Thursday, 21 May 2009

A different journey

I have just read this book by the Irish Passionist Priest, Fr Brian D'Arcy. It is a sort of biography in which he narrates his experiences as a boy, novice and later priest. He was ordained priest in 1969. He speaks frankly about his own experiences of sexual and psychological abuse within the clergy. He writes beautifully and openly. It is a book which narrates both terrible sadness and great joy. Sadness, because he leads the reader into the shocking culture of oppression and abuse amongst clergy, and joy, because he has come through this dark era and yet is able to express a deep humanity, albeit a wounded one.
It is a book which prompts the question about the origin of the culture of abuse; how did the notion arise in the Irish Church that humanity is unworthy and must be thwarted and repressed?
Towards the end of the book I became very struck that whilst Fr D'arcy is calling for a reform within the Irish Church, he speaks about this in terms of the contemporary liberal agenda which we are so used to hearing - that there should be General Absolution not meaningless confessions. Celibacy should not be mandatory. Women should be admitted to the Priesthood. The 'new' sexual morality should be embraced, etc, etc - yet in no sense does he seem to be aware of the call to a New Evangelisation!
I applaud his analysis of the Irish Church - that any clerical or institutional model which no longer expresses the Gospel should be dismantled - but it is precisely a New Evangelisation which can renew the Church from the grass roots upwards, and enable the development of a new kind of culture within the Church, one which does respond to people's needs today. This awareness is absent from the book. Why?
I can't answer that important question; perhaps things got so dark in Ireland that many could not sense the call of the New Evangelisation. But something that I have learned about the history of Irish Church during the past five decades or more, seems to suggest that this 'strong' outpost of Catholic Europe has remained somewhat remote from the great evangelical Movement which has been growing elsewhere.
The New Evangelisation is the answer to the needs of the Church in Ireland today; indeed, I know that it is already taking root there and a new springtime of the Christian life will blossom there.
If you have the opportunity to read this book, I recommend it wholeheartedly.


Fr Ronan Kilgannon said...

I lament the serious damage done to victims of child abuse by clergy and religious, and are deeply shamed by the revelation. But I question the impression given that such abuse was 'endemic' in the Church in Ireland. I would like to know the percentage of clergy and religious who have been involved. My guess is that it is not high - at least that is what statistics from elsewhere teach us.
With Archbishop Nichols I also feel for the pain of the good priests and religious in Ireland - the vast majority - who have to bear the ignomony of this report. One of the common elements in the abuse of children is blackmail and secrecy.
I have lived in religious communities and parishes throughout the country for nearly 50 years, and had never heard any mention of child abuse until it hit the press in the early 1990s. Perhaps I have been naive but until that time it had never crossed my mind that it would ever occur. It worries me that publicity is given almost exclusively to reports of abuse by clergy and religious, when we know that by far the great percentage of it happens in families. If this publicity led to a serious effort to face the evil of child abuse everywhere in our society it would seem worthwhile to be bearing the burden and shame of it happening among clergy and religious. I know I will not be popular for saying this but the government statistics about child abuse in Australia would suggest that by far the highest percentage of abuse of children in the Catholic church happens in family homes and not in presbyteries. Certainly the evil must be eradicated as far as it is humanly possible among clergy and religious, but surely we must also address the evil perpetrated by the majority in our society who are not clergy and religious?

Fr Richard Aladics said...

I applaud Fr Ronan's comments here, as I do those of Cardinal Brady of Armagh who has spoken very humbly and very clearly to the whole nation.