Friday, 9 April 2010

A Reflection on Child Abuse

I thought it would be good to share with you the reflections of one of our diocesan priests in his newsletter to parishioners about the current concerns about Child Abuse in the Church. He says:
"Last week a lady came up to me to ask me something which had been troubling her quite a bit – and I’m glad she did - because what she was asking about reflected my own inner disquiet. Quite simply, she was asking for a word about how to respond to non-Catholics about the issues of clergy abuse now in the newspapers and the TV news on a daily basis.

Of course in many ways we have grown used to the scandal within our church, but what many find alarming is the relentless revelations from the USA, from Ireland, and now Germany about the terrible abuse of young people in the hands of schools, and homes run by religious and parishes. Allegations that are even now threatening to embroil our Pope in a most uncomfortable way. If you are like me you will feel many emotions – among them anger and frustration at the betrayal of the gospel by the people we most relied on to be leaders and examples. I think it is worth saying that many clergy feel enormously betrayed by those priests and religious who have caused such harm to young lives and to the reputation of all priests and religious. In some places clergy no longer dress in clerical garb because of their shame and alarm – and in some cases because of the danger of retribution.

There is also the anger levelled at those in authority within the church who, because of a misguided desire to avoid the scandal that this abuse has caused, allowed perpetrators to continue abusing young people as they were moved around from place to place. This has done grave harm to the respect and authority of our bishops and to the church as a whole. People quite rightly expected, and continue to expect good leadership from their bishops. They expect the gospel to be applied in a fair and even handed way – which has to mean facing the truth about certain things and then acting appropriately.

I suspect that a great number of people are feeling very awkward about their own status as catholics. It’s as if we are all smeared with the taint of the abuse – “tarred with the same brush”. Making excuses such as the fact that the church is not the only place where paedophiles are active; that we have taken major steps to prevent anything like this from happening again; that as a percentage of the total number of clergy those who abuse are a tiny minority; that our bishops have been commended for the Safeguarding guidance and directives they have put in place – these all seem rather lame and to miss the point.

I think, personally that a corner has been turned now. Our bishop Kieran has been interviewed a number of times on TV and radio recently. He has given interviews to the newspapers and the striking thing about what he has said is that he recognises all the above. The reputation of the Church has been gravely damaged. Mistakes were made sometimes through naivety and sometimes in a delusional effort to protect the church’s reputation or the clergy’s. It will take generations to recover those whose faith in the institution has been damaged such that they no longer respect or wish to be associated with the Church. More revelations will come to light from differing parts of the world. People will rightly question the authority of the Church to teach on moral questions.

But Bishop Kieran has also said other things that are worth hearing too. He asserts quite rightly that the church isn’t the only place that this happens – its going on everywhere – in families, in schools, on the internet, in clubs and, of course, in places we can’t even think of. It’s not a religious issue per se but part of broken human nature that needs to be redeemed in all sorts of places and people. Secondly those who abuse do not look like abusers – they look like ‘normal’ human beings – respectable, perhaps smart and socially adept. Certainly they aren’t like the ‘dirty old man’ that our nightmares consist of. They can be women too as recent cases in Liverpool and Plymouth testify to. In fact, anywhere and anyone. One thing mentioned by some is that there is a media assault on the church by people keen to see it destroyed. Certainly some do have an agenda similar to this. But most of the time the media just tell a story – and this is a big story that’s not going to go away because that’s what we want.

This can cause us to despair. How can we trust anyone with our children? Where can they go that we can be absolutely confident will be safe?

Bishop Kieran has highlighted the key to this. The biggest crime perhaps is that victims were never believed. So we have to stop deference in this matter. We have to make sure that any allegations are properly and impartially investigated. In the Church’s case this means by external bodies. It also means, and this is very important, that we have to take sensible precautions to safeguard children and vulnerable people. Sometimes it can all seem a ‘bit over the top’ and undoubtedly puts some people off volunteering. But we have to put these feelings to one side and concentrate on doing things properly.

In the context of Holy Week this whole issue needs to be seen in the light of the gospel. We, as church, and perhaps especially as clergy, need to recognise the demand of humble service to all God’s people and the world. We need to shed the trappings of false authority that depends on positions of power and control, and follow the way of the cross more closely. In one sense we are suffering now for those individuals who abused or tried to cover up the abuse. So we need to seek the truth in charity and charity in truth as the Holy Father has just written. We need, perhaps above all, to see these difficult times as an opportunity for purification and renewal of a church more closely modelled on Christ’s sacrifice. We need to be penitent about the real damage done to lives by abuse but also hopeful in the sense that the resurrection from the dead of Jesus Christ our Lord is what holds all things together. It is by dying to the old self that we will be enabled to rise with Christ.

This is not the easter message I would have hoped to send you. But it is a timely one. I hope that you will use this easter to renew your faith in Christ, and his church which, broken and sinful as it is, is made whole and holy by the presence of the risen Christ within it. To whom shall we go, Lord? You have the message of eternal life."

1 comment:

  1. Let us help children that was abuse. I suggest we all involved ourselves to charity and donate something to them.