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Only the whole truth can heal

• On a recent trip to Ireland, I had the distinct impression that the anti-church movement is gathering momentum as the clerical abuse affair rumbles on. This cannot be in anybody's interest.

The cry for justice is not a cry for vengeance or retribution but the cry of those who long to heal the pain of the unforgettable crime of sexual abuse. The most urgent need is for healing.

The law courts are not a fitting place for righting the wrong experienced by the victims of abuse. Lawyers, understandably, tend to reduce the issues between offenders and victims to ones that are legally relevant. Though a victim may be legally vindicated, the hurt remains unhealed.

In the Christian tradition, there has been a strong emphasis on the judgment of God as an experience of healing and not the experience of the sentence of a court of law.

The secular equivalent of justice as healing lies in the notion of restorative justice. This was at the heart of South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation Commission.

This approach emphasises the needs of the victim, but also embraces the needs of the perpetrator and the needs of the wider community.

In Ireland, there has been an appalling injustice in the way the complaints of clerical abuse victims were handled by the bishops.

However, there is now an additional injustice perpetrated on the thousands of totally innocent and dedicated priests and religious who are in fear of appearing in a public place in clerical dress because of the verbal abuse that they have regularly experienced.

The victims' justified anger and desperation can only be ended when all the parties involved engage in a process similar to that conducted in South Africa through the inspiration of Archbishop Desmond Tutu, who saw justice as "being concerned not so much to punish as to redress or restore a balance that has been knocked askew".

I continue to nurture the forlorn hope that the concept of justice as healing and not as retribution will take root in Irish hearts and minds.

Philip O'Neill
Oxford, UK

Irish Independent