Irish Archbishop Speaks Candidly on Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal

While many bishops and priests have closed ranks when faced with the extent of the sex abuse crisis in the Catholic Church, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin, Ireland, has consistently spoken clearly and directly.

This week Martin spoke at the Marquette University Law School’s conference titled “Harm, Hope and Healing: International Dialogue on the Clergy Sex Abuse Scandal,” as part of the school’s restorative justice program. “Archbishop Martin said what many Catholics want to hear, and they haven’t heard it from their Catholic leadership,” said Janine Geske, a professor at the law school who heads its Restorative Justice Initiative, in the National Catholic Reporter.

Also this week, Presbyterian pastor Peter James Vienna Presbyterian Church in Virginia stood before his congregation and acknowledged that the sexual abuse by a youth director was “far more devastating and horrific than we had imagined.” A row of young women, part of at least a dozen women who had been victimized over a four year period, sat in a back pew as James apologized.

“We failed as leaders to extend the compassion and mercy that you needed,” James said, publicly acknowledging the church’s failings for the first time. “Some of you felt uncared for, neglected and even blamed for this abuse. I am sorry. The church is sorry.”

Below are highlights from Archbishop Martin’s presentation. It needs to be read by far more than just Catholics.

I tell these events not to re-open history, but to illustrate just how difficult it is to bring an institution around to the conviction that the truth must be told. All institutions have an innate tendency to protect themselves and to hide their dirty laundry. We have to learn that the truth has a power to set free which half-truths do not have. The first condition for restorative justice is that all parties are willing to tell the truth and to take ownership of the truth, even when the truth is unpleasant. As I said at a recent liturgy of lament in Dublin: “The truth will set us free, but not in a simplistic way. The truth hurts. The truth cleanses not like smooth designer soap but like a fire that burns and hurts and lances”. ..

I still cannot accept a situation that no-one need assume accountability in the face of the terrible damage that was done to children in the Church of Christ in Dublin and in the face of how that damage was addressed. The responses seemed to be saying that it was all due to others or at most it was due to some sort of systems fault in the diocesan administration. …

But even those numbers, though shocking, have not got the right focus. Statistics are too often offender-focussed. We have to set out from the standpoint that the person who was at the epicentre of abuse was not the priest, but the victim, a child. A restorative justice approach would have to re-orient the way we draw up not just our statistics but our pastoral care. One victim constantly reminds me that the stern words of Jesus in Saint Matthew’s Gospel (Mt 18:6) about the “great millstone” to be fastened around the neck of anyone who becomes a stumbling block for the “little ones”, are quickly followed (Mt 18:12) by the teaching on the Shepherd who leaves the ninety-nine sheep to find the one who has been lost. …

The culture of clericalism has to be analysed and addressed. Were there factors of a clerical culture which somehow facilitated disastrous abusive behaviour to continue for so long? Was it just through bad decisions by Bishops or superiors? Was there knowledge of behaviour which should have given rise to concern and which went unaddressed? …

A restorative justice approach which admits and addresses the truth in charity offers a useful instrument to create a new culture within the Catholic Church which enables the truth to emerge not just in the adversarial culture which is common in our societies, but in an environment which focuses on healing. At our service of lament and repentance I stressed that scandal of the sexual abuse of children by clergy means that the Archdiocese of Dublin will never be the same again. That is more easily said than achieved. After a period of crisis there is the danger that complacency sets in and that all the structures which we have established slip down to a lower gear. …

A Church which becomes a restorative community will be one where the care of each one of the most vulnerable and most wounded will truly become the dominant concern of the ninety-nine others, who will learn to abandon their own security and try to represent Christ who still seeks out the abandoned and heals the troubled. …

Martin’s full speech is below.
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Dorothy Day: Previously Unpublished 1933 Essay ‘Our Brothers, The Jews’ Published for First Time

Dorothy Day, 1925
Dorothy Day, 1925

Fr. Charles Gallagher has discovered a previously unpublished essay by Catholic Worker co-founder Dorothy Day, which lay in a correspondence file in the Dorothy Day-Catholic Worker Collection at Marquette University. I’m stunned!

Dorothy Day was a lay Catholic woman with radical politics, a deeply rooted faith, and a phenomenal amount of courage. She co-founded the Catholic Worker movement with Peter Maurin in the 1930s.

The manuscript titled Our Brothers, The Jews was written in autumn 1933. It is published for the first time in the November 2009 issue of America magazine.

Five years before Adolph Hitler became “The Fuhrer,” when he was still chancellor of a coalition government and head of the Nazi party with the Nazis holding a third of the seats in the Reichstag, Dorothy Day called to account Catholics who supported and fostered Hitler’s hate-based political agenda in the U.S.

Her point of view was very unpopular at the time. So unpopular in fact that she had a hard time getting her essay published anywhere. (America magazine rejected it when she submitted it to them in 1933.) But race-baiting and Jew-hating was on the rise in the U.S. and Catholic speakers in Brooklyn, near where the Catholic Worker was based, were drawing cheering crowds when they excoriated Jews.

“She keenly foresaw the dynamic that five years later would lead to the rise of Brooklyn’s powerful Christian Front movement and its quasi-terrorist anti-Semitic plot, which was scuppered only by a spectacular set of arrests in early 1940 by J. Edgar Hoover’s Federal Bureau of Investigation.

Day’s warning about how Catholics ought to deal with Hitler rested on two of the main pillars of her faith—scriptural reflection and concern for social justice. Her deep beliefs rested on an apostolic zeal that held out the possibility for all men and women to be fully integrated into the mystical body of Christ,” the editor’s note concludes.

Here’s an excerpt from Day’s essay:

For Catholics—or for anyone—to stand up in the public squares and center their hatred against Jews is to sidestep the issue before the public today. It is easier to fight the Jew than it is to fight for social justice—that is what it comes down to. One can be sure of applause. One can find a bright glow of superiority very warming on a cold night. If those same men were to fight for Catholic principles of social justice they would be shied away from by Catholics as radicals; they would be heckled by Communists as authors of confusion; they would be hurt by the uncomprehending indifference of the mass of people.

God made us all. We are all members or potential members of the mystical body of Christ. We don’t want to extirpate people; we want to go after ideas. As St. Paul said, “we are not fighting flesh and blood but principalities and powers.”

Read the whole essay here.

The discovery of this Day manuscript is astonishing–for its historical resonance and insight into social activism. Day’s examination of hate politics from the perspective of her deeply rooted Catholicism provides us with clues for today. It forces the question: How do we bring scriptural reflection and the concerns of social justice to bear on the Tea-Partyers, Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck, Lou Dobbs, and others who use hate as a political strategy to gain power?

I was particularly touched by the comments of one contemporary reader of Day’s article who wrote, “I am an 80 -year- old Jew who lived thru the 30s in New York, and my hard heart is melted at seeing for the first time that we had such a beloved advocate. Is that what makes a saint?”

Indeed, Dorothy Day is on the path to official canonization in the Catholic Church (read my article on that here), but papal process is not what makes her a saint. Her prophetic stance rooted in faith and the response of an 80-year-old Jewish woman are.