Wednesday, February 17, 2010

Signs of Penance

Yesterday the Palms from last year were burnt, today I marked the foreheads of my parishioners with ash from side to side, top to bottom. The pious will wear the cross all day rejoicing in the humiliation of of it.
Yes, the gospel tells us to pray in private, to fast with a smile, to give alms in secret: to avoid the yeast of the Pharisees.
There is very human need to do penance, and a need to see others do penance. Justice seems to demand public sins need public atonement, faults need to be admitted, restitution needs to be made: justice need to be done and seen to be done.
Reading the Irish papers there seems to be a great deal of dissappointment, even anger over the Pope's meeting with their bishops. The people wanted blood, heads, resignations, condemnations, humilliations and got nothing. Words like "charade", "hypocrisy", "loss of credibility" feature in reports.
Let me be brave, it being Ash Wednesday, it would appear that the sexual abuse by Irish clergy was and is actually much lower than in the rest of Irish society. The name of the Irish abuse organisation, "One in Four", says it all, a quarter of Irish people according to them are the victims of abuse, the Catholic Church and clergy in Ireland despite its great faults are not responsible for that, sexual and physical abuse are part of Irish culture, if "One in Four" is correct in its claims. I suspect rather than drawing open the lace curtains on Irish society it is easier to cast the Church out into the wilderness. Holy Church becomes an icon of rejected Irish belief, this is why the Pope can speak of the problem being about a loss of faith. The Irish bishops have indeed become the scapegoat bearing the sins of the nation, indeed that is not an idea that is estranged from the priesthood. The priest not only stands in the place of Christ but also of the people.
Fr Sean has an interesting post, he suggests the Irish love heroes, he is right but Irish heroes are those like Parnell, raised to the heights and then thrown to the mob, I think it is a Celtic thing, maybe it is why the Cross rather than the Resurrection has been so much part of Irish spirituality. Whatever it is, Fr Sean is quite right, sorrow, appology, repentance is not enough, there is a need for public penance, the Irish public want their heirarchs "to cry out between the vestibule and the altar", not only for their own sins but for the sins of the nation. Whether it is fasting and sleepless nights in Lough Derg, or penitential processions of scourged barefoot bishops in O'Connell Street, the Irish want and need something more than they have been given so far.
Embarrassment, shame and confusion are very human emotions and were it just politicians who are objects of such public contempt and ire these might be enough but it is bishops, the Church, more is needed, the recognition not only that a "crime" has taken place but also "sins" have been committed which cry out before the throne of God.
What signs are the bishops giving that they are making atonement before God, that there is even an understanding that God is offended?
Are they faithless? From the signs so far: yes!


gemoftheocean said...

Great post. [...and if a few heads rolled, taht wouldn't be a bad thing, either. One certainly needs to see a "re-org" and more safeguards put in place.

i.e. no "old boy" [or old girl network for that matter] of "you scratch my back I'll scratch yours, with turning a blind eye to abuse.

I don't think the Irish are unique in wanting a hero. Everyone does.

As far as the ashes business: [Because you didn't go to Catholic school first grade] SISTER SAID: [which carried more weight than "the pope said" That afger one recieved ashes, you didn't wash them off right away, because something like that showed you were ashamed to be Catholic - but she DID also say that one washed them when it would normally be time for you to do so. So if for instance you went to Mass in the morning, then later were later running around outside playing or working and then you'd normally bathe, shower, whatever, then you washed your face, as you normally would.

"SISTER SAID" [To us the pope was a far away and distant person. But "sister" ruled our lives and could note any transgression, and she had eyes in the back of her head, and was psychic and everything.]

Maire said...

Hi I'm Irish and have been watching this situation unfold for that last 5 years.

The newspapers here are very anti-catholic so I would discard them off hand straight away. It makes me laugh seeing them lecture the Church on morality after reading the daily stench that is served up for Irish readers every day.

I've read sections of the Murphy Report and was surprised that they could not find enough victims so they had to spread the enquiry over 75 years and offer compensation. The sexual abuse element was combined with other types of abuse so it was difficult to see the actual scale of it but the total abuse was quite low over such a long period and over so many children.

Sexual abuse is not endemic in Ireland and certainly not more so than any other country. Sexual license gives rise to all these horrors should we be brave enough to admit it.

I live in Ferns and know that this is not a clear cut picture on the one hand we may have perverted priests preying on young men. On the other we have young men consenting to abuse.

