Mary Mc Aleese
What Happened to Fr Seán Fagan?
by Angela Hanley, Columba Press,
Thursday, 03 October, 2019 at 6:30 pm,
The Milestone Gallery, Glasnevin Cemetery, Dublin 9.
In 2001, Irish moral theologian Seán Fagan SM wrote an article for Doctrine & Life in which he called spiritual abuse ”a moral disease that has affected the Church for centuries”. He names it as ”an abuse of power and authority, and not simply the result of ignorance”.
By the time Seán Fagan died in 2016, he himself had suffered the full force of that shameful form of abuse from the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith. Some of the harsh punishment and humiliation Seán was subjected to was known at the time, but much remained hidden, shrouded in secrecy under threat of further punitive action.
Theologian Angela Hanley has now brought into the open some of the darker side to the CDF ‘s treatment of Seán, as well as showing us the humanity and pastoral sensitivity of the man who was her friend and mentor. It is somewhat ironical that Cardinal William Levada who, as head of the CDF, led the inquisitorial process against Seán Fagan, just died last week. As the book makes clear, his own record on shielding clerical child abusers is shameful. His treatment of theologians like Seán is equally appalling. I note that little of that has been acknowledged in recent obituaries.
I was interested to read that what I had suspected was actually the reality: the CDF employee dealing with Seán Fagan’s dossier was Charles Brown, later appointed nuncio to Ireland, no doubt on foot of his record on silencing Irish priests…
Of course Cardinal Levada and Charles Brown, to add insult to injury, never dealt with Seán Fagan directly, only through his Marist superiors and also by putting pressure on the Irish bishops.
It is a great credit to Angela Hanley that she is able to write about such painful matters in a clear, measured and informative way. Under her pen Seán Fagan is given back the spirituality, humanity and dignity which the CDF had sought to deny him. His lifetime pastoral dedication to lifting burdens from people’s backs is given proper recognition.
Anyone thinking that this abusive treatment is all in the past should think twice. In a short but powerful foreword Mary McAleese warns us we cannot be complacent: ”The Church under Francis has deliberately and almost unremarked, slipped backwards in its relationship with UN human rights treaties monitoring bodies.” As guest speaker at the launch of the book next Thursday, we can expect her to elaborate further on this disturbing reality.
This important book deserves a very wide readership. I found it a painful read, because of the unjust and cruel treatment meted out to Seán, an elderly, sick man. But I also found it a very inspiring read because, in spite of all the crushing darkness, Seán’s spirit shines through brightly, the spirit of a courageous and faithful disciple of Christ.
Seán used to say to me ‘‘We will survive”, to which I would reply ”We will do more than survive, we will flourish!”
I have no doubt Seán is now flourishing in Heaven, after contributing so much to the flourishing of so many through his friendships and writings.
In his preface to the book, Gabriel Daly OSA writes about Angela Hanley that ”Posterity will thank her for her solicitude and skill”. Indeed.
Go and find out ”What Happened to Fr Seán Fagan?” and be enlightened.