Facing the Truth
For me it was a moment of truth for the Catholic Church in Ireland.Speaking after the recent October Conference of the Bishops in Maynooth, Cardinal Daly spoke about one of the most distressing problems facing society and the Church at this time – the sexual abuse of children by some priests and religious. He said it was an appalling breach of a sacred trust. It has caused immense hurt to many children and families.
Regret and Apology
And then he went on to express in the name of the Church to all victims and their families and friends “our most humble apology for the hurt caused to them”. He said the primary concern is the protection and care of children. He made it clear that it is the policy of the bishops that all allegations where there is reasonable cause to suspect that child abuse may have occurred will be reported to the appropriate civil authorities. We are told that there will be more revelations and that we will face other painful days down the road for the next few years. But I believe that people and priests can face that future once we face the truth together.
Facing the People
Facing people has not been easy. Recently, visiting the homes of the parish for the Stations, some spoke about their feelings and reactions to all that has been happening. “What is happening in our Church?” was a question that I heard.
And behind it you felt the pain and the anger and the distress that people were struggling with. There was shock and disappointment too. For many I feel it hit deep questions of faith and credibility about Church.
There was sensitivity and support there as well. I feel that most people sensed the shock waves and the shame that we as priests were trying to cope with. For me, the word “paedophile” was a word I never heard until recently, never mind knowing what it meant. One felt under scrutiny in a strange kind of way. The crimes of a small number seemed to have splashed the tar on all our faces.
A Barrage of Shocks
Turning on the radio in the morning for some time back, I wondered what would be making the headlines for the day? The anguish of people who were hurt with families and friends touched deep chords.
So also did the situation of priests who were offenders. They have gone down a sad and lonely road. They too need care and compassion from all of us priests and people in the church family.
Keeping a Balance
There is also the need to keep a balance. And that needs to be said. Most child-abuse takes place somewhere within the family home and up to 90% of people who abuse are married. From available evidence, the incidence of abuse is as great if not greater amongst other professions and groups of people as it is amongst priests.
We are not in the business of condemning nor can we condone what has taken place. None of this is an excuse for the behaviour of priests who have offended. They took advantage of a special position and used it as a cloak for their activities. Even when some of them were found out, they were not dealt with as they should have been. We are now assured that chapter is closed.
Many people I know are trying to make sense of it all. It helps me to go back to the beginnings. When Our Lord began his public life, He looked around for a group of men He could train and prepare to succeed him. He picked twelve. After a period of training, we see two of them, James and John were looking for the two top jobs in his kingdom. Ambition and lack of understanding of what He was about is very evident. In Gethsemane as He faced the horror of agony, Peter, James and John, who were invited to stay awake and pray with Him, fell fast asleep and even slept again after He woke them up. Peter denied that he ever knew Him when he was teased by a teenager. And Judas betrayed Him. In the dark hour of Calvary, with the probable exception of John they all ran like cowards. Mary and the women stood by Him.
History Repeats Itself
What does all this say to us at the present? Down through the centuries, what happened at the beginning has recurred at different times. History is dotted with stories of popes and cardinals, priests and religious who have failed Him. Side by side with great Saints and people of heroic virtue, there have been inquisitions and wars, mistresses and murder.
A More Humble Church
Human nature does not change. We must hold our balance when some of our most respected priests and bishops failed to live up to their vows and responsibilities. Christ’s call to repentance is a continual call. It is a call that makes no distinctions no matter who we are or whatever calling we have. We are a Church of sinners. And hopefully, a more humble church as we face the future. All of us at every level are people with feet of clay. Humus, the Latin word for earth, reminds us of the prophet Micah’s call: “God has taught you what is good; this is what he asks of you, only this: to act justly, to love tenderly and to walk humbly with your God”. I believe it is a good charter for the days ahead.
A Vision of Local Church
Priests and people need to take time to recover composure. But we should begin to take a searching look. We can only do it together. What is our vision of parish?
What changes need to be made? What kind of framework needs to be put in place? We need time to reflect and listen and speak our truth to each other. There are a good number of committed people around in every parish. They are genuinely concerned. It is together we can shape the future. Pobail Dé needs to be grounded.
We need to look at ways of being church together. An image that is deeply rooted in the west is linked into pilgrimage. Pilgrim People is a challenging image of Church. The west is dotted with places of pilgrimage. Holy Wells are everywhere. And they are local. They are linked into the experience of many people – people close to nature – close to each other and close to God.
Most of my life has been spent between the mountain and the sea, as a youngster growing up in Cleggan, and later as a priest in the shadows of Croagh Patrick. In the setting of parish, the Reek spoke a powerful message.
Here in Athenry, Lady’s Well is a unique place. It is deeply rooted for seven centuries in the consciousness of people in this parish and surrounding areas. August 15th is a marked day in local calendar. To be home for Lady’s Day is the draw from abroad.
Support and Hospitality
On the pilgrim path, God is continually calling his people onwards. We journey in faith. We struggle and fall – A sinful people always in need of forgiveness. We need support from one another. No matter who we are or what we do we draw courage and strength, compassion and inspiration from each other. It is a broad path. People move at their own pace. We have to measure our stride. The stragglers and the strangers have their story. They need listening ears and gentle hands. In this context, the experience of the Station Mass is a very special expression of hospitality and “domestic church”.
I wonder are we making the most of it and Station areas as framework within parish?
Most of all there are the hungers of the heart. Ways of praying and a growing interest in spirituality. We have rich resources that need to be rediscovered – Spirituality, Pilgrimage and the Struggles of the Powerless for a social Gospel.
Echoes of Micah
What is happening in Ballintubber and Glendalough speaks in a very authentic way to people who have been there. The old monastic places, the mountains and the streams, translations of old Irish prayers are opening up rich insights into Irish spirituality – The search for harmony in our inner journey, harmony with the creation around us, and harmony with our God.
Pilgrimage and spirituality must embrace people who feel powerless. They are many who cannot keep up the pace. They feel pushed aside. They are weary. Tired of the system, disaffected from Church. To be with them and for them is one of the great challenges we face as Church in the days ahead.
Written by Tony King
Published here 09 Feb 2021 and originally published November 1995
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