Enda Kenny and the Catholic Church

Most people will have sympathized with Enda Kenny and his denunciation of the apparent slowness with which the  Catholic Church as an institution has got to grips with the implications of, first, the Murphy report and now the Cloyne report. I think I have written enough on this subject for everyone to know the position of the community here. I am troubled, however, by two things: the fact that so many of the clergy still don’t ‘get’ what it is all about, and the fact that it is primarily the laity of today who must pay for the sins of the clergy of the past.

Clergy who are innocent of any kind of abuse (the vast majority) are often bemused by the distrust and hostility directed at them. We find that as nuns we get a small amount of ‘hatemail’ on the subject and sometimes have a few gibes made at us; it must be much worse for the clergy. The point is, our understanding of the Church means that we are all affected by what a few do or have done. There is such a thing as collective responsibility, though I am not sure how far it goes in this case. What I am sure is that adopting a public stance of condemnation and privately playing down the significance of abuse is completely unacceptable. Despite all the talk of safeguarding and putting in place statutory measures to ensure the proper reporting of abuse, etc, there still seems to be comparatively little being done to enable the clergy and those in training to understand, identify and combat paedophilia in their ranks. If I am wrong about this, someone please put me right. I can only speak as I have heard.

My other worry is that when the victims of abuse bring lawsuits against the Church, it is principally the laity of today, especially the poor, who suffer. We have seen what happened in the Boston diocese. No one denies the awfulness of what was done to those who were abused, but the closure of schools and hospitals (and even the making homeless of some of the sisters who served in the diocese) has hurt the poor of today in ways that few are prepared to acknowledge. Other dioceses face similar sorts of closures. Those who are hostile to all forms of religion may rejoice, but those who know only the kindness of Christians will not. During my recent visit to the U.S.A. I was struck by the trust shown to nuns by those at the bottom end of the economic scale: African Americans and Hispanics doing ‘menial’ jobs or out of work altogether  seemed to find it easy to approach and ask for prayer or a blessing or just talk about their concerns. When trust is destroyed, what is left in its place?

Personally, I think we are only just beginning to understand the extent of abuse in the Church. Paedophilia has, quite rightly, come under scrutiny; but there is abuse of authority which affects not just children but adults, too. For all that, the Church remains a divine institution: one, holy, Catholic and Apostolic. No matter how flawed, she remains the Bride of Christ, guardian of sacred scripture and of the sacraments, the nexus of our salvation in this world and the next. We must pray for her, love her, serve her, no matter how difficult at times that may be.

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14 thoughts on “Enda Kenny and the Catholic Church”

  1. This problem is ‘so’ serious. It also becomes a lightning rod for the various challenges everyone of us meets in the Church today.
    It is not only the priests who don’t get it. Oftentimes, the lay folks don’t really want to address their minds to it, because it is so painful and ugly to look at.
    I join your prayers.

  2. This is one of the most balanced and insightful treatments of this issue I have read. There is a place for reasoned argument, a more complex understanding, and compassion. However awful the sin of some, the Church does remain a ‘divine institution’. Thank you for that. Healing in the Church is possible and necessary, as is our devoted and continuing love and faith in Her.

    I pray for Her and especially for the poor who suffer secondarily from the fallout of the scandal.

  3. I offer these remarks with some genuine trepidation, but here goes … A related worry that I have concerns recourse to lawsuits, as if financial payouts were apt ‘compensation’ for lasting *psychological* damage — lawyers, for their own reasons, also having an interest in pointing the aggrieved in that direction. (Having been abused as a child is not necessarily as straightforward as having lost a limb, and hence, say, incurring a lifetime’s additional costs to maintain activity — costs that financial adjudications may certainly go some way to alleviate.) Victims of abuse may suffer kinds of psychological damage that make life harder to sustain in various ways. But how good is it to suggest it’s large sums of money that can heal such wounds of that sort ? Our culture’s prone to claim so, but I wonder … There’s also, potentially, in play that most difficult (and manipulatable) emotion, vengeance.

  4. Thank you for your comments, and for your prayers. I ought perhaps to say that I don’t actually endorse Mr Kenny’s remarks, although I share many of his concerns. Politicians make speeches for all kinds of reasons and there are grounds for thinking that in this case the subject was ‘timely’ and will have won much sympathy which the Irish PM badly needs. (That doesn’t invalidate what he said but should, in fairness, be noted.)

    I quite agree about the other aspects of recourse to lawsuits and the desire for vengeance. I’d add we must never forget (a) the innocent people who have been falsely accused or attacked for failing in their duty when they were genuinely trying to do the best they could and (b) the fact that some behaviour acceptable in the fifties, for example, is no longer so. For example, when the pope’s brother was accused of abuse because he boxed the ears of a boy in his choir, I remembered the times my own ears had been boxed. It would never have occurred to me to think in terms of ‘abuse’, nor would my parents have sympathized if I had complained.