Yes, I know that some were very young and of course in that situation it is totally the adult's fault. However, I make an exception of a 12 / 13 year old who should know that these things are wrong. A certain abuse victim even stated in and interview that he 'Never didn't want what had happened'. In another documentary when offered a blessing to counter what was lost in a certain bedroom, he said 'He Lost nothing'.

Of course these perverted priests should have been sent for purgation to some austere monastery as in the past to good effect for all. The Bishops have to take certain blame for allowing them access and that is deplorable.

We are in a huge wrestle in Ireland for our Catholic schools. There are many areas were people are abused but the Church is receiving the focus of attention even though only 2% of all abuse occurs there.

I went to a convent school and I do not recognise what I am hearing in the press in relation to RC Church schools.

maryfa said...

RE ashes. When were lay persons authorised to give ashes as happened in our church this morning? And are they allowed to give blessings at Communion to those not receiving?

Fr Ray Blake said...

Blessing people and things is reserved to priests.
If giving communion is allowed to lay people, why not blessed ashes?

gemoftheocean said...

Maire, are you FREAKING kidding me? Yes, in theory a 12/13 year old knows this is wrong.

HOWEVER, if you think that 12/13 year olds don't KNOW that they are almost TOTALLY without power in that situation. They can well have physical fear of the person tormenting them.

Fr. X may be friends of the family. Fr. X could _WELL_pressure and threaten the kid "If you don't do Y with me, I'll tell your parents I saw you molesting a yougner boy."

Again, are you FREAKING kidding me?

Kids have NO POWER. They don't have the ability to just walk away from their situation. Suppose he complained to his parents, and the parents are so starry eyed impressed with Fr. X they call their own child a liar? A manipulative person can well pull the strings on a teen.

"how could you possibly accuse dear Fr. X?" You have no idea the home dynamics and seem to have forgotten the absolute terror even kids slightly older than them can hold. A 12/13 year old can't just leave home and get a job and support himself, can he?

As people being abused at that ange and saying "...oh, I didn't mind, it was something I wanted" -- there's a REASON kids that young can't legally give consent. It's by definition not a free will decision. A youngster who's been abused feels soiled, and shamed. He might well convince himself that what happened maybe wasn't a sin -- to take shame away from him. Children of that age in particular may not have had their hormones kick in, they get mixed messages form society on what's "normal" and what's not. They may _convince_ themselves that they are homosexual, rather than simply immature.

Predators can well WRECK people for life! How dare you try and shove some of this back on the younster.

Evil predator adults KNOW they are manipulating. Better a millstone around the neck then to corrupt a child.

shane said...

As David Quinn wrote on Monday, media-driven expectations were running ridiculously high, so it's only natural that people are disappointed. The purpose of the meeting was as an information gathering exercise for the pope's upcoming pastoral letter, which will attempt a restructure of the Church in Ireland.

JARay said...

If I may offer a comment to Maryfa. What you say Father is true, that if laypeople can give out Holy Communion then why not blessed ashes. As someone who is an Instituted Acolyte I have been giving out Holy Communion for over 34 years and I have always, except for this year, distributed ashes. This year, the priest, who is from India, told me that he alone was going to distribute the ashes, so, of course I stayed back. But then, to my surprise, at the end of Mass said to everyone "If you want to take ashes home for any sick people, then help yourselves"! He then told me that in India they parcel up little packages of ashes in screwed up pieces of paper so that people can take them home!
Over the years many people have come up to me during the distribution of Holy Communion, indicating that they want a blessing. My way of tackling this is to offer a prayer to Almighty God for that person that He will bless that person. It is my view, and only my view, that my offering a prayer like that, is suitable in that situation. Nobody has yet complained anyway.

Anonymous said...

The Catholic Church is an easy scapegoat. Kevin Myers (not a man I'd normally be too fond of) was on the ball when he recently wrote...

"I wake up each morning in the madhouse that is Ireland and wonder, what next? What insanity will the banks, or the political classes, or the liberal mob concoct today? I'm never disappointed. No, never: some new witless infamy makes its grisly appearance each dawn, from one source or another. The latest comes from the dogmatic secularist liberals of D4 and D6, calling for the removal of the Catholic Church from its role as the lead-custodian of our primary schools.

The idiocy is compounded by a general Catholic silence. Indeed, trying to get the Catholic Church defend itself these days is rather like getting a manic-depressive to discuss world history.

