For those whose minds are not closed this report is conclusive proof of the complete failure of a system of church governance that has caused intense trauma to thousands of Catholic children throughout the world.
So far the response to the report by Irish Bishops, and by the Holy See, tells us that too many minds are still closed. No bishop has yet admitted what all of us can plainly see: their unaccountable and aristocratic system of governing the church has failed our children and disgraced the Catholic community of faith throughout the world.
In the wake of reports on Ferns in 2005, and on Cloyne in 2008 – and a tide of similar revelations in over twenty other countries – this devastating report on the Archdiocese of Dublin can lead to only one conclusion. The absolute and unchecked administrative power that Catholic bishops have acquired not from God but from history tends inexorably towards their corruption.
For the sake of all other Irish victims of clerical abuse, known and unknown, this revelation now demands an inquiry into the remaining twenty-three Irish dioceses.
This dangerous and absurd church system must in the meantime be changed. It has failed our children and the people of God on many levels, and is not fit for purpose. It cannot be redeemed by outstanding individual bishops because, in the words of Archbishop Diarmuid Martin on the feast of Epiphany 2009:
“We have to have a system whereby people are pushed to be accountable. ”
At present, the only forces that push a Catholic bishop to behave accountably are the secular media and the secular state. This is the reason that for over two decades Catholics all over the world have been shocked by a succession of appalling scandals that have held us all up to global contempt. To deny that change is now necessary in the way the church governs itself is to condemn other children of the church to the same trauma, and to condemn the rest of the church to endless derision and scandal. Catholicism cannot survive this.
To argue that God supports the present church system is to argue that God approves of child abuse – and that is blasphemy.
We protest especially at the total absence of an internal forum within the church that would allow lay people to ask their own questions and express their own views on this appalling failure of church leadership. This too is clerical abuse of power. It has led to the continuing isolation of the victims of clerical sexual abuse, and to a culture of denial and demoralisation among the rest of the faithful. It has denied to the Holy Spirit the freedom to inform the church through the wisdom of lay men and women – especially the wisdom acquired through suffering. It has also allowed too many bishops to live in a cocoon of absurd self-delusion, cut off from all reality by a culture of servile deference that belongs to the Middle Ages.
If the church is to recover, our bishops must leave this cocoon and engage directly with their people. The age of deference is dead. We Catholic Irish have finally discovered in 2009, at a terrible cost, that deference is the deadly enemy of childhood, of truth and of love. It is therefore the deadliest enemy of the church also.
In a separate open letter we call upon Pope Benedict XVI to explain to us and to the universal church why so many bishops throughout the world – all appointed by the pope – have betrayed so many children. Many of the bishops who have failed in this way are still alive to testify to an inquiry into this. That no such inquiry has yet been launched is deeply disturbing. If it is denied now we will be forced to a conclusion that will be fatal to Catholicism globally: that the papacy also puts the Catholic clerical institution before the interests of children.
In Ireland as in Rome the Catholic Church was a community of faith before it became identified with a clerical institution. That faith has been betrayed by the leaders of the Catholic clerical institution. The relationship between the community of faith and the clerical institution is now therefore deeply troubled and almost broken. If this relationship is to be healed the clerical institution must now seek advice from the people of God on how that can be accomplished – and do so urgently.