The following article is written for inclusion in the Staffordshire Sentinel on April 21st 2010
It is a difficult time to be a Catholic.
It shouldn’t be. We’ve just celebrated Easter, the most colourful and hopeful festival of the Christian year. We also preparing for the visit of the Pope in September. Parishioners are signing up for a great choir for the Mass in Coventry, and rehearsals are soon to begin. It should all be very exciting.
But there are menacing clouds overshadowing our causes for joy, and I don’t mean those drifting over from an Icelandic volcano. There is a darkness which is obscuring the sunshine of our faith and Christian life.
I mean the continuing scandal over the abuse of children - those most vulnerable and beloved by God - which has been perpetrated within what were supposed to be the protective wings of the Church. It is a matter of disgust and shame for all who claim the name Christian, and of utter horror for those who cherish the Catholic Church.
The terrible crimes have of course given great material to those who want to paint religion as a force for evil and not good, who describe faith as something which damages people rather than frees them, and who have a fervent anti-Catholicism, fuelled by the kind of hatred of ‘papists’ long since abandoned by non-catholic Christians.
And it is hard for us to answer. We feel the pain of crimes wickedly committed and the shame of criminals protected out of a desire to avoid scandal for the Church.
And it is not enough for us to point out that the most terrible crimes happened many decades ago. It is not enough to argue that every organisation involved in the care of children has had to face similar scandal. It is not enough for us to list the many caring activities of the Catholic Church throughout the world, often in places where others are afraid or unable to venture. It does little good to point the finger to other institutions, where abuse has been as bad and often much worse. None of it is enough, because the wickedness has taken place. Lives have been damaged, and we do not want to appear to be putting a ‘spin’ on the bad news. We are wounded, disgusted and ashamed.
And the attacks have gone beyond the perpetrators now; they are at the doors of Church itself. A national newspaper promotes a proposal to arrest the Pope during his UK visit - something which would normally be called “crackpot”. They claim that it is Catholicism itself: the priesthood, holy Church, which is the cause of the abuse. Tear it all down - they say - it is rotten to the core.
For the Church receives special treatment: no one blames the BBC because a senior producer was charged with child pornography; nor even today’s Swedish government because in the 50s and 60s more than half the children in their orphanages were sexually abused. The Church is held to a different standard. Child abuse in the Church is perhaps the most reported crime in the world, but elsewhere perhaps not so.
And so perhaps that is right, because Catholics find no comfort in knowing abuse was so widespread. Multiple wrongs put nothing right, and our pain and sadness is not only that these things happen, but also that we were not better, that the Church’s good work was used to do bad, wicked, evil things.
And we carry this as a heavy burden. Explanations might look like an attempt at evasion or excuse. But it is the victims who most of all deserve our prayers and compassion.