the bishop’s Advent Letter and no mention was made of the matter. This could be because his letter was already written and printed before the Murphy Report broke. But the result is that neither our PP nor our Bishop has made any reference to this shameful scandal. It has crossed my mind that this silence may be a policy that is indeed drawing from the same polluted waters that led to the cover-up. It is so distracting and distressing a thought that I cannot put pen to paper.

  21. Thanks for this, Tim. it seems to me that there are three ascending levels here. At the bottom is the paedophile or sadistic cleric or nun; next up is the defensive clergy preferring to allow the evil to continue to save the Church’s reputation and authority; at the top is the whole culture of authority in the worldwide Church.
    I am not concerned to apportion blame here, but I think it would compound the tragedy if the Pope only deals with the bottom two layers.
    If we do not see a real change in the way that authority is used (misused?) in the Church (and has been for centuries) then the victims of the abuse will have suffered in vain. Further disasters in other places and on other issues will continue to occur.
    I hope to write a column on the proper use of authority shortly.
    It interests me that my book on the subject, “Autonomy and Obedience in the Catholic Church” (2003), sold very slowly despite being well reviewed both in the CH and The Tablet. While my book dealing similarly with authority in business organisations (1990) sold very well, and was translated into several European languages. There may be a lesson here.

  22. Horace says:

    There is an interesting article on the ‘IRISHTIMES.COM’ by Vincent Twomey, “Time for the faithful to choose our own bishops.”
    http://www.irishtimes.com/newspaper/opinion/2009/1209/1224260356178.html
    which suggests what might need to be done to reform “traditional Irish Catholicism”.

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