Fr Kevin Hegarty
John the Baptist was the central figure in the Gospel story proclaimed in Catholic churches last Sunday. He was a prophet.
Prophets are awkward people. They bring to our unwelcome attention unpalatable and inconvenient truths.
He lived in the wilderness, on the edge of society. From there, he commented on the mores of the community. He believed that the people of Israel had deviated from the principles of religion and he told them so.
They had become complacent, arrogant and casual. They were paying lip-service to love.
Sometimes prophets lose their lives in defence of the truth. John the Baptist paid that ultimate price.
The Catholic Church in Ireland has had its John the Baptist moments during the past year. Schooled in the hard facts of the law I doubt if Judge Seán Ryan and Judge Yvonne Murphy see themselves as prophets.
Yet I believe that they have performed a prophetic function for the church in Ireland. Their respective reports on child sex abuse in our industrial schools and in the Archdiocese of Dublin revealed, in scarifying detail, the darkness and moral failure that lay under a placid and pious surface.
Both reports brought home to me once again the horror endured by so many children through the sexual proclivities of a minority of priests and religious. Some church representatives have sought to dissipate the horror by quoting statistics that show children are more likely to be abused in their homes than in the church.
Such semantic arguments are a further insult to those who have suffered. It is particularly reprehensible that children were abused in an institution which exists to embody the love of Jesus Christ to the world.
No words can salve the torment of the victims. The sexual abuse of a child is a violent invasion of his or her identity and it leaves a permanent scar.
Carefully constructed apologies are not enough. The Church must use its resources generously to try to ensure that all victims receive the prospect of some meaningful healing. It is better for it to be financially bankrupt than morally redundant.
I was appalled by the failure of the Papal Nuncio and the Vatican Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith to answer requests from the Murphy Commission for information. As a proud Irish citizen, my first allegiance is not to an obscurantist curia in a distant land but to our government, elected by the people.
The Murphy Commission was established by the sovereign authority of our Parliament. A discourtesy to our most important democratic institution is an insult to us.
I hope that the Minister for Foreign Affairs, Micheál Martin, when he meets the Papal Nuncio later this week, stands by our Republic and advises him strongly of our anger.
The Vatican explanation for the failure to answer the letters is that the proper diplomatic procedure was not followed. Sorry, but I am not impressed by such prissy pedantry.
The sexual abuse crisis is the greatest challenge for the Irish Catholic Church in its recent history. When a house is on fire, one does not obsess about who has the authority to call the fire brigade.
Sophistry may be a clever tactic in debate but it is out of place in responding to a crisis of this magnitude. Another example of it was Cardinal Connell’s blithe assertion to the Murphy Commission that his earlier economy with the truth could be justified by his invocation of the tawdry theological concept of mental reservation.
Cardinals, it sees, do not tell lies, but if they did, they would probably be the best mental reservations in the world. By comparison, Thierry Henry’s handling of the ball in our World Cup qualifier against France seems almost honourable.
The Murphy report reveals a miasma of moral failure, over the 30 years of its remit, by Archbishops and Auxiliary Bishops of Dublin, in respect to child sex abuse by clerics.
Protection of the good name of the church and its assets were a much higher priority than the sufferings of victims or adherence to the civil law. The report concludes, “There was little or no concern for the welfare of the abused child or the welfare of other children who might come into contact with the priest. Complainants were often met with denial, arrogance and cover-up and with incompetence and incomprehension in some areas. Suspicions were rarely acted on.”
As I write on the weekend of December 5 and 6, it seems that the resignation of one of the auxiliaries, Donal Murray, later Bishop of Limerick, is imminent. While this is welcome, more is needed. I believe that all the bishops censured in the report, who are still active in office, should resign. Firm purposes of amendment for the future are not enough. Multiple resignations are an essential prelude to the long process of restoring the moral authority of the Church in Ireland. However, don’t hold your breath.