    • A very helpful post, sister. I agree with much of what you say but would simply point out that the boxing of anyone’s ears is never a trivial matter. It can cause harm and, in some cases, even deafness. Any blow to the head is quie a serious matter, I think.

      It may be that you will think I am taking the matter too seriously. And yes, perhaps we have gone too far with our concerns about ‘Health and Safety’. But it mayalso be that in the the past people were somewhat cavalier in their approach to the health and safety of others.

  5. “Boxing the ears” is now recognised as what is it – child abuse, but at the time it occurred, things were seen quite differently. When I a child in school (a secular one), children were routinely paddled on the behind with a wooden board referred to jokingly as ‘the board of education’. This was acceptable behaviour at the time, but now we call it what it is, child abuse. There is never a need for physical punishment of a child. I have fostered and adopted children who were quite difficult to handle, and I have worked as a caregiver for the elderly – standards have changed over the years for the better and we can see now that physical methods are counter-productive and a violation of a person’s civil rights and an offence against their dignity as a human being. Passive restraint may be necessary to prevent injury to self or others, but never violence.

  6. Please would you re-read what I said about boxing the ears: it was an EXAMPLE of how attitudes have changed, not a defence of the practice! I know misunderstandings occur with the written word . . .

    • Perhaps you misread my post in reply. I was expanding on what you said – that attitudes have changed over the years and although we now know any physical discipline to be abuse, there was a time when this was considered routine and required. That being said, sexual abuse has never been acceptable in any age, and since clergy are often held to higher standards, this has been revealed as a great betrayal in the minds of most people. Priests and religious are only human though, and subject to sin, so perpetrators need our prayers, as indeed does the whole Church.

  7. If I misread your post, Annie, I apologize. In the blog I was clearly writing about sexual abuse of children and wished to focus discussion on that. Not everyone would agree that every form of physical punishment constitutes abuse. St Benedict wouldn’t, nor would some harassed parents. Perhaps I would have done better to use as an illustration of how attitudes have changed the example of sitting a child on one’s lap. That would have been quite acceptable in the fifties but is no longer so unless one is related to the child. I don’t think it constitutes abuse per se (motive and so on come into play) but it is an example of how attitudes have changed.

  8. St Benedict was a product of his times. St Teresa was anti-Semitic but she also was a product of her times. Saints are not always right for today. Physical discipline can too easily lead to extremes as it is often administered in anger and through frsutration. I was a foster parent and adoptive parent who witnessed the result of many such abuses by parents and I never found the need to use physical means (apart from passive restraint) to discipline a child. As a psychiatric nurse I also had to deal with many aggressive patients but physical reactions (apart from restraint) were never allowed or tolerated. There is always another way. I fully support the Church, despite her obvious mistakes in handling the sexual abuse cases because I love her and know that she is made up of all of us very imperfect human beings, and I weep for (and pray for) the innocent clergy who have suffered, and the loss of priestly vocations because of this. I pray for the return of confidence in priests and in the Church, but this will also depend on how things are handled from here on in – as the spotlight is turned on now.

  9. Thank you, Annie. Just a small point, do you know that Teresa of Avila came from a converso family, i.e. a Jewish family which converted to Christianity in, I think, her grandfather’s time (may be wrong about that)? The religious history of Spain is complex; so too is the reading of attitudes, as we have agreed. The concern with lo castizo, limpieza de sangre and the rest isn’t necessarily to be identified with anti-semitism as we understand it today. However, I don’t want to start another hare!

    • Having spent two years as a Carmelite Novice, and studied St Teresa quite extensively, I was aware of these things, thank you. My point was simply that attitudes changes as times change, as we have seen in the definition of child abuse and that the attitudes of the saints cannot always be taken as models of behaviour for today. Although we revere them as holy persons and and try to emulate them in their holiness, we do not have to take everything they say verbatim as ‘gospel truth’. All must be studied in context and with careful consideration. This was a response to your comment that St Benedict would not have considered all physical discipline as abuse. Those who work with children or the elderly today have a different perspective however.

  10. I’m sorry you feel that way.I thought we were basically saying the same thing which is, that over time, attitudes have changed and what was once accepted practice, is now considered unacceptable. If I misunderstood or misquoted you, I apologise as well. The only comment I found exception to was the one about St Benedict that seemed to be saying that physical discipline was ok, which in today’s world, is definitely not (I am not speaking for parents particularly but for those who deal with children, such as priests, teachers, nurses etc.) I know that parents must deal with their own children as they see fit, but there are still laws concerning this as well, and since I have seen many physical, mental and emotional abuses as a foster parent, perhaps this subject is a bit sensitive for me. No offence intended. And as you point out frequently, the internet is a difficult place to communicate effectively.

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