Monday 20 January 2020

Dr Ciara Kelly: Church must reform and atone for its many sins

Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted of concealing child abuse
Archbishop Philip Wilson was convicted of concealing child abuse

Last week Australian courts convicted Archbishop Philip Wilson of concealing clerical child abuse in 1970s Australia. He's the most senior church official to be convicted of the crime anywhere. His defence tried to get the case thrown out, citing the 67-year-old's Alzheimer's disease and lack of recollection. But the court rejected this, saying victims were credible when they recounted conversations they'd had with the then younger priest. One victim described how he was told by Wilson, that he "was lying" and should go away and say some Hail Marys.

We've our own shameful litany of clerical sexual abuse and victims who weren't believed here. They, too, were dismissed and then coerced and intimidated into silence by priests. And, ultimately, let down repeatedly, as their abusers were moved from parish to parish - being allowed to harvest new victims rather than being brought to justice. The Church, over and over again, acting to protect itself and the abusers rather than the children involved.

In contrast, though, we've had no convictions of senior clergy involved in the concealment of abuse. Indeed there's been suggestion that the sanctity of the confessional means there should be no responsibility on the part of priests to even report abuse confessed by clergy. The idea that those who concealed it should also be prosecuted does not seem to have even arisen.

The cover-up of clerical sexual abuse by the Catholic Church happened in many countries: Ireland, Australia, Chile, America to name a few. And you'd have to ask what other organisation in the world could be exposed for having such an extensive network of child rapists that it covered up for - and still remain in good standing anywhere?

It sort of amazes me that the Catholic Church so clearly believes itself to be above the law and in many parts of the world people appear to agree with it.

It's apparent from what victims say about approaching the Church with stories of being raped and abused by priests, that some messed- up cocktail of hubris and self-righteousness allowed the hierarchy to dismiss, ignore and betray members of its own flock repeatedly - seemingly without even feeling any guilt about it. Which seems a little ironic.

And that same hubris is in evidence when we see how the Church continues to deal with victims. In Australia the judge said that Wilson showed no remorse or contrition for his actions and hasn't even resigned as archbishop.

Here, in Ireland, the Church still owes redress money for victims of clerical abuse - which obviously shows a lack of remorse or even common decency. And Pope Francis, who's due to visit us here next month, on a recent visit to South America caused much anger when he accused Chilean child abuse victims there of "slander" - leading one victim to say the Pope's previous apology for clerical abuse was "empty".

Pope Francis is often seen as a change in direction for the Catholic Church - a more accessible man, a man of humility. But his clear annoyance with the victims in Chile makes me wonder why it is that the ordinary members of the Catholic Church consistently show far more forgiveness for the Catholic hierarchy, than the hierarchy ever appears to show for the ordinary members.

It has always seemed to me that, the moment the Church turned its back on the children it was supposed to care for, it lost all moral authority and in doing so negated its very reason for existence. I personally feel no real desire to protest against the visit of the Pope but nor will I go and see him - even for the spectacle. But the Church could do, and should do, so much better by way of atonement to the people it has hurt. And, until it addresses the systematic inequality within its ranks, it is not a club I can ever really respect.

And, lastly, for those of you who say: "You liberals are always criticising the Catholic Church, what about the likes of Islam with all the terrible things that it does!"

Yes, you're right, Islam is also deserving of much criticism and, to be honest, I have zero truck with it either.

@ciarakellydoc Ciara presents 'Lunchtime Live' on Newstalk weekdays 12-2

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