VOTFI Focus on Clericalism 2007
VOTFI submission to the Murphy Commission of Inquiry into the handling of clerical child abuse in Dublin Archdiocese, March 2007
By this time the VOTFI online forum had reached some strong conclusions on the root causes of the clerical child abuse catastrophe. In particular we were convinced that a dominant factor is the phenomenon known as clericalism. This is a distortion of Catholicism that attributes a kind of automatic sanctity and superiority to clergy by virtue of the sacrament of ordination. It can tempt a minority of priests to exploit the power this gives – and tends to lead lay people into deferring to priestly power – and this power has been used to compel children and young adults to submit unquestioningly to the sexual advances of clerical predators, causing enormous harm. Tragically, many victims are then unable to divulge what has happened because they feel sure they will not be believed, even by their parents.
Clericalism was also a key factor of the cover-up of abuse by bishops. Convinced that the aura of clerical sanctity had at all costs to be maintained they had protected clerical abusers and endangered other children.
Lay clericalism had also been a factor in the deference shown by too many public servants – including Gardai – to clergy suspected of abuse. This too had been revealed in the Ferns report.
Believing that this analysis might help the Dublin Commission to understand what had gone wrong in Dublin also, we summarised our conclusions and submitted them in a brief statement in March 2007.
VOTFI Submission to NI consultation process on sexual violence, May 2007
In January 2007 the NI assembly initiated a consultation process on the wider issue of sexual violence, and asked for submissions from concerned organisations. We did not hear of this until April 2007, but nevertheless made a strong submission. This called for the NI government to encourage the churches to develop a conversation among their adherents on this wider issue, as promised but not fulfilled by the document ‘Towards Healing’, published by the Irish Catholic bishops in February 2005.
We also called for an NI inquiry into the issue of sexual abuse by clergy, something that by November 2009 seemed likely to happen.
The National Conference of Priests of Ireland and VOTFI, July 2007
The National Conference of Priests of Ireland was until September 2007 the closest thing the Irish Catholic Church had to a body that could claim to represent all Irish priests, including diocesan priests as well as priests belonging to religious orders. Sadly, it dissolved itself at that point. The immediate cause of this was the inability of the body to nominate a successor to the outgoing president of the NCPI, Fr John Littleton. However, the underlying cause was undoubtedly the deteriorating morale of Irish clergy, itself another symptom of the deep crisis of continuity that still besets the Irish church.
We were unaware of the impending demise of the NCPI when we met with members of its executive in July 2007. Marie Collins, Teresa Mee and Sean O’Conaill presented a position paper on the current crisis in the Irish Catholic church, analysing the basic problem as one of clericalism – the tendency on the part of too many lay people as well as clergy to think of the ordained priest as solely responsible for the leadership and development of the church. We referred to the long standing proposal by the NCPI of a national assembly of the Irish church – a proposal that the Irish Conference of Bishops had never addressed. We suggested that VOTFI and the NCPI and other church organisations should look to some form of collaboration to bring about some such initiative. We stressed the importance of priests and people setting out to discover together how to implement the programme laid down for the laity by Vatican II – ‘to consecrate the world to God’.
We were given a respectful hearing – although the weight of opinion on the NCPI executive seemed to lean towards the opinion that lay clericalism was an even bigger barrier to progress than the clericalism of priests. We looked forward to ongoing contact with the NCPI – and were therefore stunned to hear of its self-dissolution the following September. So far it has not been replaced.
However, the programme we outlined remains part of our own evolution, and must surely again become relevant as soon as the current deep crisis of the Irish church has found a leadership capable of addressing it. We recommend this document as a basis for future development.