This has once again turned into a really long post, sorry if it seems a bit daunting. I was also going to discuss the Church’s reaction to the Pope’s alleged involvement in the case of a priest in Wisconsin, but I think I’ll have to leave that for a separate post in a few days.
I have so far been fairly quiet on the question of the abuse of children within the Catholic Church, at least on the blog. When something so horrific happens, there’s not an awful lot that can be said. I don’t think anyone disagrees very much. But there is something that can be looked at a little bit closer, and that’s Pope Palpatine’s apology, or as I think it’ll be fairly obvious by the end of this post, his non-apology. Fortunately the Telegraph has published the whole piece so we don’t have to rely entirely on news coverage of the apology and the reaction to it, which inevitably only includes the parts which fit with the news agency’s agenda (not that I’m any better, I’m not going to go through it all).
So the Pope actually starts off quite well, he appears to genuinely be concerned and expressing regret for what’s happened. I’m sure that on some sort of level he is concerned, but it’s pretty clear from my reading of his apology that he’s more concerned about the image of the church than genuinely looking for reparation for what members of the church did.
Perseverance and prayer are needed, with great trust in the healing power of God’s grace.
At the same time, I must also express my conviction that, in order to recover from this grievous wound, the Church in Ireland must first acknowledge before the Lord and before others the serious sins committed against defenceless children.
Such an acknowledgement, accompanied by sincere sorrow for the damage caused to these victims and their families, must lead to a concerted effort to ensure the protection of children from similar crimes in the future.
As you take up the challenges of this hour, I ask you to remember “the rock from which you were hewn” (Is 51:1).
Reflect upon the generous, often heroic, contributions made by past generations of Irish men and women to the Church and to humanity as a whole, and let this provide the impetus for honest self-examination and a committed programme of ecclesial and individual renewal.
It is my prayer that, assisted by the intercession of her many saints and purified through penance, the Church in Ireland will overcome the present crisis and become once more a convincing witness to the truth and the goodness of Almighty God, made manifest in his Son Jesus Christ.
Look at the message he’s putting across here, he’s saying “yes, the Church has done some bad things, but try not to think about that, think about faith and the good we’ve done in the past, think about the Bible, and most importantly pray, prayer will make it all better.” He does it again further on in the letter:
With this Letter, I wish to exhort all of you, as God’s people in Ireland, to reflect on the wounds inflicted on Christ’s body, the sometimes painful remedies needed to bind and heal them, and the need for unity, charity and mutual support in the long-term process of restoration and ecclesial renewal.
“What’s a nice-sounding way of saying ‘please don’t stop coming to mass and leaving money in our coffers’? Oh I know, we’ll call it ‘unity, charity and mutual support.’” It’s even more obvious later in the letter when he’s addressing the victims of abuse and their families (I won’t reproduce it all here so for context you should read it within the whole piece):
I pray that, by drawing nearer to Christ and by participating in the life of his Church – a Church purified by penance and renewed in pastoral charity – you will come to rediscover Christ’s infinite love for each one of you.
Purified by penance? How about purifying the Church (‘Purifying’ – I like how he seems to imply this is the only blemish on an otherwise spotless Church. HIV? What’s that?) by kicking out the pedo priests and making sure they end up in jail? There’s a similar bit of poetic bullshit when he addresses the young people of Ireland:
We are all scandalised by the sins and failures of some of the Church’s members, particularly those who were chosen especially to guide and serve young people.
But it is in the Church that you will find Jesus Christ, who is the same yesterday, today and for ever (cf. Heb 13:8).
He loves you and he has offered himself on the cross for you.
Seek a personal relationship with him within the communion of his Church, for he will never betray your trust!
He alone can satisfy your deepest longings and give your lives their fullest meaning by directing them to the service of others.
Keep your eyes fixed on Jesus and his goodness, and shelter the flame of faith in your heart.
“Yeah, we’ve harboured paedophiles, but look at the little baby Jesus!” Would someone who is genuinely trying to make reparations for what his organisation has done say all this? I think the only reason they’re even admitting what’s happened is because it’s already out in public and denying it would be a bad PR move. Remember that in the past, cases of abuse were frequently blamed on homosexuals within the church, and pointing at other religious groups as if to say ‘but they did it too’. The Church seems intent on saving face and deflecting blame above all else.
He then goes on to describe the long history of the Church in Ireland, as if to say that there’s a lot more to the Church than just this and that this is just a short episode that can soon be passed in the long scheme of things. I have a problem with that, we have no way of knowing just how long this has been going on, it could be that the abuse of children, both physical and sexual, has been going on throughout this whole long history. Indeed physical abuse certainly has been happening for a long time if you include corporal punishment. I think it’s naive to consider paedophilia and child abuse to be purely modern phenomena. He also includes this chunk of Catholic history in Ireland:
From the sixteenth century on, Catholics in Ireland endured a long period of persecution, during which they struggled to keep the flame of faith alive in dangerous and difficult circumstances.
Saint Oliver Plunkett, the martyred Archbishop of Armagh, is the most famous example of a host of courageous sons and daughters of Ireland who were willing to lay down their lives out of fidelity to the Gospel.
Again, do you see what he’s doing? “Look at these role models!” he’s saying, “They stuck with the Church through thick and thin, they went through a lot worse than this!” This little history class he’s giving is completely irrelevant to the issue at hand; it is pure PR. No mention of the Troubles by the way, this selective history lesson paints a perfect and persecuted picture of Catholicism in Ireland.
