Commenting on the troubles of another community is always perilous and I tiptoe into this subject with some trepidation, begging my Irish readers for indulgence if I misunderstand their situation in any way. Still, the recalling of the Apostolic Nuncio makes this a matter of international significance and I hope that the thoughts of Timothy Joseph Patrick Finigan whose family settled in east London after the famine will not be entirely useless.
Back in 1992, when I was an assistant priest at Our Lady and St Philip Neri in Sydenham, I used to take Holy Communion each week to an elderly, devout and kindly Irish lady who always insisted that I stay for a cup of tea and a piece of cake. One week when I visited, she had the newspaper on the table with the recently broken story of Bishop Casey. I thought that I should gently broach the subject with her to offer some consolation. I will never forget the confusion, sadness, and sheer incomprehension on her face. She loved Christ, she loved her faith and she loved the Church. She just could not cope with the scandal.
Nineteen years on, the Casey affair has all but been forgotten as wave after wave of far more ghastly revelations have humiliated the Catholic Church in Ireland and given rise to a torrent of anti-clericalism of such ferocity that the Holy See has now felt it necessary to recall the Apostolic Nuncio. My goodness! I wonder what either Michael Collins or Éamon de Valera would have thought if you ever suggested that would happen.
As my dear mother used to drum into us: “two wrongs don’t make a right.” The anger at priests who have abused their sacred trust to harm children, and the proper indignation and contempt for the failure of Bishops to protect children does not justify the threat to criminalise priests for keeping the seal of confession (more about that here soon) or for the Prime Minister to engage in opportunistic grandstanding, lazily dragging in the Holy Father’s words, ripped cynically out of context to support an insulting attack on the Holy See.
It must be awful being a priest in Ireland at the moment. This week I will have the chance to talk to a young Irish priest on vacation in England and get his perspective. It is ironic to think that it must be a relief for him to be in the territory of the Crown for a couple of weeks. Fr Ray Blake and Fr Sean Finnegan (500 and 500b) have posted their own reflections on the situation which are well worth reading.
Against the background of the anti-Catholic hysteria that has greeted the Cloyne Report, the statement of Fr Lombardi is sober and statesmanlike. We do not excuse the abuse of little ones, nor the complicity of Bishops in failing to prevent it. It is quite proper that complacency, status-seeking, or cover-up should be a thing of the past. But it will not help children if the good work of so many Irish priests and nuns in the care of children over the years, the efforts of parish youth workers, and the Church’s support of the family should be ground into the dust in the name of protecting children.
My dear readers, let us pray for the Church in Ireland: first of all for the victims of abuse. But let us also pray for her priests. I know that some of them have gone for the silly, modernistic reaction that has failed dismally everywhere else, and is itself a part of the problem. (Fr Sean Finnegan puts it well in his 500b post.) Nevertheless, as Fr Sean acknowledges, on the whole these are surely good men trying to rescue the mission of the Church to bring Christ to a suffering people. At their hour of need, they should be sure of the love and support of Catholics around the world.
I headed up this post with a video of the hymn Hail Glorious St Patrick since his intercession is much needed. The third verse (not in the video) chimes in with the Holy Father's Letter to the Catholics of Ireland:
In the war against sin, in the fight for the faith,
Dear saint, may thy children resist unto death;
May their strength be in meekness, in penance, in prayer,
Their banner the cross which they glory to bear.