Belfast Telegraph

Friday 24 October 2014

Conspiracy of silence shames Catholic Church

At the church I attended yesterday the priest spoke of his sorrow, his embarrassment, his dismay and his anger following the publication of the report into how the Dublin Archdiocese mishandled the abuse of children by paedophile priests.

Those are emotions which are shared by many fellow Catholics.

There is sorrow that so many children were so vilely abused for so long without anyone in authority, either in the Church or in civil society, lifting a hand to help them.

Indeed, how many children were not even believed by their own parents when they complained of abuse by priests.

In the 50s, 60s and even 70s the power of the Catholic Church on civil society in the Republic was enormous.

The archbishop only had to lift the telephone and make a complaint and everyone from heads of the Garda to broadcasting chiefs quaked.

At parish level priests wielded tremendous influence.

Compared to many parishioners they were well educated men and were shown a level of deference which is almost impossible to comprehend nowadays.

It was the same in Northern Ireland.

While the Catholic Church, of course, had relatively little influence in state matters — that rested more with the Orange Order — it ruled its parishes with an iron rod.

One of the great ironies of those days was that the sins of the laity — especially if those lay people were poor — were seized upon by the clergy.

Woe betide the poor girl who got herself pregnant as she was banished to one of the Church-run institutions.

Funnily enough, the feckless fathers were allowed to continue with their lives as if nothing had happened. But all the while there were priests committing sins of far greater magnitude than those they preached to.

The Dublin report contains |details of one priest who abused children on a fortnightly basis for 25 years and details of another who could not remember how many children he had abused.

It is right and proper that |those priests should be pursued relentlessly, no matter what their age, and made to pay for their sins.

These were not the actions of men making a momentary lapse — but of ruthless predators who completely abused their positions of trust.

But the hierarchy must also be brought to book.

The bishops, archbishops, cardinals and the Vatican officials who knew what was going on and colluded in a conspiracy of silence to protect the reputation of the Church rather than vulnerable children.

Those men had done even more harm to the reputation of the church than the paedophile priests.

They have destroyed the moral authority of the church and they have left the clergy, nuns and religious orders at the mercy of everyone who wants to taunt the Church.

The majority of priests and religious folk are men and women following a difficult path with great piety and resolution.

They are as appalled at the actions of their fellow clergy and of their Church leaders as anyone else.

After his sermon yesterday I watched the priest walk across the altar and thought how desperately lonely he looked.

Like every priest after recent scandals, he must wonder just what dark thoughts his flock sometimes harbour about him.

He, too, has been let down by the very Church he serves.

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