Bringing good from the darkness of church's child abuse scandal


RITE AND REASON:I WAS GREETED at breakfast with a curt, “I heard about Ireland on the news”. He said no more. I suppose a condemnation would be rather meaningless. I said nothing. They are all Catholic in this residence, after all, and they know the Catholic Church is more than the people that make it up.

Many, I’m sure, will jump on the bandwagon at home and start attacking the faith and the church’s teaching as the cause of so much evil, but here in France, the question was delivered to me in a much more pointed fashion.

“What sort of Catholicism did you produce in Ireland that could have caused and permitted such . . . ?” He didn’t finish the question. He didn’t have to, the gravity of the remark echoed in the said and unsaid. I looked at him. I was ashamed, and I replied, “I don’t know”.

The question hasn’t gone away. In fact it has intensified. How could so many priests, brothers and sisters, who had given their lives to Jesus, to love him and to love others, how could they do what they did? How did so many in authority go to bed at night? Their lack of questioning, did that help them shut their eyes?

How did the bishops, successors to the apostles, permit Christ to be crucified every day again and again in innocent children who could have done no wilful wrong?

How can an Irish bishop who has inherited this church, this unique and singularly corrupted, Irish, form of Catholicism, how can he expect to be listened to?

But more, how can priests be trusted again?

This I say not to condemn the Catholic Church in Ireland and those who serve it. I know there are always good and bad individuals in the church, even if it seems that in Ireland of this era, we had more successors to Judas’ treacherous abuse of Jesus’ love than to the apostles’ fidelity to the Gospel.

I cry when I think of what type of evil, of negligence, of depravity, of sheer badness that was necessary to allow what happened happen and for so long. I ask myself, how did God let it happen? But as freely as that question demands to be asked, so too from that same freedom comes the answer. We are free and our free will can do wrong to a child or betray the son of man with a kiss.

In this climate, one wonders could God be calling some out there to serve in an experience of the church that has utterly failed to live the Gospel? Yes, God is calling and now more than ever we need young men to say “Yes”.

We need men with the courage to stand in front of an Irish congregation and tell them that Jesus founded his church for his children as a family of love, that Catholicism is not simply a call to holiness or to obedience or to morality, but to love.

But more, we need prayerful priests of deep faith and love. We need priests with courage to go back into the classrooms and give children a better deal, to give them hope and meaning, that money, and knowledge and gadgets can never give them. Why should this generation be deprived of the Gospel because of the sins of another?

Living here in France for my studies has shown me that this isn’t the fault of Catholicism, but of its modern Irish incarnation. I am only 20 years old. Neither I, nor any of my generation, committed these crimes.

When I ask myself how we go forward carrying the weight of such sins, I slowly start to see that the only solution lies in a simple return to true holiness, to the Gospel, to the sacraments, to love, to faith, to hope, to charity and inevitably to Jesus. Only then will we bring good from the darkness of such evil.

I hope that we will have that courage – the courage to change.

Seán D Rafter is a student of law at the Université de Paris II/Panthéon Assas and UCD