Saturday, November 28, 2009

Abuse leaves indelible stain worse than the Inquisition

Abuse leaves indelible stain worse than the Inquisition

Friday November 27 2009

The Church put its own self-interest before the interests of others. There is no better way to negate Christianity than that

The Dublin report describes how Church authorities, prior to the late 1990s, insisted they had been on a 'learning curve' with regard to abuse of children by clergy. This, they said, was why they did not deal with child abuse allegations in the proper way.

The Commission of Investigation does not accept this defence. The commission is right, but if anything it is being a bit kind because Church authorities were on a learning curve, but of a different and much worse sort than the one imagined by the commission.

They did not have to learn about the fact of child abuse by clergy. They knew all about this going back decades. So with regard to the existence of abuse, there was no learning curve.

What Church authorities mean by a 'learning curve' is that it took them a long time to appreciate just how terrible and awful a thing child abuse is, that it must be dealt with ruthlessly, and that the Church must put the victim first, and not itself and the priest.

This is the learning curve the Church took so long to climb and it is one it should never have had to climb, because, as the report makes clear, Canon law, quite apart from the moral law, was clear on how child abusers should be dealt with.

Had Canon law been properly implemented, many children would have been spared the horror of sex abuse. Of the four archbishops named in the report, only Cardinal Connell came close to implementing Canon law properly, in that he had two offenders 'defrocked', or laicised, using Canon law.

In fact, with regard to Canon law, the report has something very interesting to say. It states that from the middle of the 20th Century, "Canon law appears to have fallen into disuse or disrespect".

Reformers suggested that Canon law was too legalistic and against the spirit of the Gospel.

But the irony is that if Canon law had not fallen into a state of disrepair then the abuse cases would have been much better dealt with than they were, and in a spirit much closer to that of the Gospel, which is concerned with justice as well as with mercy and forgiveness. Sometimes the best way to capture the spirit of the law is to follow the letter, it turns out.

Nor did Canon law directly interfere with civil law. When a crime has been committed, the two should complement one another. The offender should be punished under both civil law and Canon law.

In the past, as in the distant past, what often happened is that the Church would defrock a priest guilty of sex abuse, hand him over to the civil authorities, which would deal with him according to civil law. That often meant execution.

In fact, if the Catholic Church had been more Catholic, more genuinely Catholic, if it had adhered much more closely to its own teachings, the abuse scandals would have been much less severe than they were.

But the Church did what no Christian organisation is ever supposed to do, that is, it put its own narrow self-interest before the legitimate interests of others. There is no better way to negate Christianity than that. Indeed, when you think of it, Ireland is currently blighted by one major institution after another putting its own interest ahead of the public interest.

What now? It is vital that the Church, the State, and every other organisation responsible for the care of children have proper child protection systems in place that are properly enforced. Just this week, a former boxing coach has admitted sexually abusing five boys over a 13-year period ending in 2002. There have been similar scandals in swimming clubs.

As for the State, the indefatigable Alan Shatter has yet again lambasted it, and the Government, over their repeated child protection failures.

The Church, for its part, now has an excellent person in charge of its national child protection office, Ian Elliot, a Presbyterian. He earned his spurs last year by forcing the Cloyne diocese to properly deal with allegations made against two of its clergy, with the result that John Magee stood aside as bishop of his diocese.

The Dublin diocesan child protection office has been headed by the excellent Phil Garland, and of course Archbishop Diarmuid Martin represents a very clear and clean break with the past.

The additional pay-outs by the religious orders that ran the various children's institutions should also be mentioned. The Christian Brothers' pay-out, for example, is very substantial in terms of the overall assets of the order.

Is the Church now in a position to move on and leave these scandals behind it? No. They leave an indelible stain worse even than the Inquisition.

The best we can say is that with this report the Church may at last have hit rock bottom.

dquinn@independent.ie

- David Quinn

Irish Independent

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