A Brief Discourse on the Appearance of the Clerical Abuse in the English Roman Catholic Church
An essay on the severe religious implications of modern priestly abuse in the English Roman Catholic church.
1. Opening Remarks
There can be no doubt about the occurrence of clerical abuse. No one should be in a state of denial. The question is how to positively move forward, bearing in mind these wrongs have been committed by men of God in the course of their priestly ministry. The relationship between God and His priests has been disfigured. The attitude towards Christ and His Church from the victims of abuse has been shattered by these abusive actions committed by the priests concerned.
2. The Way Forward
This must be without doubt by sorrow, for sinning in each perpetrator and forgiveness for genuine sorrow by the sinner as the Church has always taught and believed. So far as the victims are concerned forgiveness, directed to the clerical offender is part of the healing process. We are lead to understand that “rehabilitation” of these misbehaving clerics is not good practice. I disagree. These priests have been ordained and they should not be excluded from their priestly service indefinitely for no good reason. Ultimately these priests are under their Bishops, Abbots and the Holy Father. The Pope himself should decide their policy and its application according to Canon Law without outside interference and intermeddling. Let the hierarchy come to the fore and speak for itself in the true Catholic Spirit like Ullathorne, Manning and Newman of old. The weakness and indecision in these matters seen in the present Catholic Hierarchy in England is deplorable. The Christian Gospel of confession, sorrow, penance, retribution on the accused and restoration of the offender is not being preached to the detriment of the Roman Catholic Church in England. It should not be left to the media, the law enforcement agencies, the Courts and the agitators alone. Let “he who is without sin cast the first stone” at the convicted and flagrant adulteress, as Christ exhorted us.
3. Judgement of our Peers
Our society should be based not on condemnation. This is for the Son of God alone who will come to judge the living and the dead in glory. We on earth should make the sacrifice not of loving our enemies (that would be hypocrisy, apostasy and capitulation) but of forgiving them for what they have precisely and particularly done to any one of us. The particular victim has a severely damaged relationship to that priest. They will never meet again now – the priest has died perhaps – but the memory of that ill-conceived interaction lives on. The victim should be given the space to work out his or her stance without imposing negatively the denigration of the conduct of the miscreant upon him or her. Above all the victim should be given complete freedom of thought to obtain clarity of mind and expression.
No one can dispute the recourse to the Courts is proper both civil and criminal in some cases. Justice must be seen to be done in securing convictions and civil settlements through the Courts if need be. The populace and media when these matters are made known publicly should be cautious not to jump to conclusions and recognise we do not kick a man when he is down on the ground in the gutter however badly at fault he may be. No one should come between the victim and the culprit not even under the guise of triumphalism, in exposure to the public eye and the resultant fury of indignation.
5. The Priests
The Catholic theology of priesthood teaches the power to administer the sacraments continues despite the grave sinfulness of that individual priest. What a terrible stain on the soul of that priest to carry that culpability in his life to his death. Even forgiveness by God carries the price of penance. He knows better than anyone his grave misdeed and that he must pay the penalty or remain “in chains”. Whether his religious superiors release him from those shackles and manacles is unlikely in the current climate. He was called to the priesthood and he has severely dishonoured that calling and the repute of all those honourable priests pursuing their priestly vocation in the English Roman Catholic Church.
However many times the victim says it the words stick in his or her throat and his heart; “forgive him his trespass against me”. So contrary to his instincts those words constitute to him. The words have to be that direct and personal to convey the proper meaning to him or her. It is the same for all of us. We have to define that thought in our prayer lives, apply it to our circumstances and then say “forgive him his/her trespass against me” and really believe and mean it until we cannot contradict it anymore. There can be no second thoughts on this. The Lord’s Prayer as He taught us is the most important prayer of all and within it lies the key to unlocking the logjam of clerical sexual misdemeanours and felonies and our understanding of this modern phenomenon.