Black Death? Me! I did it! The Wars of the Roses? Me, all me! The extirpation of Aztec civilisation? Mine own work, sirrah! The Irish Famine? Twas I who introduced the fungus. Grey squirrels? I confess all. Woe is me! Ashes upon my brow, and sackcloth on my shoulders!"

I am currently reading (UCD Professor of History) Diarmuid Ferriter's 'The Transformation of Ireland' where he highlights the role of the Catholic Church in articulating social progress. Ferriter is one of our most outspoken historians; his Judging Dev and Occasions of Sin (a history of sex in Ireland) were quite fair and objective with regard to the Church.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I normally just delete anonymous comments without reading them, I did happen to read this one and thought I would break my rule, for once.

shane said...

sorry, that last comment (9.48) was me [...I clicked the return button by accident before I typed in my name]

Norah said...

Maire, re your comment, a well known blogger said that her some of her relatives had been in care and despite telling the authorities that they hadn't been abused they were given compensation.

Norah said...

"One in Four", says it all, a quarter of Irish people according to them are the victims of abuse,

I am not a statistician but would it not be more correct to say that "one in four" of the people featured in the report? What percentage of a population needs to be surveyed for the results to be applied to the whole population?

shane said...

The Irish Times [then a Protestant paper] gave a flavour of old times today with this from its archive:

Archbishop Diarmuid Martin could do worse than taking a few ideas from his predecessor.

Vincent (Ireland) said...

Dear Father,

At the risk of instant deletion, let me say that while I agree with much of your post and with the words of the Holy Father blaming a lessening of faith for these heinous crimes there are a few points that have been missed.

It is no surprise that the Pope, who is advised by Bishops and informed by Irish Bishops should have missed the fact that there has been a systematic destruction of catechesis and a conscious and enforced silence on moral and virtuous living orchestrated by the Episcopal and Clerical system and fought, largely unsuccessfully, by small numbers of dedicated laity quietly supported by good and holy Priests. Which came first, the guilty consciences or the inactive ones? Who can say?

Second, there was a clear, deliberate, willing participation in the sins of paedophiles by silence or counsel or facilitation on the part of most or all of their brother Priests, their Superiors and their Bishops. If I participate in the sins of another I am as guilty as they. The modern confiteor is even clearer than the traditional one on the things I have done and those I have FAILED TO DO.

Third, if you or I walked into a confessional and told the Priest what the Bishops and Priests of Ireland are telling us he would have to refuse me absolution. Bless me father for I have seen dreadful things and I am here because I want to bring about healing but I did nothing wrong because I was only there in a position of authority and responsibility but not ultimate authority and responsibility and I really thought that someone else would be my brother's keeper when I wasn't looking and...

Every seven year old knows when they have done something wrong. Is it so strange to expect Bishops to know too? However, the systematic abuse most often perpetrated upon the children of Ireland is not merely sexual or violent but it is the systematic failure of Bishops and Priests to exercise their offices as shepherds, keeping away wolves preying upon bodies or souls. The Sensus Fidelium seems to me to be nearer to the mind of Christ. Has anybody seen a millstone lying around?

Richard said...

"penitential processions of scourged barefoot bishops in O'Connell Street"

That might not be a bad idea.

Fr Ray Blake said...

I wouldn't delete that, it is a welcome supplement to what I have written.

Indeed, I think there is very serious culpability on the part of priests, I should imagine parish priests or curates, as well as headteachers and teachers would have been the first people to receive complaints or would have had suspicions, why did they not act on them?
Similarly clergy gossip, especially Irish clergy, especially about often moved clergy, I don't think we should presume ignorance, maybe naivety, but not ignorance.

Peter said...

I see that the role of the Nuncio is questioned by the Irish press. I wonder if any complaints reached his office or Rome.
It brings into question the degree of responsibility for oversight of bishops by the Nuncio.
The unwillingness to cooperate with the enquiry is hard to understand.

Norah said...

Shane the link didn't work for me.

I don't mean to provide an excuse for any bishop or priest for their wrong doing but did this scandal in the Irish Church come from a culture in which incest was not uncommon and in which brutal beatings were inflicted on children?

Fr Corapi once said that in houses with large numbers of children, incest and brother sister abuse happened but was never spoken about outside the home [lack of privacy seemed to be a factor]. Some Irish friends related tales of absolutely brutal beatings of children which seem to have been regarded the norm in the Ireland of their parents.

Physiocrat said...

@ gemoftheocean said...

Maire, are you FREAKING kidding me? Yes, in theory a 12/13 year old knows this is wrong.

