Belfast Telegraph

Apologies for abuse won't ease the pain

On Wednesday last when the main headlines in Northern Ireland were concentrating on the one-day stoppage, the Roman Catholic Church made its own news. On that day six further reports about clerical child abuse were issued, including two on the dioceses of Derry and Dromore in Northern Ireland, and others including Raphoe, and Kilmore which includes parishes in Fermanagh.

The reports by the National Board for Safeguarding Children revealed that child abuse allegations were made against 85 priests between 1975 and 2010.

Some victims felt that the reports did not go back far enough, and were understandably angry. Nevertheless, the latest litany of abuse is as sickening as the revelations in Ferns, Dublin, Cloyne and elsewhere.

In a separate development, an independent review in the Down and Connor Diocese has highlighted allegations of child abuse against 40 priests in the last 50 years.

It is the same old story. Allegations , contrite apologies by the priesthood, and promises that safeguards are now in place.

The trouble is that the more the clergy apologise, the harder it is to overlook the abuse that was so endemic within the Catholic Church.

One of the most disturbing reports was that on the Diocese of Raphoe where the police received 52 allegations of abuse involving 14 priests from 1975 to 2010. The current Bishop Dr Philip Boyce said that the clergy were truly sorry and that "insufficient emphasis was placed on the needs of the victims, often in the misguided attempt to protect the reputation of the Church". Precisely.

He also emphasised that the diocese now has a "robust safeguarding policy", but I believe that such improvements, while welcome, should not be allowed to cloud the evils that went on before.

The numbers overall are disturbing, and people cannot judge each diocese like a league table. The whole system was rotten, and even one victim was one too many.

Even in the latest reports there is a careful use of language which sanitises the horrors. The Raphoe report refers to "significant errors of judgement" by successive bishops. It added that "judgements were clouded, due to the presenting problem being, for example, alcohol abuse and an inability to hear the concerns about the abuse of children."

Such clinical language carefully masks the terror of children being raped, abused, alone and defenceless. It is no wonder that so many people have lost faith in the Catholic Church, and particularly in its clergy.

It should be stressed, however, that the abuse was carried out by a minority. Sadly, however, each new report of the abuse of children makes the situation seem even worse.

Unfortunately there will be more bad reports, and the pain and bitter memories will be around for a long time to come ...

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