It Won’t Go Away

The first email I opened yesterday was a questionnaire from the Conference of Religious with yet more information required for the Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse (IICSA) and a slightly apologetic request for more donations towards legal costs. It was a powerful reminder that IICSA still has a lot of work to do, and those who keep hoping that the subject will somehow ‘go away’ are deluding themselves.

It can be difficult to know how to respond to those who simply condemn everyone with any kind of connection with Catholicism. It can be even harder to know how to respond to those who are more selective in their condemnations but who are (understandably in my view) inclined to be sceptical about the protestations of clergy and religious whose brethren have been found guilty of terrible sins and crimes. It is as though Christianity in general and Catholicism in particular are now to be defined in terms of sexual abuse.

I think we need to reflect on that. In my experience, limited though that be, the popular conception of the Church is very far from my own. Where I see love and generosity, glimpses of the transcendent and a holiness that cannot be denied, others see weakness, self-indulgence and a quarrelsome hypocrisy. I am certainly not advocating any kind of PR exercise, but perhaps we should pay more attention to how others see us and try to learn from it. Every Christian, every Catholic, is called to win others to Christ and we cannot do that if we allow the popular narrative to predominate. We need, more than ever before, the grace of conversion. We must become what we claim we are called to be: icons of Christ in a world desperately in need of healing.


14 thoughts on “It Won’t Go Away”

  1. One of my perspectives of the Catholic Church is shaped by my own lived experience, but also, by your lived experience, so often displayed here on your blog.

    My own experiences is favourable, apart from some unfortunate experiences at the hands of one Priest, when my marriage broke down, and my state of emotional disturbance and plain grief at the loss of something that I had treasured. To be blamed without knowledge of the circumstances, and condemned as a sinner without evidence was painful and led me to leave. He even told me that I could not change my religion in the Armed Forces, which was proved to be in error, because I went to HR and did it on the spot.

    But than I encountered you briefly at the Christian New Media Conference some years ago, and found your blog, by this time I had after 20 years of being agnostic towards God, had found new faith as an Anglican.

    Our encounters here over the past years, have closed my eyes to the prejudice and grievance I held against the Catholic Church, have enlightened my thought process and theology and allowed me to overcome much of my misunderstanding of the faith the formed me from infancy.

    I don’t believe that the past should shape who we become. Yes there is evidence from all Churches, not just the Catholic Church of past abuse and poor oversight and safeguarding. The Anglican Church, among overs is implicated in this, as recent ICSA inquires have highlighted. Both Catholic and Anglican leaders have hopefully learned from the past and are now in a better place as far as safeguarding the precious assets that are the people, the children and others who depend and rely on churches being a safe place to belong, to worship and to conduct their lives.

    So thank you as you ponder on what has been, what might still be, and hopefully what is to come, a Church, as the Body of Christ, which shows God’s goodness and mercy joyfully as a shining light to our Saviour in the world.

  2. DgNun, I find your proposal laudable BUT to “if we allow the popular narrative to predominate” will remain an issue until those at the top of the ‘church’ including Orders address not only the historical abuse but those who covered it up. I am speaking with the authority of personal knowledge from 30-35 years ago and individuals are still in place and in high office. Importantly, I have not allowed this to deny the practice of my faith which can be separated from the actions of the institution.

    • If you have read any of my previous many blog posts on this subject, you will see that I don’t disagree with you about abuse/cover-ups; but in this post I am arguing for a personal conversion that alone will enable the non-abusing members of the Church to show what the Church truly is.

  3. How others see us…
    I remember comments my supervisor made about church burning in 1930s Spain. Villagers sometimes believed their priest might turn their churches’ towers over to insurgents, to use as machine-gun posts. ‘Some priests might have done that, others not’, Helen said. ‘The sad thing is’, she added, ‘that on the basis of their past experience, such a possibility seemed plausible.’

  4. I hesitate to say this, but the words „personal conversion“ seem to me to be the nub of the matter. It is only recently that I have found a way to a personal relationship with Christ as compared with a sort of institutional one, i.e. limiting it to the ways offered by public worship. This is likely my own fault, being too reliant on formal prayers etc, wondering how else to pray. I don‘t know if this makes a difference to the way others see me. For instance, whenever I drive anywhere I ask St Rafael to go with me, and cross myself. I notice now that frequent passengers in my car check that I have asked St Rafael before we set off, tho they claim not to believe. (He is good at finding the way and parking spaces!) My prayers to Our Lord take the form of chatting to Him about whatever is bothering me at the time, informal but as it comes. Over time this has given me a great sense of comfort and security, maybe others see this. I hope so.

  5. This takes me back to yesterday’s silver surfers blog. I wonder if one of the needs of older people is a safe space in which to ask very basic questions – why did this happen, why on ‘our watch’. Working with refugees, I have found that many older people who are happy to knit wonderful clothes for children in refugee camps or asylum seekers in our county town are puzzled and have no where in which to ask their questions of why are there refugees, why do they come to England, why our town, without fear of prejudice. Is the church a safe space? We cannot witness if we have not a base of knowledge.

  6. I agree Sister. My childhood within the catholic church was wonderful! The Nuns treated me like a princess.
    They were highly educated Teachers. Male priests didn’t appear much in my life. I was brought up mainly by Women. I think abuse existed and still does in all parts of life, not just the Catholic Church. Moving forward we have the #metoo movement and alot of attention is starting to be shined on this behaviour. It’s not OK! Blessings

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