HOWEVER, if you think that 12/13 year olds don't KNOW that they are almost TOTALLY without power in that situation. They can well have physical fear of the person tormenting them.

Gem, Marie's comments are consistent with a story I heard from a classmates at school, who talked freely, even boastingly about these sorts of goings-on. It happens. Within families too. Family goings-on I heard about from classmates, with no sense of shame, included things between brothers. There is sometimes more than a little willingness from both participants.

More sinisterly there is the case of an acquaintance who was abused as a toddler by an older sister, so there was no consent there, nor in another (Irish, in this instance), who is still traumatised in middle age by abuse, as a boy, by an uncle.

In once case I know about, it may gratify you to know that this misfired spectacularly. A young relative - I am talking about nearly 100 years ago - shared a room with an uncle who "bullied" him, so he took up boxing. When he was ready, he beat-up the uncle. Though quite badly hurt, he of course was not in a position to complain. The bullying stopped.

This is a complicated area but when people in positions of authority are involved, there is a basic position of trust and advances from those in their care, which can happen, should be resisted. And justice must be seen to be done.

Of course not all abuse is sexual. Violent and excessive punishment is also abuse, but has been part of the culture until recently. At least twice I ended up with a bloody nose due to assaults from teachers.

It's a complicated world out there.

gemoftheocean said...

Psyiocrat, yes, I see what you are saying but you can't hold a 12/-13 old responsible for something an adult did to them. These people are lying when they say they welcomed this abuse -- I think they are lying to themselvees. It's not normal for a 12-13 year old boy to want some grown man to sodomize him and ruin him, possibly for life.

It's like a woman making excuses for a rapist boyfriend. "I'm sure he didn't put his **** in too far, the 4 year old couldn't have been that badly hurt."

The whole attitude is enabling.

And bravo to the boy who grew up and fought the uncle.

I've heard some things too about how brutal it had been in Ireland.

One priest I knew who grew up there had Christian brothers as teachers and he said when he was about 14-15 and doing trig. the teacher had hit two boys in front of him for not coming up with the right answers to problems once. [Fr. said that HE was lucky he was good in math and knew the answer to his question!] All the same the memory of the injustice he'd seen rankled him 40+ years on. [It would have taken place during WWII.]

And it's one thing to smack a two year old on the bottom for running in the street, in order to frighten the child not to do it again, and it's another to knock a five year old to the floor because they spilled milk.

Tom said...

"Blessing people and things is reserved to priests.
If giving communion is allowed to lay people, why not blessed ashes?"

A priest once explained to me that the reason lay people should not distribute ashes is because the ashes should be given in the form of the Sign of the Cross, and that action is in itself a form of blessing, which is reserved to the priets. It seemed logical to me then and does so now.

Distributing Holy Communion is not analagous to distributing ashes. The 'substances' being distributed are very different and the Blessed Sacrament is clearly more important than blessed ashes.

However, it is not a question of gradation - ie if one can distribute something as important as the Sacred Host, then one should be allowed to distribute something of lesser importance eg ashes. The purposes of each action is different.

shane said...

"What signs are the bishops giving that they are making atonement before God, that there is even an understanding that God is offended?"

...about time!

Maire said...


I know the brevity of my comment perhaps caused you to misunderstand me. Of course you are right in saying if someone is attacked that they can hardly have welcomed the abuse. The picture is a little more complicated than simple attack in some cases. There is cooperation with evil on the part of the victim who may have been abused before they met the priest abuser.

In the Murphy report the children were from two parent dysfunctional families where they had been abused already before entering the school.
Some of the behaviour of the children is shocking to me and I understand an adult smacking or giving the cane in the face of such dis-respect.

The abuse in the Murphy report was caused my a minority of religious and some volunteers working in the institution. One person was responsible for 100 cases.

Some of the accusation of slave labour again made me laugh. I grew up on a farm and we had to work too, in freezing conditions. Life was not easy, times were hard. Everyone had to work as well as go to school. I don't seek compo from my parents.

When I read that holidays were organised for these children and job positions found for them when they left school I was amazed.

It was very hard to find work, the religious orders found these children work when they left school.

The report summed it up for me when they said that The children left the school more stabilised than when they had entered.

If this is so they did their job well.

Look at what the Govt. is doing in Ireland, 22 kids in care missing. One found dead in a reservoir.
No headlines. Q.E.D

I think Shane's and Norah's comments hit the nail on the head.

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