Pope urges bishops to go beyond apologising to clerical abuse victims

Special report by Bill Heaney


Poor Pope Francis. The Holy Father keeps trying to make a meaningful gesture to victims for the many scandalous instances of clerical child abuse across the world and is consistently thwarted by fundamentalist prelates and priests who fudge this major issue.

I once raised the matter of clerical child abuse with the disgraced, now departed, Cardinal Keith O’Brien, who was educated in Dumbarton and was himself exposed as an abuser of young men in training for the priesthood.

The cardinal, who had just presented me with a medal for assisting the Church with media work during the visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Scotland, became vexed at my “impertinence” and said this matter had nothing to do with Scotland.

It was an Irish thing, he maintained.

That’s what most of our bishops do – keep shifting the blame and emphasising that this happened elsewhere on a much greater scale than it did here.

What Cardinal O’Brien, pictured below left,  would not admit to me or to anyone else, including himself, was that, like the Catholic Church itself, clerical and religious abuse was universal.

Cardinal Keith O'Brien

It was no surprise to many that the Church in Scotland said the Pope’s letter on the eve of his visit to Ireland had been prompted by yet another scandal in the United States and made no reference to Scotland’s own troubles in this regard.  It began: “Following recent scandalous revelations in the United States of child abuse by clergy, the Holy Father Francis has written an important letter addressed to each and every one of us. Please read and reflect on the Pope’s words.”

It was as though this scandalous abuse of clerical power and access to children and young people had nothing at all to do with Scotland.

It was the classic Scottish response of “it wisnae us” or “a big boy did it and ran away”.

Sadly, thanks to media reports from the ongoing Scottish Child Abuse Inquiry conducted by High Court judge Lady Smith in Edinburgh.

And by the McLellan Report, produced at the behest of the Catholic Church itself by a former Moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland, we know different.

Although that report was widely condemned as “a whitewash”.

The abuse scandal has much to do with Scotland – and with Ireland, of course, which is where most Scottish Catholics look to when they take an interest in their history and their religious heritage.

And this is why there will be a significant representation from the Catholic Church in Scotland in Dublin and at the Marian Shrine in Knock, County Mayo, when Pope Francis arrives in Ireland.

This was where his predecessor Saint Pope John Paul II kissed the ground when his plane touched down 40 years ago.

Cushley 1Bishop Joseph Toal, of Motherwell and formerly of Argyll, will be in Dublin for the Pope’s visit, as will Archbishop Leo Cushley, of St Andrews and Edinburgh, and Bishop John Keenan, of Paisley Diocese. All three are pictured on this page.

A spokesperson for the Catholic Church in Scotland said: “About 70 people are travelling with parish and school groups from the diocese of Motherwell.”

Lanarkshire, Dunbartonshire, Renfrewshire, Edinburgh, Glasgow and Dundee, are the main places to which most Irish people emigrated following the Great Irish Famine of 1843.

James Handley, aka Brother Clare of the Marist Order in Glasgow, wrote The Irish in Scotland which tells us the vast percentage of them were Catholic.

And that their children inherited and embraced their religion here, establishing parishes and building churches and schools.

There are more churches in Scotland named after St Patrick, Ireland’s patron saint, than any other saint on the liturgical calendar.

Pope Francis will tell the descendants of these Scots/Irish and the thousands of indigenous Irish pilgrims present: “I acknowledge once more the suffering endured by many minors due to sexual abuse, the abuse of power and the abuse of conscience perpetrated by a significant number of clerics and consecrated persons.

“Crimes that inflict deep wounds of pain and powerlessness, primarily among the victims, but also in their family members and in the larger community of believers and nonbelievers alike.

“Looking back to the past, no effort to beg pardon and to seek to repair the harm done will ever be sufficient. “Looking ahead to the future, no effort must be spared to create a culture able to prevent such situations from happening, but also to prevent the possibility of their being covered up and perpetuated.

“The pain of the victims and their families is also our pain, and so it is urgent that we once more reaffirm our commitment to ensure the protection of minors and of vulnerable adults.”

