Another damning report on the scale of child sexual abuse by the Roman Catholic clergy in this country has been published this week. In the report of the commission on child abuse within the Dublin diocese several Bishops are named as having not acted honourably when alerted to the activities of their clergy, most of them did nothing and many just moved the offending cleric on to another parish where the abuse continued on more children. I have been listening through this week to many ‘good’ Catholics venting their frustration at the lack of response of their church to these atrocities in any meaningful way. All the Church officials can muster to date are verbal apologies (they have never been at a loss for words, both inside and outside the pulpit ! ) and paltry sums of compensation offered to some of the victims. It is heart rending to hear fair minded members of that Church tearfully baffled as to the stony response of their spiritual leaders in the light of these awful happenings, as many have asked over the last few days, where has basic Christianity gone ?
A Bishop lies, a Cardinal lies, even a child preparing for Communion knows from their Catechism that it is a ‘sin’ to tell an untruth. But there seems to be one code of morality for the man or woman in the pew and an entirely opposite code for the Church hierarchy. Of course I am looking at these events from the outside having long ago substituted dead religious practise for a living faith in Jesus Christ. I could never understand how anyone with even a basic knowledge of the Gospels could confuse that heartless monolith which is the Roman Catholic Church with the life and teachings of Jesus of Nazareth. While much good has been done by individual clergy and laity within the Church the structure of it, headed or lorded over by a Pope who lives in palatial grandeur, runs so counter to the way Jesus admonished His disciples to behave that it beggars belief. Jesus model of church leadership was that of a servant in fact He said that the greatest in His Kingdom would be the servant of all. ( Matthew 18: 1-4). As the Roman church strengthened its power base over the centuries it lost its spiritual clout and diluted the early teachings of Jesus with clever sounding theologies and doctrines that owed more to human ingenuity than to a revelation from God.
When I first opened the pages of the New Testament to read it for myself I was so surprised that much of what I had been taught to believe as a Catholic was no where to be found within its covers. Staples of my childhood like Confession, Mass, Praying for the Dead, worship of Mary and the reverential place of the Priest were all absent from the Four Gospels and did not appear in the early written works of the first Christian communities. Sadly, to people of my parent’s generation, reading the Bible had been deliberately discouraged by the Church , her ministers alone would explain and interpret the Book in line with its own peculiar belief system. The result of this rigorous authoritarianism was to allow generations of Irish people to have a dread of the Scriptures and thereby deny them the possibility of nurturing a vibrant personal faith in the Jesus of the New Testament. Compounded to this spiritual theft as we now know, was the scandalous behaviour of large numbers of the Churches clergy in the sexual abuse of thousands of children. Over the last few years as details of the awfulness of those crimes have been exposed, the once intimate relationship between the Irish and the Catholic Church has been altered beyond recognition. To the religiously sceptic these revelations of clerical wrongdoing have confirmed their disdain of any type of a faith based approach to life, to those who refused to live under any personal moral code it has shown how hollow that code was in the first place and to the majority of ordinary church going Catholics it has been a massive act of betrayal inflicted on them by the Church they loved.
Those of us looking on from outside the Roman fold do not have reason for any smugness or quiet satisfaction ,as the Catholic Church crumbles before our eyes. For most people here the terms Catholic and Christian are interchangeable, however misguided that opinion might be. So as the R. C Church looses ground, so too in common perception does the message of the Gospel. The opportunity must now be grasped to present the plain teachings of Jesus without the ecclesiastical razzmatazz or clerical sleight of hand. As Paul recalled his first encounter with the people at Corinth, “ My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but on God's power.” ( 1 Corinthians 2: 4,5 ) All religious life is littered with the dead ash of human wisdom and persuasive oratory, what the disillusioned ‘faithful’ of the Catholic Church in Ireland now deserve to hear is a message of power and purity that emanates from the very heart of God. My hope is that the baby wont be tossed out with the bathwater as the distinction between the glorious message of Jesus and the moribund works of failed religion are muddled in the public mind. The challenge is for those of us who have tasted the goodness and mercy of God to pass it on as urgently and gently as we can, our fellow citizens deserve nothing less in the present trying circumstances.