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A tragedy for the Church as Galloway priest is jailed

This week’s editorial leader

A tragedy. That’s the only word to describe the case of Fr Graeme Bell, who was sentenced to ten months in prison this week for stealing nearly a hundred thousand pounds of Church funds. It is a tragedy for Fr Bell, who says he stole the money to feed a gambling addiction.

He took money that wasn’t his and lied about it. He did so as an ordained priest, who knew better. He must be tortured by that. The web of self-deception and self-deceit that led him to this point is painful to think about. Whatever he has done, he is clearly a man in need of mercy.

This is a tragedy for the Church. It is true that it is hard to save a man who is bent on self-destruction. Yet for a priest to swerve so wildly from the path is still troubling. How many will now think back to previous meetings with Fr Bell, wonder at odd statements, and think ‘Could I have done something?’

The greatest tragedy is that of the parishioners of Our Lady Star of the Sea. Men and women who gave their money to the Church, and had it stolen. They acted in charity and love and their trust was shattered. The money may have been paid back but trust lost is far harder to regain.

 

There is much to think on here. How do we support those who feel betrayed? How do step in and help those on the brink of breaking? How do we forgive those who throw away our trust? These are hard questions, and they require prayer and reflection.

In practical terms openness even when it’s uncomfortable solves many problems. There have been huge advances in transparency in the Church’s financial affairs over the past twenty years, but any improvements that can be made in this area can only help rebuild and increase trust.

Fr Graeme Bell deserves our pity and our prayers. Those whose trust he betrayed deserve that we all work together as a Church to prevent this happening again.

 

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