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“Healing a broken Church?”

studies_01_1“Any objective observer looking at the struggles that have taken place within the Catholic Church in Ireland would be struck by the extent of the suffering and anger that has been brought to light. People were hurt that should not have been. When they had a right to expect compassion they met with indifference which further added to their hurt.  Those responsible for causing the harm were not held accountable in every case. These are the ingredients of the problem.”” So said Ian Elliot, CEO of the National Board for Safeguarding Children, and guest speaker at the launch on Wed 15 Sept of the Jesuit journal Studies. Ian is pictured here (left) with Fergus O’Donoghue SJ, Studies editor. Healing a Broken Church? Catholicism after the Reports is a special edition of the journal in the wake of recent reports into clerical sexual abuse and its handling by Church authorities. It tries to plot a possible way forward for the Church from various perspectives. Click ‘read more’ for the rest of Ian Elliott’s address.

Quarterly Studies Address on 15 September 2010

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Reverend Father Editor and Friends of the Quarterly Studies,

May I begin by thanking you for the invitation to launch the Quarterly Studies this evening? I consider it to be a privilege to do so and to be associated with the autumn edition of this eminent journal.   The theme for this issue is a difficult one in that it is looking at the impact of the Ryan and Murphy Reports on the Catholic Church here.  Certainly, it is clear that the combined impact of these two Reports has had and is having a profound effect on many aspects of the Church, both here in Ireland but also arguably in other parts of the Catholic world.

Those responsible for producing this journal should be congratulated for drawing together so many eminent commentators for this edition.  It is not an easy subject to write on without falling into the trap of repeating hackneyed comments that add nothing to wisdom and contribute little in the way of new insights.  However, this has not happened here and all of the articles provide a fresh and considered contribution to a stimulating debate.

The article by Baroness Nuala O’Loan on “Transparency, accountability and the exercise of power in the Church of the future” stands out as being particularly noteworthy.  Baroness O’Loan provides a challenging and well reasoned argument for reflecting on how the Church should be governed now and in the future.  Her emphasis on transparency, accountability and the exercise of power is one that resonates strongly with me when I reflect on the experience that I have had over the course of the last three years.  The Church in Ireland has not been transparent and accountable when struggling with the phenomenon of child abuse in the past. Mistakes have been made which to date has led to four Government Inquiries and a great deal of painful exposure and criticism. If it is to start afresh it has to become much more open and more willing to be held accountable for its actions.

Baroness O’Loan uses her own experiences as the Police Ombudsmen in Northern Ireland as a basis for reflecting on the scrutiny that her office was subject to at that time.  She poses the question “Could similar processes of transparency and accountability make the Church a better place?  The answer must surely be in the affirmative.

Facing what has happened and dealing with it is an essential step in healing and repairing the damage caused by clerical child abuse.  Robert Bowers’s article describes the steps to take, drawing on the experience gained in the Archdiocese of Boston.  The similarities between the crisis in the American Church, which began in Boston, and the Irish Church are striking.  I believe we have a great deal to learn from what happened in the United States who are further down the road than we are.  A critical point that Bowers makes is that the passing of time alone is not sufficient to heal the community of faith.  It takes more than that.  He argues for true dialogue and active listening. Again, one has to ask the question as to what extent are we engaging in either of these at present.

Gerry O’Hanlon’s cogent and forthright article maps out a possible way forward.  He argues that there needs to be a different vision of Church than the one that holds sway today.  He urges us to re-examine the Second Vatican Council which he feels offered such a vision.  Drawing on the work of Rahner, Orsy and Lash, he notes that their combined opinion was that it was the Vatican itself that was mainly responsible for the misinterpretation of Vatican II.  The way forward must address this and transform the Church by ending the dysfunctional culture of clericalism.

In this edition there are many articles that will stimulate debate and focus minds on what has been learnt from the experience of the Ryan and Murphy Reports.  I will not refer to all of them individually but I do wish to commend one further article and that is David Quinn’s piece looking at the role the media played.

It is always tempting to view the media negatively and accuse them of being biased against the Church when dealing with this issue. The Church always seems to be uncomfortable with the media and wary of any interest they may have in its work in this area. There certainly have been cases of poor reporting but we must not lose sight of the fact that the reality of what they were reporting in many instances was shocking and needed to be exposed so that it could be dealt with.  David Quinn argues that the consequences of the Reports should be to galvanise the laity in the Church and to empower them to become the public face of the Church in a way that has not happened before.  The Church is much more than the Bishops.

May I conclude with some personal comments which come from my experience over the last three years.  Any objective observer looking at the struggles that have taken place within the Catholic Church in Ireland would be struck by the extent of the suffering and anger that has been brought to light.  People were hurt that should not have been. When they had a right to expect compassion they met with indifference which further added to their hurt.  Those responsible for causing the harm were not held accountable in every case. These are the ingredients of the problem.

In reflecting on this I am drawn towards the scriptural cycle of confession, repentance and forgiveness, as the basis for a new future.  Without this happening, true healing will not occur. It is sad that even today and after so many painful lessons being learnt, this has not been accepted by all.  There is still, in my view, some way to go before we fully achieve transparency and accountability with regard to the practice of safeguarding children within the Church in Ireland today.

The articles within this edition of the Quarterly Studies are timely and potentially very influential.  Perhaps they will provide the stimulus that is needed to move the Church finally onto that pathway for a better future which entails confession, repentance and forgiveness so a fresh start can be made. Ultimately, time will tell but I do believe that a window of opportunity exists now for that to happen and it is my sincere desire that for the sake of the children it will not be missed.

One of the fundamental principles that underpin our work within the National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church is an acceptance that by safeguarding children you also safeguard the Church. The one follows as a consequence of the other. However, if you place the protection of the Church before that of the vulnerable child, you will ultimately harm the Church. If nothing else I believe reflection upon the recent history of the Church in Ireland should have taught us the certainty of that statement.

May I again congratulate all those who have contributed to producing this excellent journal and may I close by thanking you again for the invitation to formally launch this edition this evening. I commend it to you all.

ENDS

Ian Elliott
Chief Executive Office
National Board for Safeguarding Children

Date: 13th September 2010