Those of Us Who Do Not Walk Away

It has not been a great week to be an English Catholic. Two reports were released this week into sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. The first was the Vatican investigating itself over the Cardinal Theodore McCarrick fiasco and the second was a Government report into how the Catholic Church in England and Wales handled the Child Sex Abuse Scandal which had engulfed the church for the last fifty or so years. The first report, which was the Vatican investigating the Vatican, seemed to implicate the dead more than the living. The second report held Cardinal Vincent Nichols responsible for mismanaging abuser priests, by putting the reputation of the Church above the needs of victims. Also, having reached the age of retirement, Cardinal Nichols had already submitted his resignation to the Holy Father and this week Pope Francis has asked him to stay on. There may be reasons for this that many of us will never know and time may validate this decision, but for now it looks like the church being soft on its own who have much to answer for. All in all, not a great week.

I wonder how this has left you feeling. It seems to be a characteristic of sexual abuse that opinion becomes very divided. Some ardently deny that the abuser or their superiors did anything wrong while others cry for their blood. Some of us may believe the world is out to get the Church, that those in power did their best and we will all move on eventually. Others among us might think this is horrific and that again the Church is being light on abuse and victims are left without justice for the crimes committed against them. Aware of my own frailties and imperfections, I am sitting with my feelings of embarrassment, shame and anger this week. They may not be yours, if they are not, my intention is not to offend you. 

The reformation was one of the most devastating events in the history of the Church, it broke apart body of Christ, Jesus prayed that his followers may be ‘one’ (Jn:17: 23). There were many abuses and complex politics that led to the reformation but maybe the ‘abuses’ of the last fifty years will have a more devastating impact on the church than those which preceded the reformation. In the Sixteenth Century people cared so much about faith that rather than walking away from faith, they founded a different type of church. But now? Some may find another Church or faith, but many will quietly slip away from Church, many have done so already.

So what about those of us who do not walk away? Those of us who love our faith and the Church but are embarrassed and angry at the current situation. One result of this dreadful period that we can be proud of is our response in the area of safeguarding. The Church in the U.K. has worked tirelessly to implement safeguarding policies that will never allow this to happen again. We are leaning lessons, no doubt we have more to learn. My understanding of the situation is that have to proclaim Jesus to our world. He is the Saviour, he is the one with the answers to the deepest longings of people’s hearts. Our world that is hungering and thirsting for love, meaning and purpose is essentially crying out for Jesus. He is the one who can give us true and unconditional love. I believe we have to honour victims of abuse, learn our lessons and get on and proclaim the Gospel. That is our vocation, that is our calling! Let us pray for victims of abuse that they may get the justice they deserve and let us pray for our Church that we will joyfully proclaim the Gospel that those who hunger and thirst for truth and meaning will hear the message of salvation for which they so long.

Fr Tom