The child abuse by Catholic priests was sickening. The fact they acted without shame is terrifying

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Pastor Dale Morgan

Mar 19, 2010, 3:53:19 AM3/19/10
False Churches, False Brethren, False Gospels

The child abuse by Catholic priests was sickening. The fact they acted without shame is terrifying

The Christian Brothers knew they could get away with it

          o Alexander Chancellor
          o The Guardian, Friday 19 March 2010

There are two distinct aspects to the sex abuse scandal in the Roman Catholic church. First, there is the abuse itself, inflicted by priests, monks and nuns on children in their care; and second, there are the cover-ups of which church authorities have subsequently been accused. It may well be true, as Andrew Brown has argued in his Guardian blog, that there is more child abuse outside the Catholic church than within it. But given the trust that the Catholic faithful traditionally place in their pastors, and the church's insistence on the need to protect the innocence of children, it seems particularly shocking when priests are involved in it.

For that reason, one might expect a bishop to act decisively against the evil of child abuse when it is discovered among the priests in his diocese; and while the occurrence of the abuse itself is obviously the greater abomination, the failure of many bishops to do this may be even more damaging in the long run to the authority of the church. To cover up what Pope John Paul II called "a grave sin", and to ignore his assertion that "there is no place in the priesthood or religious life for those who would harm the young", seems a serious dereliction of episcopal duty.

It also makes the church look more interested in its own reputation than in the welfare of its flock. And that, indeed, was what the Murphy commission, set up by the Irish government to investigate abuse in the Dublin archdiocese, concluded last year when it said that the church authorities had engaged in "the maintenance of secrecy, the avoidance of scandal, the protection of the reputation of the church, and the preservations of its assets". This was a terrible verdict, but the reluctance of the church to admit fault or to hang out its dirty washing in public is, however reprehensible, not difficult to understand. A hierarchical institution claiming to have the sole right to interpret the Word of God does not lightly jeopardise its authority in such ways.

By comparison with Tony Blair, who could not even bring himself to express regret for the vast human tragedy he helped to bring about in Iraq, the church has done better. The pope, who today will publish his promised "pastoral letter" to the people of Ireland, has already given a dressing-down to the Irish bishops and said he has been "severely shaken" and "deeply concerned" by the abuse cases. And Cardinal Sean Brady, the besieged leader of the church in Ireland, has said he is "ashamed" of his role 35 years ago in failing to expose child abuse by a priest who went on to assault scores more children before ending up in jail. He has also apologised "with all my heart" to anyone who has been hurt by his failure. Although belatedly, the church has admitted its faults and repented its ways. It has also taken steps to make it far more difficult for paedophile priests to escape exposure in future.

All this is good, but it cannot wipe out the horror of the abuse that has already taken place in some parts of the world, especially among the clergy and religious of the United States and Ireland. The children sent to Australia from British institutions with the promise of a new and better life suffered terribly there at the hands of Ireland's Christian Brothers. The 1998 report of a House of Commons select committee contains this unbearable passage: "Those of us who heard the account of a man who as a boy was a particular favourite of some Christian Brothers at Tardun [Western Australia] who competed as to who could rape him 100 times first, his account of being in terrible pain, bleeding and bewildered, trying to beat his own eyes so they would cease to be blue as the Brothers liked his blue eyes, or being forced to masturbate animals, or being held upside down over a well and threatened in case he ever told, will never forget it."

What is so terrifying is that there was nothing furtive or guilty about the Brothers' behaviour. They would seem not only to have turned against their original Christian vocation but to have collectively embraced depravity of the most unspeakable kind and without even any sense of shame. This was obviously an exceptional episode, but it is nevertheless incredible that it could have happened at all. And doubtless it would not have happened if the Brothers had not known that they would get away with it. In Britain, at least, we have been spared such scandals. The church here has a much better record than many in its treatment of children, which is fortunate in the light of the pope's forthcoming state visit to this country.
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