Case for a ‘loyal opposition’ within the church

WHILE not disagreeing with Gregóir de Buitléir (‘Battering the brothers’, Letters May 29), I must honestly state there was severe and excessive physical punishment in the two religious-run schools that I attended.

I encountered battering priests and brothers and remember my school days as a time dominated by fear. However, it is only fair to say the kindest teacher I ever had was a Christian Brother.

Also, while agreeing in general with Michael O’Driscoll’s point (Letters, May 29) that huge areas of the Catholic church do not seem to have experienced the awful catalogue of abuse detailed in the Ryan report, and that culpability lies with individual abusers and those who failed to deal with them, I am concerned that some Catholics may be tempted to find various ways to absolve the church itself from any blame.

As a committed Catholic, I think this would be sad and would hold back a reform of the church which is long overdue.

One built-in feature of Catholicism is an attempt to produce good behaviour by force and this may have facilitated the culture of excessive physical punishment (I can’t even begin to speculate on the causes of the sexual abuse).

The precepts of the church are a good example. You are not just required as a Catholic to go to mass at the weekend and to contribute to the clergy – you are bound under pain of sin. Indeed the church catechism makes it clear that missing weekend mass is a grave sin and, if not excused by a sufficient reason, warranting eternal damnation. This is all underpinned by the biblical power of “binding and loosing”.

I fear there has been far more binding than loosing.

While some of the people I have most admired have been priests, I am convinced the Catholic priesthood has developed in a way that can only be described as unfortunate. When Jesus died on the cross, we are told the veil of the temple was torn asunder. This meant that everyone had direct access to God, unlike in the Old Testament when access was through the levitical priesthood. Sadly, the church quickly repaired the veil of the temple and put the priests firmly back in place between ourselves and God.

For example, you couldn’t depend on God to forgive your sins directly, assuming you were sorry and made reparation. You had to go to the priest – and if the sins were grave, you couldn’t be forgiven without giving all the details. Now this might have been psychologically beneficial sometimes, but can anyone believe that a loving God would have demanded it?

Then there is the whole area of fear – those who are aware of wrongdoing but prefer to keep in by the wall. Could I be one myself?

I was staggered by your recent report that only 3% of Cloyne priests would admit (under guarantee of anonymity) to wanting their bishop to resign as a consequence of his mishandling of clerical abuse cases.

Was it fear or misguided loyalty, or closing of ranks or – worst of all – lack of concern for the abused?

And, of course, it underlines the still highly clericalised nature of the Irish church – “age of the laity” my hat. Is there any chance of having a loyal opposition, clerical and lay, who might be listened to and not dismissed (sometimes literally) as cranks and renegades.

I still believe the Catholic church can be – and is for me at the moment – one of the very best ways, though not the only way, of meeting Jesus. It also remains one of the few powerful voices speaking out against other unspeakable abuses such as the killing of innocent unborn children – surely a human rights issue as important as the hell revealed in the industrial schools.

I also believe the way in which the church has presented the face of Jesus, especially to his abused brothers and sisters, has deprived them of one of the greatest sources of healing. It is sad to think that when they try to turn to Jesus, what they see is the face of their abuser. As a committed Catholic all I want to do is to beg their forgiveness.

Oliver Broderick

Montserrat House

Ashe Street


Co Cork

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