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Church must place survivors at its centre

By Sarah Mac Donald - 08 July, 2014

Pic John McElroy

Pic John McElroy

The crisis of the sexual abuse of children in the Church is not a chapter of the past history of the Church as abuse can and does still take place, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin of Dublin has warned.

In a keynote address on Monday evening in Rome to the ‘Anglophone Conference’, which brings together child safeguarding experts and representatives from the English-speaking church, the Archbishop warned, “Abuse will remain a wound in the side of the Church until the day on which every single survivor of abuse has achieved the personal healing he or she deserves.”

Addressing 58 delegates from Australia, Canada, Chile, England & Wales, India, Ireland, Kenya, Malawi, Malaysia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, Poland, Scotland, Sierra Leone, Sri Lanka, South Africa, and the US, the Archbishop told them that the sexual abuse of children on the scale in which it happened should never have occurred in the Catholic Church.

He underlined that this was because Jesus himself tells us that children are a sign of the kingdom of God.

“This means that our understanding of faith and of the kingdom is somehow measured in the manner in which we protect and respect and cherish children or in which we fail children.”

He added that we all know well the strong words of Jesus about those who would injure or harm children.

Archbishop Martin said the Church needs to develop a new awareness that what has happened has wounded the entire Church and that now the entire Church is called to put right what has happened.

“Healing is not just a question for the counsellors; it is a theological and ecclesiological necessity,” the Primate of Ireland stated and he added that the healing of the Church comes through how the Church works to heal survivors.

The international delegates attending the conference in the Irish College in Rome until Friday this week, include Bishop Alejandro Goic, President of the Chilean Conference of Bishops, as well as Dublin clerical abuse survivor, Marie Collins and Fr Hans Zollner SJ.

Both Mrs Collins and Fr Zollner are members of the Pontifical Commission for the Protection of Minors and are due to address the conference, as is Mgr Robert Oliver, the Promoter of Justice at the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith.

Dr Melissa Dermody, the Clinical Director of the Towards Healing counselling referral service for survivors of abuse in Ireland, is to speak on restorative practice with survivors.

Irish delegates attending the conference include Archbishop Eamon Martin, Coadjutor Archbishop of Armagh; Ms Teresa Devlin Chief Executive and Mr John Morgan Chairman, National Board for Safeguarding Children in the Catholic Church in Ireland; Mr Andrew Fagan, Director of the Child Safeguarding Office of the Archdiocese of Dublin and Ms Barbara McDermott, Director of the Child Safeguarding Office of the Diocese of Down & Connor.

Archbishop Martin told them that the Church must not just be transformed into a place where children are safe.

“It must also be transformed into a privileged place of healing for survivors. It must be transformed into a place where survivors, with all their reticence and with all their repeated anger towards the Church, can genuinely come to feel that the Church is a place where they will encounter healing.”

He added, “We are not that kind of Church yet: and by far.”

In a rebuke to those in the Church who advocate on behalf of the poor, yet close their eyes to the abused, the Archbishop said a Church which talks about a preferential option for the poor “must show unflinchingly a preferential option for those who have been victims of abuse within its fold.”

“There are still within the Church some who play down the realities of abuse, or who take short cuts with regard to established norms and guidelines.”

“In doing so, they damage the Church’s witness to the healing power of Jesus Christ.”

“There is nothing more hurtful to survivors than to find the Church proclaiming norms and then to find that they are not being followed.”

He admitted he was “struck to read in some of the national reports for this conference that there are still dioceses or religious congregations which opt out of national norms.”

Dr Martin also called for the Church to ensure there was adequate counselling for victims and their families. But he said the Church must do more than that.

“Healing cannot be delegated. The Church must become the bosom of Christ which lovingly embraces wounded men and women, with all the brutality and unattractiveness of wounds. Wounds cannot be sanitised from a distance.”

The Good Samaritan is the one who carries the wounded man in his own arms, Archbishop Martin said, and he underlined that bishops and superiors have to ensure that survivors are made feel truly welcome when they turn to Church authorities.

He recalled one survivor telling him that while she was received by her local priest correctly, in the sense that all the boxes of the norms were correctly ticked, she still had the enduring impression that the priest would have much preferred that she had not come to him and that she we would go away as quickly as possible and that the counsellors would take over.

He also suggested that the Church has to reach out to all those who are involved in abuse.

“We have a responsibility towards perpetrators to bring them to a realisation of what they have done and to make reparation through living a different life.”

The Church must recognise that the road that we all still have to travel is long. “The greatest harm that we could do to the progress that has been made right across the Church is to slip back into a false assurance that the crisis is a thing of the past,” he said.

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