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Garry O'Sullivan: Church we knew is on its knees. Amen to that

Sometimes, victims of abuse have said of bishops who covered up abuse and those who abused them: 'They stole the Church from me'.

In the wake of the Ferns Inquiry in 2002, the Ryan Report and now the Cloyne Report, not to mention the individual cases and crises that have cropped up since the mid-1990s, the Church has been stolen from many, many others as well as actual victims.

Good priests, elderly men and women who cannot fathom the depth of disgrace heaped upon once sacrosanct priests and Christ's Church, not from the 'wicked world' but as Pope Benedict has said, from the 'filth' within the Church.

Younger people who fought with their parents about having to go to Mass have watched as their parents have faltered or just given up on regular Mass.

Quite simply, an institution that brought meaning to countless lives and knitted communities together has collapsed in the lives of countless thousands in this country.


If you were to take away the 'cultural catholics' -- those who seek baptisms, church weddings and church funerals but never darken the door of a church otherwise, the true state of the Irish Church would be laid bare.

For the rest of us that have stayed, it must appear to those now outside that we are weak or stupid or both.

Yet I don't think this is the end.

It's not the end of the revelations -- more will come -- but as Churchill famously said as the tide began to turn in the Second World War, "It is not the end, it is not even the beginning of the end but it is the end of the beginning".

It has taken over 15 years for all this 'filth' to be dragged out of the Irish Church, for the light of day to be shone on the hubris and arrogance of some bishops.

It is a shameful period, as President McAleese has said, and so much of it could have been prevented had the Church leadership been willing, indeed able, to listen to wiser voices and not put all their trust in their lawyers.

Carl Jung once said that Christianity is ultimately a very simple thing but that very often, simple things are the hardest things to do.

In Ireland, we complicated Christianity to the point where the Lord himself would hardly recognise it were he to walk among us again.

The 'Good News' became a doctrine of fear and hell fire, sexuality -- that celebration of love between two human beings was a by-word for sin and shame.

How did we in Ireland, we who threw off the yoke of the British Empire and established a Republic, ever allow a cabal of bishops and priests, nuns and brothers to run our Church?

We handed over all control and power to the Pharisees and Temple priests, ignoring our own obligations to each other as simple Christians.

Perhaps the greatest 'sin' of this generation -- not just bishops and priests, but guards, teachers and so on -- which has colluded so much in cover-up is that through their actions or lack of action, the very word 'Christianity' is held in disgrace by many. For many today, reading the papers and listening to the news, they will be wondering where is the hope?


The hope is in building a society made up of communities that believe in equality, the human dignity of all persons, democracy, participation, freedom of speech and thought and so on.

As a Republic in crisis because of the failure of so many to live ethically, we have a long way to go.

Yet if we are prepared to demand a Republic that espouses these values, then we should also demand a Church that not only believes in these values but actively promotes them.

Then, and maybe then, we can give back to victims of abuse, and those bewildered by the abuse crises, a new reformed Church that has its people at its heart and offers a radical experience of true Christianity.

For now we have to be content that the 'old' Church is on its knees, where a Church should be, begging for forgiveness. It is the beginning of the end.