Friday, 23 April 2010

The Bishops' apology

Well, this is a bit of a welcome change. From last week when the Catholic Herald's lead headline announced that Archbishop Nichols takes legal advice over newspaper's 'unwarranted slur', the Bishops of England and Wales have issued a statement apologising for the abuse.

Let us be fair, while in some respects it is less than it should be, there are several welcome and positive things in the statement. Here are a few of the high points.
Our first thoughts are for all who have suffered from the horror of these crimes, which inflict such severe and lasting wounds. They are uppermost in our prayer. The distress we feel at what has happened is nothing in comparison with the suffering of those who have been abused.
That is welcome. In the past, the apologies from the church have tended to conflate the suffering of the victims with that of the church itself, as if there were some equivalence between them. This rightly makes it clear that such comparisons are odious.
The criminal offences committed by some priests and religious are a profound scandal. They bring deep shame to the whole church.
A statement of the obvious, but not something we have heard quite so directly before. We progress.
We express our heartfelt apology and deep sorrow to those who have suffered abuse, those who have felt ignored, disbelieved or betrayed. We ask their pardon, and the pardon of God for these terrible deeds done in our midst. There can be no excuses.
The Bishops seem to have suffered from another acute attack of passive voice. Even now, they seem to find it difficult to find a form of words which makes it clear that abuses don't just happen, they are committed by abusers. But at least they are not offering excuses and are saying there can be none. So, two cheers for this.
Furthermore, we recognise the failings of some Bishops and Religious leaders in handling these matters. These, too, are aspects of this tragedy which we deeply regret and for which we apologise. The procedures now in place in our countries highlight what should have been done straightaway in the past. Full co-operation with statutory bodies is essential.
Oh dear. They still can't bear to bring themselves to utter the word "cover-up". They are still being entirely unspecific as to what the "failings of some Bishops and Religious leaders" have actually consisted of.

Any organisation which has responsibilities for the care and welfare of children will attract its share of paedophiles. Therefore, from time to time, abuses will happen. Whether the priesthood has a few more paedophiles or a few less than comparable occupations such teaching is neither here nor there. What matters is the institutional handling of this. What is required is really very simple to describe, and not all that hard to implement.
  • There has to be culture of awareness, so that the honest non-paedophiles know what to look out for, and how to report it.
  • There need to be clear procedures for reporting abuse
  • There need to be clear procedures for handling complaints, including where necessary temporarily removing the subject of a complaint from contact with children while an investigation is undertaken.
  • There need to be clear procedures for rapidly removing abusers from contact with children.
The overall aim is to keep known dangers away from children in the first place, to detect any instances of abuse quickly, and to stop them immediately.

The true scandal of the Catholic Church is not that it has some paedophiles within the clergy, it is that the Church's institutional response could hardly have caused more harm over a longer duration to the maximum number of victims had it been designed with that specific aim in mind.
Now, we believe, is a time for deep prayer of reparation and atonement.
Many, perhaps even most of the victims are no longer Catholics or even believers of any kind. Their faith has been shattered by the betrayal of trust inflicted on them by their clergy. You can pray if you wish to, but I doubt that many of the victims will be in the least bit impressed by this. It is unfortunate that this is the first response the Bishops list. When discussing the Pope's apology about the scandal, I mentioned that there was a bit of Father Ted about this.

This is how Father Ted and his fellow priests would address the problem.

"The whole institutional response of the church to sexual abuse has been shown to be corrupt and ineffective. What shall we do?"
"I know! Let's say Mass."
In our dioceses we will continue to make every effort, working with our safeguarding commissions, to identify any further steps we can take, especially concerning the care of those who have suffered abuse, including anyone yet to come forward with their account of their painful and wounded past. We are committed to continuing the work of safeguarding, and are determined to maintain openness and transparency, in close co-operation with the statutory authorities in our countries.
This is very good - if the Bishops live up to it. There is a lot of work still to do. Because of the shame and guilt involved, it can take victims decades before they summon the courage to come forward. There are probably 30 years of abuse stories still to come out.

I've written to the Archbishop asking him to make a start by setting up an enquiry into the goings-on at Ealing Abbey these past few decades. I'll publish that letter in the next article.


  1. I have read quite a few of the entries on various blogs here.

    I think child abuse is difficult for the child to report as he/she can have an emotional connection to the abuser which is separate from the abuse which then makes it hard for the child to "tell" because the abuser will then be "in trouble".This idea of loyalty may well be suggested to the child by the abuser.

    I think father Pearce's charm may well have made it difficult for people around the school to notice odd behaviour and/ or to make connections.

    As regards the abbey/monastery: it may have been that Mr. Pearce was moved from senior to junior school as if any untoward behaviour was noticed in regard to adolescents- it might have been thought that younger boys would not provide temptation and therefore both monk and children would be safe. This is a guess.

    I think that there was probably a lack of recognition of the dangers by the abbey -which amounts to foolishness beyond belief but not a cover-up i.e a deliberate intention to mislead.Unfortunately,the damage to individuals is the same, whatever the intent.

    I think that the passive voice is used by spokesmen of the Catholic church for various reasons: formal language, a sub-conscious wish to distance onself from the subject

    Similarly, I think that most people would wish to believe that if something bad had been perpetrated by a person they knew ,then a warning and a realization of the damage that could be caused to all involved would be enough for similar behaviour not to occur again.

  2. Pearce was charming when he needed to be but there was another, altogether nastier side to him. He was rarely without a coterie of boys around him and some of these boys were encouraged to target other boys at Pearce's behest. Their tactics seem to have ranged from false accusations of theft - as in my case and, so I recently learned, the case of Louis DeLuca, who lay in a coma following a suicide attempt with a Gat Gun, with the brothers of Ealing Abbey offering weekly prayers in relation to his "illness" until he finally died from his injuries - to assaults, some of which were of a sexual nature. More than twenty-six victims were browbeaten into dropping their complaints against Pearce by various parties involved, a scandal yet to be publicised. We know that current parents are in denial for obvious reasons. Sexual abuse is something that happens to other people's children, isn't it? And hasn't the school changed now anyway? Has it? Don't be so sure.