A powerful event


FREQUENTLY AT religious services, whatever the faith or denomination, there can be a sense that the symbol has assumed greater significance for participants than the reality it represents. Yeats addressed this experience in the not dissimilar world of theatre. He recalled a period in his life when “Players and painted stage took all my love, / And not those things that they were emblems of”.

It was not like that in Dublin’s Pro-Cathedral on Sunday. There was little of the purely symbolic or emblematic in the liturgy of lament and repentance. It was a powerful and authentic event. The people celebrated were real and present and all are victims of clerical child sex abuse. Those most abject in emotion and gesture are among the most powerful figures in the Catholic Church, whether in Ireland or elsewhere.

But above all there was the stark, unequivocal language of raw truth. There was admission and guilt on the part of church authorities, who pleaded forgiveness “for the deaf ear, the blind eye and the hard heart” presented to the abused, and as spoken by Archbishop Diarmuid Martin in words prepared for him by victims themselves.

In his own words Cardinal Sean O’Malley, Archbishop of Boston and leader of the apostolic visitation sent to investigate the archdiocese of Dublin, asked forgiveness “on behalf of the Holy Father. . . for the sexual abuse of children perpetrated by priests and the past failures of the church’s hierarchy, here and in Rome. . . .”

Last Sunday’s liturgy indicated that Catholic Church authorities – “here and in Rome” – are arriving at a stage where the awful truth about the abuse of children which they covered up and facilitated for so long and on such a great scale, is being faced up to more honestly and with appropriate levels of contrition. That contrition will not be temporary. As Archbishop Martin said “the archdiocese of Dublin. . . can never rest until the day in which the last victim has found his or her peace. . .”. And, as he acknowledged, “there is still a long path to journey in honesty before we can merit true forgiveness”.

The washing of victims’ feet by such senior Catholic prelates, while appropriate also in the context of humility and contrition, had an added significance. It was firm acknowledgment of the great courage of these men and women who have endured, some for almost two decades, that unholy trinity of rash judgment, calumny and detraction as they sought to bring their truth, urbi et orbi(to the city and to the world).