With Heavy Heart

Abuse in the Catholic Church in France

This morning the publication of a report into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church in France is expected to contain horrific details. Anyone who has read the IICSA reports must wonder what further horrors are possible, but the scale and ubiquity of the abuse in France is said to be devastating. The report was commissioned by the Church and took two and a half years to complete. The commission conducting the inquiry was led by a layman, Jean-Marc Sauvé, and is said to have been given access to church, court, police and press records.

Already people are taking up ‘positions’. I suspect most have not read the report yet— I myself haven’t — but I think it fair to say that those who have been abused are never able fully to let go of the hurt they have experienced, no matter how hard they try (and most try very hard indeed). The hurt goes too deep, and is one of the reasons why abuse is so evil. Sadly, in my experience, abusers never really admit or take responsibility for what they have done. There are always ‘extenuating circumstances’ or appeals for forgiveness that ring a little hollow. Yes, Christians try to forgive, but that doesn’t mean accepting or endorsing sin.

The Other Consequences of Abuse

Although we are a small community of cloistered nuns, without a chaplain, we have always taken safeguarding seriously and have spent a lot of time and money trying to ensure that we and our premises pose as little risk to others as possible. Inevitably, however, we have been the butt of some people’s hurt and anger, because that is one of the consequences of abuse. Trust is corroded and everyone — everyone — is tarred with the same brush and condemned, frequently in the vilest of terms. Once upon a time, I tried the ‘logical’ response to attacks on the community here: No, we weren’t born when those events took place, we’ve never been members of that congregation, we’ve never lived in that country, and so on and so forth. But it won’t wash. We’re not talking about facts but emotions, and emotions need respecting as much as facts do. It doesn’t matter that we were not personally involved, we are members of the same Church and that is enough to condemn us.

The Church is still Holy

This morning I am bracing myself for more of the hate letters and accusations. If I’m feeling well, I can usually cope with them; if I’m feeling ill or receiving medical treatment that puts my temper on a hair-trigger, it is more difficult. I don’t want to cause more hurt by my clumsy responses. I have no wish to deny or play down the wickedness of abuse as my many posts on the subject will attest, but honesty and truth work both ways. The appalling behaviour of some members of the Church does not mean that the whole Church is ‘rotten to the core’ as one of my friends said yesterday. The core of the Church is Christ, and nothing, absolutely nothing, can change that or sully His perfect holiness. I cling to that as I cling to Him, because it is true. The institutions of the Church need a thorough overhaul, and as individuals we need to examine our own conduct, but I hazard a guess that there is more light than darkness because of that shining core, Christ the Lord.