Healing in a wounded church; how can the Catholic Church with integrity minister healing to those who it has abused?”
(Reflection on the presentation given by Sr Nuala Patricia Kenny OC, MD, FRCP February 2021)
The NBSCCCI (National Board for Safeguarding Children Catholic Church Ireland) is currently focusing through a series of short videos commissioned from theologians, scripture scholars and ethicists, on exploring a Theology of Safeguarding. The series will consist of nine short video presentations leading to a national Conference on the theme of Towards a Theology of Safeguarding.
Sr Nuala Patricia Kenny OC, MD, FRCP, is a Sister of Charity from Halifax. She has written extensively on the whole area of child sexual abuse and in particular in the area of clerical child sexual abuse within the Catholic Church. Some of her books include: Healing the Church: Diagnosing and Treating the Clergy Abuse Crisis (Novalis 2012) and Still unhealed; Challenges of Conversion and reform from the Clergy Abuse crisis (Novalis 2019).
She begins by informing us that Pope Francis made some very interesting observations regarding the need to seek healing. Pope Francis said, “Heal the wounds, heal the wounds, you have to heal the wounds. Then we can talk about everything else”. ”Jesus’s love and care for children was contradicted totally by depraved criminal actions of some clergy and religious. The wounds inflicted upon innocent children even to the present time of this current pandemic give us a chance to learn lessons.
The lessons we learn from the history of clerical child sexual abuse are many and varied. There was abuse of power and an abuse of trust. There was secrecy within the institutional church that spawned silence, denial, collusion and a tendency to conceal scandal. The members of the institutional church used bureaucratic responses of canon law, policies and protocols instead of reaching out through a pastoral approach as Jesus would have done. There was complete failure to address the underlying systemic and cultural factors.
Pope Benedict said in March 2010 in his pastoral letter to the Irish Faithful. “Only by examining the many elements that gave rise to the present crisis of clerical child sexual abuse in the church can a clear-sighted diagnosis of its causes be undertaken and effective remedies be found”.
This is all about atonement and atonement requires sincere apology and repentance. It requires conversion of minds and hearts, care for victims and restorative justice. The priests and religious who sexually abused children must make an apology and truly repent. All members of the clergy and religious must experience conversion of minds and hearts by owning the Child Safeguarding Policies. Religious and clergy must challenge perpetrators of child sexual abuse instead of portraying them as victims. Real conversion among the clergy must entail dispensing with the Clerical Institutional Group Think Mind-set.
Atonement requires on our part as members of our Mill Hill Society honestly to embrace policies but above all to embrace ongoing education in the whole area of Safeguarding. We are called to embrace a Theology of Safeguarding if we wish to heal the wounds that have been inflicted by the sexual abuse of children by some of our members.
As we entered 2020 and the ensuing pandemic, vulnerability became a new reality for all humanity. Vulnerability is inevitable in our families and communities, it is not optional. The Church entered the pandemic period not from a position of strength and health but from weakness and woundedness from the endemic pathology of clerical child sexual abuse.
As we look at the wounds through the prism of the pandemic crisis we encounter the unprecedented losses in an aging church in the Global North both of people and priests. The young have almost entirely abandoned the church. There is a shift from a Eurocentric view point to a Global view point.
At this time in history, the Church must recognise that she is a wounded healer and should call for a return to the prophetic tradition. The prophetic tradition teaches us to practice lamentation. We need to weep for the abuses perpetrated on the innocent by members of the Church. The process of weeping will be cathartic. The prophetic tradition calls us to look at what God wants us to be and to look at what we have become.
We have to imagine the possibilities of conversion, change and new beginnings. Narcissism, discouragement, and pessimism close the door to the Holy Spirit.
The question we have to ask ourselves is: can we heal the wounds? We can begin to heal the wounds when we break the silence and denial of child sexual abuse committed by a few of our own members. We can begin to heal when we stop creating polarizing divisions through gossip and misinformation. We can begin to heal when we rekindle hope in the Resurrection and belief in the Holy Spirit.
We are in a Calvary moment within the Church (Romans 6:3-6). We must believe that by his wounds we have been healed (1Peter 24). The challenge is to be a Resurrection people. God works through our wounds.
The key in healing our wounds is the practice of humility. Humility allows us to enter our wounds and enables us to begin to feel the wounds of the victims of clerical child sexual abuse. Humility is the key to becoming a Resurrected people. Real humility will show us the way to accepting responsibility and accountability in growing towards an understanding of a Theology of Safeguarding and the possibility of everlasting healing.
Denis C Hartnett mhm
Mill Hill Missionaries