I wanted to know from Pat her take on the state of the Church: What’s it like to be a Catholic in Ireland right now? This is an unusually long post for PFO, but it indicates the depths of Pat’s feelings.
Very difficult. Over recent years, as in the US, we’ve had media revelations of clerical child sexual abuse and, even worse, the response of the hierarchy who covered up and moved the abusers in an effort to protect the good name of the institution. There’ve been three horrific reports, one which documented in graphic and unrelenting detail the systematic physical and sexual abuse of children committed to the care of Religious in homes and orphanages. But we were reassured that was all in the past and things had changed.
However, just last week a devastating report into the handling of clerical abuse cases in the Cloyne diocese was published, showing that the Church in the diocese was still covering up the sexual abuse of children for 13 years – up until 2009.
The Vatican was also criticised in the report for a letter it issued in 1997 to Irish Bishops challenging aspects of the guidelines in their child protection document which they said might be ‘in breach of canon law.’ The report found that the Vatican’s reaction to the Irish Bishops’ document was ‘entirely unhelpful to any Irish bishop who wanted to implement its guidelines and gave individual bishops freedom to ignore them, which in the case of Cloyne, Bishop Magee did.’
In a debate in the Dáil (our parliament) about the report, the Taoiseach (Prime Minister), himself a practising Catholic, gave an unprecedented and some say ‘historic’ speech in which he said the nation’s children could be assured that “their law – as citizens of this country, will always supercede canon laws that have neither legitimacy nor place in the affairs of this country.”
The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has been really strong on child protection and is highly regarded by survivors of abuse. He spoke of how annoyed and disappointed he was by the revelations in the Cloyne report and asked the question – “What do you do when you’ve got groups, whether in the Vatican or in Ireland, who try to undermine what is being done or simply refuse to understand what has been done?”
In short, the institutional Church is in serious trouble and the Pobal Dé (the lovely and much better Irish words for Church, which means literally ‘people of God’) are seriously troubled.
Some Catholics have walked away- there’s even a website where you can register your departure. Those who remain, even the faithful elderly, will tell you how shocked and betrayed they feel. Lots of good Catholics even now will say in despair that many of those in positions of power in the Church ‘still don’t get it.’ Many decent priests and religious feel shamed and tarnished, still struggling to minister to the spiritual and sacramental needs of their parishioners. And that’s treasured by practicing Catholics who really appreciate the work of their priests who (as the poet Thomas Kinsella puts it) struggle to “give ecclesiastical discipline to shapeless sorrow.”
For me, as a Catholic woman, the struggle is somewhat similar, though it is ‘spiritual’ discipline I seek to place on many “shapeless sorrows”, which include the continued suffering of abuse survivors and the (not unrelated, I fear) way women are treated within the institution.