In almost every family in Ireland, there has been someone – a son or a daughter, an aunt or an uncle – who has given his or her life to the Church.
Irish families rightly esteem and cherish their loved ones who have dedicated their lives to Christ, sharing the gift of faith with others, and putting that faith into action in loving service of God and neighbour.
I think this is something of an inaccurate portrayal of the Catholic Church – they’re trying to make out like this is an organic, grass-roots organisation rather than the top-down hierarchy that it really is. The Church does not make itself accountable to its members. It’s almost like he’s trying to spread the blame out by saying that this is an organisation made up of the people of Ireland; they’re all part of the Church so this is their problem too. That is (in part) true, but it is shifting the focus of the blame away from the Vatican, and ignores the role played by the Church hierarchy in covering-up the abuse cases.
The next part is sickeningly obvious, and I’m surprised it got missed by the BBC article where I first heard about the apology letter:
In recent decades, however, the Church in your country has had to confront new and serious challenges to the faith arising from the rapid transformation and secularisation of Irish society.
Fast-paced social change has occurred, often adversely affecting people’s traditional adherence to Catholic teaching and values.
All too often, the sacramental and devotional practices that sustain faith and enable it to grow, such as frequent confession, daily prayer and annual retreats, were neglected.
Significant too was the tendency during this period, also on the part of priests and religious, to adopt ways of thinking and assessing secular realities without sufficient reference to the Gospel.
How dare he? How fucking dare he blame secular forces for something that happened under his and his predecessors’ own most holy noses? Don’t forget that much of this abuse happened at a time when the Catholic Church was deeply embedded into Irish society and politics, and that it is only now in more secular times, when the grip of the Church has loosened somewhat, that some of the truth has finally managed to come out. There is again this assumption that the abuse has only been going on relatively recently.
The letter is very long and I can’t go through it all with a fine toothcomb, but as I was reading through I was struck by a sense of disgust. Throughout every section the Pope appears to pay lip-service to the idea of justice and reconciliation, but it’s buried deep in flowery language about God’s mercy and talking about how prayer will be the solution. Only in the part addressed to the abusers of children does he speak about coming forward and admitting what they as individuals have done. Even then, however, he speaks of atonement “By offering prayers and penances for those you have wronged.” No civil authorities, no jailtime, no real justice by any means. So it was with some relief that I came to the last section, where Palpatine declares:
I now wish to propose to you some concrete initiatives to address the situation.
Brilliant! Unfortunately I assumed ‘concrete’ would refer to something material or specific, something that would actually bring about justice, but in reality his “initiatives to address the situation” just consist of more prayer and a proposed ‘Apostolic Visitation’ to Ireland.
Don’t believe me? Don’t believe that God’s own representative on Earth would propose such a dispairingly inadequate solution? Go ahead, read it. It’s the section at the end entitled “To all the faithful of Ireland.” All he proposes is devoting Lent and Friday penances to praying for the renewal of the Church, going to confession more often, paying more attention to Eucharistic adoration, a nationwide Mission, and this Apostolic Visitation. His solution is to stick with the Church then, basically. His reason for writing this letter is to try and keep people in the Church. Not justice, not reparation. “Please forgive the Church and keep giving us money.”
Now let’s look at what isn’t here. He does not at all acknowledge the role played by the Church hierarchy and the Vatican (and it seems, the Pope himself) in the cover-up of the abuse. Whenever there is a veiled reference to the cover-up, it’s obfuscated in vague expressions like “there was a well-intentioned but misguided tendency to avoid penal approaches to canonically irregular situations“, where he doesn’t say who avoided penal approaches, or “misplaced concern for the reputation of the Church and the avoidance of scandal, resulting in failure to apply existing canonical penalties“, where he acts as if the only reason it happened was because someone didn’t do what the Vatican said. He is blaming the grass-roots of the Church, in other words.
He also does not call for any definitive action, even though he tells the bishops that “only decisive action carried out with complete honesty and transparency will restore the respect and good will of the Irish people towards the Church to which we have consecrated our lives.” No clue as to what that decisive action should be, though. A swing and a miss.
He does not call for resignations of any bishops. This is particularly alarming in the case of Sean Brady, the leader of the Church in Ireland. Back in 1975 he was personally involved in a case where the victims of sexual abuse were made to sign oaths of silence. Despite having said in the recent past that if he found out his actions had led to the abuse of more children, he would resign, he has refused to resign over this revelation, claiming that he will only resign if asked to do so by the Pope. Palpatine, on the other hand, seems to have a policy of not sacking people, but merely accepting resignations. Catch 22.
He also only refers to the cases in Ireland, and doesn’t seem to acknowledge that the abuse has happened in the Church across the world. Why does he not do this? Because the only thing linking the Church in all these different countries is the Vatican, and he doesn’t want to draw attention to the Vatican’s role in the abuse. That would imply that the problem is endemic and therefore much bigger than the image he wants to put across.
So I hope by the end of this long post that you’re convinced this apology was actually not really an apology, but a way for the Church to try and save face and push blame away from the Vatican. It’s a shame that this apology has been swallowed whole by so many, because I think if more people just went and read it, they’d realise how inadequate it is too.
And me? Well I’m ashamed I was ever involved in such a disgusting institution.