BY James Farrell | March 29 | comments icon 0 COMMENTS     print icon print

A man holds a crucifix at the cathedral in Santiago, Chile, May 18, 2018. The Archdiocese of Santiago has recommended the former rector of the cathedral be removed from the clerical state after allegations of abuse and his remarks about the church. (CNS photo/Ivan Alvarado, Reuters) See SANTIAGO-CATHEDRAL-ABUSE March 15, 2019.

Through focusing on Christ, the Church can recover from abuse crisis

In 2019, there is no room for naivety about the flaws in the Church—but there are signs of renewal, by Fr Michael Kane

I always feel that there is a heaviness about our Lenten journey. Our liturgy during the penitential season reflects a more sober, toned-down and reserved style.

Such an atmosphere marks Lent out as a time to pause and reflect and take stock, creating a particular rhythm of our daily lives. Life and liturgy are connected.

Some weeks ago the Church in Scotland marked a National Day of Prayer for Survivors of Abuse. In our own parish we celebrated a votive Mass for this intention.

It seemed appropriate that such an event should be marked within the sombre season of Lent.

It was a difficult Mass to celebrate as we prayed for all those who have been so wounded and scarred by the sins and crimes of some within the Church and elsewhere.

Asking for healing and justice for victims was the focus of our prayer. The bowed heads of the congregation during the prayers of the Mass were a symbol of a Church weighed down with a heavy conscience.

Such events are difficult for Catholics to mark since it requires us to admit openly and honestly to the catastrophic failings which were committed within the Church that we love by some of her members.

No one likes to take the bandage off an open and infected wound. Yet we all know it’s necessary for true and lasting healing to take place.

In truth, in years gone past many Catholics would have denied, or even denounced, the idea that abuse had taken place within the Church.

This came from a noble conviction that the Church was a perfect society, entirely pure as Christ intended.

It seemed so unlikely that such filth could have taken root and infected the hearts of some clergy especially, who were seen to be above reproach.

As the truth was slowly and painfully unveiled it has felt like a brutal betrayal.

Still today many struggle to comprehend that such a deception took place before our very eyes. In 2019 there is no more room for such naivety.

It is the hypocrisy and subsequent denials which have caused most pain to ordinary Catholics. These have shaken and even destroyed the Faith and trust of some within our Church.

Yet this is as nothing compared to the lasting scars it has left upon the souls of those who have been abused.

The Church which has been commissioned to lead and shepherd, to heal and console, to love and honour, has at times spectacularly failed through the sins of some of her children.

Some have perpetrated unspeakable crimes against the little ones, like wolves in sheep’s clothing. As a priest and as a Catholic I share in that sense of betrayal.

It’s a temptation to concede to anger and frustration at the disastrous situation which we have inherited.

This painful issue will undoubtedly continue to beset the Church and damage the Faith of her children for many years to come.

Ours is a long Lenten road which we must tread with humility and heavy hearts given the failings of so many who stood under the banner of Christ.

Yet, by God’s grace I do sense a real springtime emerging from the shadows of the past.

Of course, there is always space for us to do more; but there is a real culture shift within the Church which is honest about past failings and willing to learn and purify and grow. Our sombre Lent is gently giving way to the bright promise of renewal.

That renewal begins with everyone within the family of the Church recognising and accepting the hurt that has been done.

But what kind of renewal is required? Accounts of abuse are now emerging on an unprecedented scale, from every corner of society.

It touches upon every area of life: within the Church and schools, the charity sector, the media, in the workplace and within families. No community has been spared its evil.

It would be wrong to categorise this as a purely human problem that will be solved through practical measures alone.

Safeguarding strategies and stricter controls are of course essential, but will only achieve partial success.

The lasting solution lies in changing hearts and minds. At the root of this issue is a spiritual sickness in our society.

For the Church, the door has been left wide open to a spirit of evil and the work of Satan.

It has led to a fatal contamination which needs to be rooted out.

If this calamity has been the fruit of a spiritual sickness then the remedy must likewise be spiritual.

The Church must surely recalibrate, and reset our focus on the person of Jesus Christ and on His ways.

It requires a new conversion of ‘turning away from sin to be faithful to the Gospel.’ It requires a greater measure of faith in God, in His law and in His justice.

For now, as Catholics, we continue to walk our extended Lent, awaiting the bright shoots of Easter, and a new season of renewal and hope.


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