The Catholic clergy’s most unforgiveable sin... betrayal
The Ryan Report showed that thousands of children were abused, raped, assaulted and terrorised over a period of three decades in institutions run by the Catholic Church in the Republic of Ireland.
Another report into the activities of deviant priests in the Dublin Archdiocese is to be published soon.
As a Catholic, and as one who grew up at a time when the authority of the Catholic church, certainly in rural areas, was unquestioned in both Northern Ireland and the Republic, such reports make for very uncomfortable reading.
Nothing can ever undo the harm done to the victims, those who were beaten or abused. The sheer random nature of the brutality was summed up for me by one survivor who said: “Sometimes I was beaten for smiling, other times for not smiling”.
The perpetrators were priests, nuns and Christian Brothers. It seems that every institution run by the church had a number of vile brutes among its throng who preyed on the children.
It is almost impossible to comprehend how those children must have felt. They had been handed over to the institutions by the state, or in some cases even their parents because of domestic circumstances. Once there, it seemed, no-one cared what happened to these children. Instead of being cared for they were brutalised.
Worst of all they had no-one to turn to. Their families didn’t know; the state either through the education authorities or social services seemingly didn’t care and the only other figures of authority – the clergy and religious orders – were the perpetrators. Little wonder so many of the children on reaching adulthood fled Ireland, the country that had failed them at every turn.
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Given the scale of the abuses, one wonders how they could have gone undetected so long. The shameful fact is that they were known about. The Church knew that it had thugs and paedophiles in its ranks. It moved them about when there was any chance of detection or scandal.
That, for me as a Catholic, is the most unforgivable sin of all. The Church betrayed the children in its care, it betrayed the congregations who followed the faith and it betrayed all the caring decent priests, nuns and brothers who were not party to any abuses.
Those men and women now find themselves tainted with the sins of others because the Catholic hierarchy would not do the decent thing and hand the abusers over to the police voluntarily. That would have sent a powerful message to other abusers and paedophiles who have followed down the years. Instead they also felt the church would protect them and hide their sins.
The laity has also been betrayed. They put their trust in priests and bishops and cardinals and that trust was broken. The laity in the Catholic Church in Ireland has made enormous sacrifices over the years in funding education, new churches and the general running of the church. Does the Catholic hierarchy even now think how much it owes the ordinary men and women of the church and how grievously it has wounded them?
Does it think how its decent priests and religious people feel when they go about their daily work and see the questioning glances of their congregations? People of my generation had great devotion to their faith and great faith in their priests and religion.
One has only to look at the empty pews on any Sunday to see that the devotion is waning among succeeding generations. Can we really blame them?