Sex Abuse & the Irish Catholic Church: A Resounding Critique of Clerical Culture

image Writing in today’s Irish Times, Dr Derek Smyth, a psychotherapist and a priest in Foxrock parish, Co. Dublin, offers a stinging critique of Irish Catholic clerical culture and asks, ‘Why were we so silent on child abuse? Why didn’t we speak up?’

Smyth draws on research that

attests that [clerical culture] does contribute to the promotion of immaturity, arrested development and irresponsibility.

Not exactly the qualities a church would want to promote among its leadership.

Smyth laments that the internal culture of the Irish Catholic Church encouraged silence and obedience, and stamped out dissent. He argues that this culture even seeped into the consciences of ordinary Irish Catholics, so that they were taught to distrust their own impulses.

He says that Irish Catholics even distrusted their own impulses towards goodness and decency, so that – conditioned by their leaders – they did not know how to pray with and comfort their ‘non Catholic’ friends at a funeral.

A corrupt clerical culture is not unique to Ireland, as Thomas C. Fox observed in August 2009 in the US-based National Catholic Reporter. Here, he quotes Chicago writer Chuck Goudie’s account of Cardinal Bernadin’s letters to abusive priests in chilling detail,

In the file are letters from Cardinal Bernardin to several priests who had been accused of sexually molesting young Catholics.

Bernardin uses the code word "sabbatical" to refer to the five months of paid time off awarded to suspected pedophiles. He describes how the pastor will return to his parish position after the sabbatical.

"May I take this opportunity to thank you for your fine work," he writes to one horrendous violator who was later imprisoned. "As you look forward to this important transition in your priesthood, please know that you have my support and prayers."

Transition in your priesthood.

Such wordplay and manipulation of reality was the normal.

Back to the Irish context, Smyth concludes with one of the most radical suggestions I have heard for dealing with the fall-out from the abuse scandals,

Tragically, it is within this culture that the governance of the church takes place and we are all guilty by association. It may be convenient to suggest that the auxiliary bishops must step down, but surely it is more honest to ask all of our generation to step down, ensuring a new beginning for all.

The Irish Catholic faithful are awaiting the outcome of the Pope’s meeting with the Irish bishops, scheduled for 15-16 February. It is anticipated that there will be a special message from this meeting, delivered to Irish congregations on Ash Wednesday, 17 February.

But will this really mark ‘a new beginning for all?’

(Photo sourced from flickr photosharing, ‘mortommy,’ grave on rock of Cashel)

3 thoughts on “Sex Abuse & the Irish Catholic Church: A Resounding Critique of Clerical Culture”

  1. Gladys, where can one start? Maybe a good place would be in extending sympathy and solidarity to those who have suffered, and continue to do so as a result of this heinous crime! I can’t begin to understand their pain, yet have dealt with those who have suffered abuse of a similar kind.

    Your article (and rightly so) contains a scathing attack upon the clergy in all of it’s levels. To silence, cover-up or simply avoid what has been going on under their noses, bishops and the hierarchy have been more than complicit, in many cases contributors. We will no doubt hear from the Pope a need for healing and forgiveness, but as I tell those who I have dealt with, “The person who did this to you, needs to admit publicly their wrong doing, serve the time under the law, and need to beg for your forgiveness before you can (if you can) begin to forgive them!”

    The question now is, will the church recover from this? Will it ever regain it’s sought after role in society? I think not, its catalogue of failings will doggedly blight it’s every word, sermon, mass and hollow sentiment of morality for many generations to come.

  2. Dear Gladys,
    A friend of mine forwarded your reflections to me to-day. The article was a sort of follow up to an Article I wrote in the Furrow.
    Tragically there are many elements of the story yet to be told. For example, there has been no support offered to the priests still loyal and in the trenches, who are deeply affected by the emotional outcome. In other agencies where I have worked there would be some form of evaluation and intervention.

    Many of the priests I have met since my return to Ireland are disspirited and dejected .

    I would enjoy a further converstion with you
    Derek Smyth,PhD, MIAHIP

  3. Well said, given that is so abvious as be rediculous that it is just now being said by a very few.
    We have gone back to a very small group of Catholics who even had a discussion during mass as to whether God could be a female.
    We asked whether God answers your prayers and many discussed their prayers and the obvious results.
    Maybe these old community meetings at church would help all of us suffering in the Catholic Church.
    LEB (of Irish heretige in the USA)

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