Friday, 27 November 2009

Report on child abuse in Dublin Archdiocese

It is very difficult to find the appropriate words to respond to the publication of this report. A round-up of the news, and the reaction of representatives of the Catholic Church in Ireland, can be found at Whispers in the Loggia. Catholic Anaylsis offers a reaction to which I would also subscribe. A BBC account of the contents of the report can be found here, and RTE's account from yesterday is here. This is the reaction of a priest today.

There are perhaps three observations that I would like to make.

The first echoes that of Catholic Analysis. Evil, serious evil, needs to be recognised as serious evil. It needs to be called serious evil. And it needs to be condemned as serious evil. The covering up of abuse, when it is known, adds to the original evil of the abuse itself a further evil -  an implicit refusal to call the original evil the evil that it really is. The publication of the report, and other reports like it, contributes to the overcoming of this second evil.

A second observation comes from the picture showing up in the report of the relationship between the Catholic Church and the police and other civil authorities in Ireland. The report also highlights failings in the civil authorities arising from their deference to the Catholic Church. On occasions, police authorities reported allegations to the Church instead of carrying out their duty of investigation that would arise from their position in civil society. My own background is not one from which I have any immediate experience of Irish Catholicism - I am an English Lancashire Catholic by family background and by culture. There is a real sense in which I do not understand Irish Catholicism, and do not think I would live very comfortably with it. The report into child abuse in Dublin illustrates the serious risk that does arise from too close an affiliation between the life of faith and that of civil life. An appropriate secularity is needed in the action of lay Catholics in the world, as mediating the action of the Church to the world, and this is not achieved through the type of subervience to the clergy that appears in some aspects of the Dublin child abuse report.

My third observation is taken from the Catechism of the Catholic Church, and suggests a way in which we all, as different members of the Church, might respond in penance to the events reported. The quotation included is from Pope Paul VI, and the emphasis added is mine:
All members of the Church, including her ministers, must acknowledge that they are sinners. In everyone, the weeds of sin will still be mixed with the good wheat of the Gospel until the end of time.Hence the Church gathers sinners already caught up in Christ's salvation but still on the way to holiness:  "The Church is therefore holy, though having sinners in her midst, because she herself has no other life but the life of grace. If they live her life, her members are sanctified; if they move away from her life, they fall into sins and disorders that prevent the radiation of her sanctity. This is why she suffers and does penance for those offenses, of which she has the power to free her children through the blood of Christ and the gift of the Holy Spirit."
If we are wondering how we, as individuals, should respond to the great evils that are the subject of the news at the moment, then acts of penance seem to me entirely appropriate. Saying this is, of course, easier for me than doing it ...


Rita said...


I don't know whether you've seen this or not. It thought it was very moving and inspiring in a quiet sort of way:

(sorry no HTML for the link, in a bit of a rush)

Joe said...


Thank you. I recall seeing reports of the walk when Father first undertook it, but had forgotten about it.

madame evangelista said...

Thanks for this post, I'm particularly grateful (and in agreement) with your third observation.