Pope Francis referred to the recent, widely publicised scandal of clerical abuse in Boston in the United States.

Keenan John BishopHe wrote: “In recent days, a report was made public which detailed the experiences of at least a thousand survivors, victims of sexual abuse, the abuse of power and of conscience at the hands of priests over a period of approximately seventy years.

“Even though it can be said that most of these cases belong to the past, nonetheless as time goes on we have come to know the pain of many of the victims.

“We have realized that these wounds never disappear and that they require us forcefully to condemn these atrocities and join forces in uprooting this culture of death; these wounds never go away.

“The heart-wrenching pain of these victims, which cries out to heaven, was long ignored, kept quiet or silenced.

“But their outcry was more powerful than all the measures meant to silence it, or sought even to resolve it by decisions that increased its gravity by falling into complicity.”

Pope Francis added: “With shame and repentance, we acknowledge as an ecclesial community that we were not where we should have been, that we did not act in a timely manner, realizing the magnitude and the gravity of the damage done to so many lives. We showed no care for the little ones; we abandoned them.”

He aligned himself with Pope Benedict, the now retired pontiff, who “identified with the cry of pain of so many victims and exclaimed: “How much filth there is in the Church, and even among those who, in the priesthood, ought to belong entirely to [Christ]! How much pride, how much self-complacency!”

Pope Francis added: “The extent and the gravity of all that has happened requires coming to grips with this reality in a comprehensive and communal way…

“If, in the past, the response was one of omission, today we want solidarity, in the deepest and most challenging sense, to become our way of forging present and future history.”

Catholics everywhere have been summoned to fight all forms of corruption, especially spiritual corruption which was “a comfortable and self-satisfied form of blindness, he said.  “Everything then appears acceptable: deception, slander, egotism and other subtle forms of self-centeredness.”

He addToal Joseph Bishop at Red Massed: “I am conscious of the effort and work being carried out in various parts of the world to come up with the necessary means to ensure the safety and protection of the integrity of children and of vulnerable adults, as well as implementing zero tolerance and ways of making all those who perpetrate or cover up these crimes accountable. “We have delayed in applying these actions and sanctions that are so necessary, yet I am confident that they will help to guarantee a greater culture of care in the present and future.” Prayer and penance will help, said the Pope, who invited Catholics to a penitential exercise of prayer and fasting which would waken their conscience and “arouse our solidarity and commitment to a culture of care that says never again to every form of abuse.”

Clericalism was wrong. – “Clericalism, whether fostered by priests themselves or by lay persons, leads to an excision in the ecclesial body that supports and helps to perpetuate many of the evils that we are condemning today.

“To say NO to abuse is to say an emphatic NO to all forms of clericalism.”

And he re-emphasised the Second Vatican Council decision that the Church was not the clergy but the people in the pews.

It was up to the people and not the priests to “generate the necessary dynamics for sound and realistic change.”

The Pope advocated fasting and prayer to which he hoped would lead to sinners imploring forgiveness and the grace of shame and conversion – “It is essential that we, as a Church, be able to acknowledge and condemn, with sorrow and shame, the atrocities perpetrated by consecrated persons, clerics, and all those entrusted with the mission of watching over and caring for those most vulnerable.”

Scottish Catholics were reticent when it came to reacting to Pope Francis’s letter posted on Facebook by the Catholic Media Office on Facebook.

Brian McKenna from Dumbarton said: “Most of the abuse cases do not involve children but older boys due to the lax application, particularly in the USA, on the guidelines for candidates to seminaries and homosexual tendencies, especially if they are deep seated.”

Michael Scotty McAndrews said: “I have recently made comments on other threads on the Archdiocese page with regards sexual abuse by religious in Scotland, the response to such was somewhat disappointing.

“One individual went as far as indicating I was not part of the church and ought to be ashamed for raising such issues.

Another implied my accusations were unjustified and were nothing more than allegations even though the perpetrators of the abuse I mentioned are currently detained in a Scottish prison.

