Chris McDonnell Catholic Times September 07 2018
Ireland is a very small country in a very big world, yet its significance in the life of the Christian Church has been immense. Its people have travelled the world, taking their faith with them, leaving a home where the Church occupied a central and formative influence not only in the life of their town or village but in their national image.
That is why the damage caused by the crisis of abuse within the Irish Church has been immense; that is why the significance of the recent papal visit to this small island off the North-West coast of Europe is so profound.
The Press, and media generally, analysed every utterance made by Francis during his short time on the island of Ireland. Criticism was made that, more than words, action was required. Remedies were sought that reinforced his words for the pain has been traumatic, not only for the numerous individuals who suffered abuse but for the wider Church who heard, with growing incredulity, the detail of what had taken place.
Once again, the Psalter offers an insight into the experience of our human condition. Psalm 55 has these prophetic words that tell the story.
‘If this had been done by an enemy
I could bear his taunts
If a rival had risen against me
I could hide from him
But it is you, my own companion
My intimate friend
How close was the friendship between us
We walked together in harmony
In the house of God’
Expressed in those few words is the core of our anguish, the attack on values and relationships from within. Those who were implicitly trusted broke that bond in a spectacular manner involving families and those most vulnerable, young children. In the words I wrote in this column a couple of weeks ago following the death of the US psychotherapist, Richard Sipe, ‘honesty comes at a price’.
The honesty that is now demanded comes not just with words, be they written or spoken but with actions that clearly demonstrate our intention to change. Well-chosen noise is not enough. That change must not only challenge the actions by individuals whose behaviour we abhor, but it must extend to the bringing to task those whose knew what was happening and who subsequently covered their tracks, in the mistaken belief that it was for the ‘good of the Church’.
The scale of this tragedy is not limited to one small patch of earth that happens to be the current focus of much attention, but is world-wide. Only three days before my recent article was published, the enormity of the crisis was exemplified with the publication of the huge Grand Jury report into the investigation of a number of dioceses in the state of Pennsylvania. In the same week we heard, in disturbing detail, of abuse at two Benedictine schools here in the UK, shaming the Christian Church.
I would suggest that in these early years of the 21stCentury we are facing a cataclysmic change that hasn’t been experienced since the years of the mid 16thCentury when reformation swept through the continent of Europe.
We are blessed with a Bishop in the See of Rome who not only recognises the seriousness of what is happening but is also willing to be active in healing open wounds. He is but one individual, albeit one vested with the dignity and responsibility of the Papacy. Others surround him whose instinct for self- preservation is both strong and effective.
The patience of the Church should recognise the enormous pressure that this man of advanced years faces and the anguish that is his burden. The process of house cleansing is not easy at the best of times; given the condition of a dysfunctional Church, the task facing Francis is daunting.
One of Tom Paxton’s songs has the lines‘Peace, peace will come, let it begin with me’. All of us have a part to play in this harrowing challenge, through our prayer, through our willingness to challenge the circumstances that have brought us to this sorry state, through our recognition that honesty comes at a price. We cannot avoid the downpour of critical comment that now surrounds us. It is only through our sincere and humble action that we can begin the re-establishment of the credibility of the Christian message.
It will demand a re-examination of structures and disciplines that may have led us down this broken path. Walking away solves nothing, giving up on the Church, walking away from the teaching of the good Lord, leaves behind only a broken story.
It is now our responsibility, all of us, to ensure that positive actions are taken to repair the challenge to faith.