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)