Christ Blessing the Children, Nicolaes Maes, 1652-53
'It is hard going out on the altar these days after Cloyne and Enda Kenny clearly has read the national mood re Vatican etc . . .' In an email from a friend who is a parish priest in Dublin and is much younger than I am.
Three bishops have come out in support of Taoiseach (Prime Minister) Enda Kenny's speech in the Dáil (Irish parliament) last Wednesday. Patsy McGarry quotes the bishops in an article in yesterday's Irish Times, Kenny reflected anger, says bishop. Bishop Noel Treanor of Down and Connor, which includes Belfast and is the second largest diocese in Ireland in terms of general and Catholic population, though Catholics are in a minority, said the Taoiseach had 'accurately reflected the dismay and anger felt by many, many Catholics in Ireland'. He was further quoted as saying he was 'shocked and devastated by the content of the Cloyne report and by the failure to implement the basic national guidelines imposed by the church within that diocese. Let me state once again that the protection of and care for our children is our absolute priority. The events described in the Cloyne report simply should not have happened'.
Mr McGarry's article quotes Bishop John McAreavy of Dromore who said that the Taoiseach's address 'accurately reflects the deep anger of the people of Ireland at the contents of the Cloyne report and underlines the huge challenges ahead for the Catholic Church as a whole'.
Auxiliary Bishop Gerard Clifford of Armagh is quoted as saying that while he was 'taken aback at the force and wide sweeping nature of the Taoiseach’s address in the Dáil' he acknowledged 'the reason for the intensity of feeling expressed given the awful findings of the report'.
Whether it has any significance or not I don't know but the Diocese of Down and Connor and the Diocese of Dromore are the only two of Ireland's 26 that are totally within Northern Ireland, over which Mr Kenny's government has no jurisdiction, while Armagh is one of a number that is partly in Northern Ireland and partly in the Irish Republic.
Kathy Sheridan wrote in yesterday's Irish Times about how the Cloyne Report has affected priests in Ireland, The fearful Fathers. The article begins, Angry, isolated, paranoid and ageing, many of Ireland’s ‘ordinary’ Catholic priests feel failed and abandoned by the church hierarchy. But where were the ‘good priests’ when they were needed? Ms Sheridan quotes Fr Brendan Hoban of Ballina, one of the leaders of the Association of Catholic Priests, which has about 500 members, about ten percent of the country's priests, presenting a pastoral dilemma: 'A woman comes to the door who may have psychiatric problems . . . What do I do? Take a chance by letting her into my front room? There is no doubt that priests have withdrawn, that they’ve become ultracareful and ultrasensitive on how they might be compromised'. Irish parishes, unlike those in the USA and the Philippines, for example, don't usually have an office. Priests meet people in their presbytery.
I'm not sure how fair Kathy Sheridan's question is: But where were the ‘good priests’ when they were needed? I was ordained in December 1967. I know that we must have touched on the question of the abuse of children in moral theology classes in the seminary but it was never part of my experience or awareness until the 1980s when reports about abuse by priests began to emerge from North America. I had never heard a whisper of it growing up in Ireland. I remember reading Irish author Walter Macken's novel published in 1962, The Silent People, set in the time of the Great Famine in Ireland of the 1840s, where a pre-adolescent girl is abused by a neighbour and the horror when this was discovered. As a child I remember clearly the canonisation of St Maria Goretti in 1950. I'm not sure to what extent I really understood what she went through.
One of the great joys in my life is my involvement with a home for girls here in Bacolod City, Philippines, where most of the girls have experienced abuse, mainly from family members or close relatives. This morning I celebrated Mass there followed by a simple celebratory lunch in gratitude to God for a group who recently passed the Social Work Licensure Examination. One was Sr Jenemer Torio TC, Director of Holy Family Home. Three others were young women who have been in the home for some years. One of them, Richelle Verdeprado, came second in the Philippines. Her background is simply one of poverty and she is now employed by an NGO in Manila that is fighting the trafficking of women. I am conscious that the sense of joy I find there would not be possible in the Ireland of today or in North America or in other English-speaking countries.
The appalling reality is that Jesus himself would be reported by many today to the police: 'Truly, I say to you, whoever does not receive the kingdom of God like a child shall not enter it.' And he took them in his arms and blessed them, laying his hands upon them (Mark 10:15-16).