Friday, July 15, 2011

The Cloyne Report


It's hard to begin to even express how I feel about what has come out in the Cloyne Report. Disbelief would be one feeling. How on earth, all these years after the revelations about abusers like Sean Fortune and Brendan Smyth & all the rest came out, could anyone or any organisation not take child protection seriously?

There's a lot of anger too. Anger that children were put at risk. Anger that children suffered because of a failure to protect. Anger that those who were abused continue to suffer because of the lack of response to their complaints by those with the responsibility to act.

I'm angry too that the irresponsible behavior of those with a duty to making sure that child protection policy in Cloyne was rigorously enforced have done even further damage to religion in this country. As a priest I, not surprisingly, think religion is important. The inexcusable failures to protect in Cloyne have damaged not only the children involved and their families but a vast circle of people whose faith is in tatters as a result of the seemingly endless scandals that continue to emerge.

I'm bewildered, frankly, that Cloyne could have behaved so stupidly. The consensus of the report is that the hierarchy there prioritised the reputation of the Church over the rights of the victims. Not only is that contemptible, it is foolish beyond all words. Were they not paying attention when all the other scandals broke? Did they not comprehend the damage that the perception that the Church was trying to cover this stuff up was actually doing to the Church? It seems an act of sheer madness to continue with more of the same.

And in any case, it's bad theology - then, now, and always. Today's Gospel reading from Matthew, about Jesus' disciples picking grain on the Sabbath, puts me in mind of the parallel passage from Mark where Jesus says: ‘The sabbath was made for humankind, and not humankind for the sabbath.' The same thing goes for the Church - it was made for people, not people for it. Those who neglected child protection should have remembered that.

There's other emotions in the mix too. Horror, because the stories that have come out would horrify any right-thinking person. And grief, because I can identify with the pain of the children and parents involved. Not only am I a parent myself, but before I was ordained my wife and I worked as houseparents in a children's shelter where many of the children had been sexually abused. I've seen first-hand the trauma abuse causes to the victims ... and the feeling of helplessness it causes when you know that someone you care about has been treated in such away.

I'm pretty angry at the Government too, by the way. They are the ones ultimately responsible for the protection of all the people of this country. It beggars belief that they failed to provide adequate oversight in this area.

I really can see no way forward for this but for every diocese of the Catholic Church in Ireland to be the subject of a thorough investigation. This is something the Church should be leaping forward to do as a way of showing the people that what happened in Cloyne is a one off & that the rest of it's house learned from the mistakes of the past & got things in order. I would pray that none of the rest have been as irresponsible as Cloyne. But if they have, the investigation would hopefully root out the bad practises. The Government needs to get more involved in this area too. Not just by way of knee-jerk, sound-bite blustering and threats to bring in ferocious legislation. They've had over 15 years to bring in proper laws. And laws are meaningless unless they are enforceable.

What's needed is a dedicated body with real authority to oversee the child protection regime of every organisation in this country that has any involvement with children. They need to be able to tell these organisations where their child protection policies are failing and shut them down in a moment if they don't cooperate.

Anything less is to invite an endless litany of the kind of failure to protect that took place in Cloyne. Anything less is to be just as irresponsible as those who failed to take child protection in Cloyne seriously.

Today's Gospel: Matthew 12.1-8

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