I presently have something of an uneasy relationship with the Catholic Church. Or at least, with the institutional side of the Catholic Church. The issue is this – I have lost trust in it’s integrity and it’s compassion for the people of God, who are entrusted to it’s care.
Conversely, I have no issue with the ‘Mystical Bride’ part of the Church – the sacramental and spiritual side of the Church. I believe firmly in God and in what the Church teaches, even though my view is that some of what it teaches could be done with a far greater degree of compassion than is presently the case. I pray and I take an active part in the life of the local Church, and I try hard to live out in my daily life what I profess to believe. And I believe that the Church was instituted by Christ with a definite plan and intent for what He wanted it to do and to achieve, all of it good.
But the trouble is that, as far I can see, the institutional side of the Church has strayed so very far from what the Lord intended that it is no longer recognisable. I do not see Christ in His Church. And that is, I consider, a very real problem. I see a bride whose wedding garment is no longer white and pure, but is encrusted with mud – and whose odour is that of the sewer.
For several decades now, the Church has been reaping what it has sown. And what it has sown has been so contrary to the love of God and of His people. I am, of course, referring to the abuse crisis and to the relentless cover-up of that systemic abuse by numerous bishops throughout the world. There have now been so many reports of abuse, of cover-up and of the silencing and denigration of victims, that it can no longer be passed-off as nothing more than “one or two bad apples”. It is not the apples which are rotten – it is the very barrel of the Church. It is truly a systemic problem. Some infections affect only one part of the body – others, the systemic variety, poison the entire body and are so entrenched that they are almost impossible to treat effectively.
The most recent blow came yesterday, when the Archdiocese of Birmingham hit the news thanks to the activities of a (now former) priest. The news article reported that this priest had been sexually involved with a sixteen year old youth. A report by Barnardo’s found that the Archdiocese had apparently known of concerns for a very long time but viewed the situation not as one of abuse nor even of abuse of power, but simply as “immoral”. Consequently, he was – according to the report – not challenged and the opinion was that there was no safeguarding issue. The priest was sent to America for ‘treatment’ – and the victim was ignored. No action was taken. The problem went to Court thanks to the input of the therapist of one of the victims – not through any action of the Archdiocese, who clearly saw nothing criminal and chose, in fact, to see very little at all. As on so very, very many occasions over all these years, the Church concerned itself only with it’s own reputation and with the false mask it presents to the public.
The Barnardo’s report said that the Archdiocese –
“..focused to a considerable extent on his needs as a struggling priest who needed help and support to understand his behaviour, rather than as an abusive perpetrator who used his revered position to groom and sexually abuse.. There was very little to suggest his abusive behaviours, the impact of his actions on others, the need for reparation, or any discussions about risks he presented or preventative measures to reduce those risks, were in any way explored or addressed.”
This is simply the latest in a very long line of familiar news stories, often followed by similar official reports which clearly document the repeated failings of the institutional Church at every level. It seems to be the same story over and over; different names and places, certainly, but the gist is always the same.
The usual apologies and promises to learn and to do better have since issued out of the Archdiocese.
But that is just not enough.
It is not enough for those hurt, whether directly or indirectly, by the deliberate actions and inaction of the Church – and it is not enough for the faithful, including me.
For three decades, this demonic evil has been exposed time and again in every part of the world. It is poisoning the Church. It is destroying any integrity and credibility the Church has left. And it is resulting in the loss of faith of so many people, who have realised they simply cannot trust the institutional Church any longer.
All of this is compounded by bishops who are too blind to see anything of value in the Church other than the institutional reputation and the protection of financial assets. The people are expendable and do not matter. Children are expendable. Vulnerable adults are expendable. Women are expendable. There has been not a shred of genuine concern for any of these – only for self-protection and the preservation of those considered to be “ontologically changed” by virtue of ordination. This is a caste of men who consider themselves not only to be ‘set apart’, but to be truly ‘set above’. It is clericalism of the very worst kind.
Any changes made in the past thirty years have not, it seems to me, been due to any genuine contrition or realisation of the need for authentic reparation to those so grievously hurt and damaged by all too many of those acting in God’s name. Rather, those changes are driven by nothing more than the fear of litigation and – yet again – damage to the reputation of the Church.
Too often, victims of abuse become victims of the bishops tasked with dealing with it. These people speak of the wall of silence they meet in place of any compassion – and this, swiftly followed on many occasions by scandalous attacks on their integrity and reputation and mental health status. Ever fearful of publicity, the bishops are wont to silence victims through the use of a financial settlement, generally dependent upon agreement of a non-disclosure clause. These bishops are driven not by the Gospel, but by the directives of their legal departments.
I cannot be the only person who feels as I do. I know I am not.
For me personally, this leaves a very real dilemma – how to respond at the personal level. How can I remain part of an institution I just do not trust? How can I look at any bishop with anything other than mistrust? How can I believe that those who purport to act in the name of God are not, in private, doing the work of the devil himself?
I need to think long and hard and to pray very diligently for guidance. I know many who have felt compelled to leave the institutional Church – not through lack of belief in God, but through a lack of trust in the organisation and in those who say they represent God on earth.
For me, in this moment, things are very finely balanced indeed.
[ Click here to read Part II – ‘Easing The Relationship’ ]