Thursday, May 21, 2009

On the Past

The Irish government recently published a lengthy report on the history of abuse in Catholic orphanages and other institutional settings run by the Catholic Church. How sad for everyone involved.

I read a quote by an Irish bishop, who said that the report would "humble" the Irish Church. By all means. The report will likely be used as a club by the Church's many enemies, and it will certainly be humbling. A few thoughts to mitigate any counter-abuse by those who would seek to unfairly discredit the Church with these findings, hopefully keeping with the spirit of humility:

1. The Catholic Church is the largest public beneficient society in Ireland.

It doesn't make much sense to conduct inquiries into the treatment of children in Jewish or Lutheran orphanages in Ireland, because there really aren't any to speak of. In other cases, abuse rates in Catholic-run children's welfare organizations was roughly equal to abuse rates in secular institutions. No excuse - but it certainly puts things in perspective.

2. Even if the report details abuse by 'thousands' of Catholic priests and religious, it is still a small proportion of the total body of relgious in Ireland during the period detailed.

In the United States, the number of priests accused of abuse was staggering. But it still only represented less than 1% of priests. It was a black eye that unfairly caused good, upright priests and religious to be looked at askance. I'm willing to bet that the situation is similar in Ireland.

3. It's easy to judge the decisions of Church officials from afar without fully understanding what they were thinking.

The Church is more like a family than a business. If I have an employee that is stealing, or abusing other employees, it is my responsibility to fire him. If I found out that an immediate member of my family was a sexual deviant, I'm sure it would present difficulties for me personally. This in no way excuses bishops who knowingly shuffled abusive priest from parish to parish. But we shouldn't be too quick to judge someone who is more like the head of a family than a manager at Denny's, until we have walked in his steps.

4. The Church did mountains of good in the last 100 years in Ireland.

I'm willing to bet that Ireland isn't struggling with mounting healthcare and social service costs nowadays, and it certainly wasn't during the difficult years of the early and middle century in Ireland. The Catholic Church provided billions of hours of medical care, social service, and assistance of every sort free of charge. The good brother and nuns of the Irish Church worked in very difficult and stressful situations, more often than not to the great benefit of society. For every story of abuse, I'm sure there are at least two stories of saintly Christian Brothers who educated a child without thought of remuneration.

I'm more than willing to discuss the faults of the Church, but I've also questioned the motives behind these reports and investigations. One could hardly fail to notice the glee in the tone of many American reporters during the Scandals of the last decade in America. There is more than a hint of vengeance in the accounts of abusive priests, vengeance that has nothing to do with the actions of prelates and pastors and more to do with resentment towards the Church itself, and what it stands for.

So, I'll be praying for the Irish Church - that gentle mother who nursed the West back to health and who has given so much to her Irish homeland. Let's hope she emerges stronger from this black time.

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