“One individual even went as far as commenting that I was merely slinging mud and that I was of a particular mind-set.

“One well-known name from Glasgow even went as far as asking for God to forgive me for having a go at the Church, implying that I was no longer a welcome member of such.

“The letter from Pope Francis goes some way to addressing these issues, however when the abused are being told to shut up and go away by leading lights of the Catholic Church in Glasgow then I fear we have a very long way to go before this situation will ever be resolved.”

The Pennsylvania grand jury report published last week in the US, found more than 300 priests abused more than 1,000 children.

Irish journalist Una Mullaly wrote: “When an information booklet and road closure map came through my letterbox detailing the papal visit to Dublin city centre and the Phoenix Park, I thought about loyalty, the loyalty of the crowds of Catholics who will rally and gather when the pope comes to Ireland this weekend.

“You can’t pull the scales from people’s eyes, they have to fall themselves, and for those who will celebrate the leader of the Catholic Church, those scales, presumably, remain intact.

“It may be nice to think of the papal visit and its ancillary events as celebrations of faith, but they are celebrations and endorsements of an organisation, the hierarchy of which continues to put the defence of the institution ahead of the interests of victims of clerical child abuse.

“When the scale of the abuse of children became known in Ireland, many people lost their loyalty. They stopped going to Mass.

“They may have held on to their faith in a personal way that no longer intersected with the organisation of the Catholic Church.

“Many others hung on in there, and defend their association with Catholicism in Ireland using the acrobatics of cognitive dissonance with caveats galore: that there are good priests (no one says there aren’t); that there were a few bad apples (as opposed to a terrifyingly large number who relied on the shady tactics of cover-ups that came from the highest levels of the church’s organisation); that personal faith is different to the structures of a religious organisation (but cannot reconcile leaving the Catholic Church and joining another Christian church instead) …

“It’s not enough that enlightened Catholics merely think about what victims of the Church’s reign of abuse went through

“On that last point, a reasonable counter is to argue why should people abandon their religion because of the actions of others?

“Fair enough. But how many current lay Catholics have made protests beyond just thinking the abuse scandals were awful?

“How many have marched demanding the outstanding redress money?

“How many have written to senior clergy asking for accountability for the church’s actions?  The answer is not enough.

Papal Visit -- a large number of local people were in the crowd at Bellahouston in Glasgow.Members of the Catholic Church in Dumbarton who attended the Papal Mass during Pope Benedict’s visit to Scotland. Picture by Bill Heaney

“Many people talk about separating their faith from the organisation, and their religion from the hierarchy, but it’s a messy dance.  If you are a practising Catholic in Ireland, the church is your organisation.

“It is, we’re often told, the sum of its people. So Irish Catholics have to own that. That’s your team. Those are your guys. As a member of the church, that’s your space to hold. What are you really loyal to?

“Often, pointing this out is labelled “unfair”. But there is a difference between being unfair and just being hard to hear.

“Because there is an embattled defensiveness at the core of the Catholic Church in Ireland and its congregation, it’s almost impossible to enter this fray without being deferential from the outset.

“The Catholic Church is apparently entitled to discriminate, demean, marginalise and exclude, but everyone else must always go in softly, softly when pointing this out.

“Personally, I don’t think it’s enough that this weekend enlightened Catholics merely think about what victims of the Catholic Church’s reign of abuse, violence, manipulation and cover-ups in this country and elsewhere went through and continue to go through. Is it not deeds that matter more than words? “

Abuse is toxic. Corruption is toxic. But loyalty can be toxic too.

Dublin’s archbishop Diarmuid Martin says Pope Francis needs a better team around him and has expressed the hope that he will “speak frankly about our past but also about our future”.

The Vatican Commission for the Protection of Minors is too small and not robust enough, he says, and it is “not getting its teeth into where it should be”.

Archbishop Martin added: “This “puts all the pressure back on the Pope. It puts him almost in an impossible situation.”

Structures that permit or facilitate abuse must be “broken down and broken down forever”, he said.

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