For a while, I’d been debating whether or not I should write and post this blog. It is something that is pretty heavy, and something that won’t make people feel comfortable. However, when I first decided to write up blogs, I wanted to use them as an outlet to get my frustrations off my chest. I am not saying I have all the answers, but I certainly do have a lot of questions. Therefore, I will go ahead with this piece.
So, here we go. For those of you who know me well, you will know that I am a Catholic. More specifically, I believe in God, and my faith plays a huge part in my life. It has helped me get through the darkest times, and the Gospel provides a constant source of inspiration to show love and do good to others.
Now I will rewind my life to this time last year. I had been an altar server at my church for over twelve years. I started to embrace the spiritual side of Catholicism a bit more, such as reading about the Mary and the Saints. And for the first time ever, I was actually motivated to go to church, without it feeling like a weekly chore. Although there were a few things about the Church I disagreed on, I still felt comfortable calling myself a Catholic.
However, that all changed. At the start of this year, the film ‘Spotlight’ came out. It was about how the Boston Globe investigated and uncovered the child sex abuse scandal and cover up within the Catholic Archdiocese of Boston. I thought it would be worth watching, and it seemed interesting. Little did I realise how eye opening Spotlight would be. I knew that there were Catholic priests who abused children, and Bishops covered up, but I did not realise the extent to which both these things happened, and the great lengths those higher up went into protecting paedophile priests. One thing people never seem to mention though – the Spotlight team were the ones carrying out the work of God, not the priests or bishops involved.
Nonetheless, the film itself was not what rocked my faith in the Catholic Church, and my identity as a Catholic. It would not have bothered me as much if those who abused and covered up had been brought to justice, or if it had happened in one small area. Yes, the Catholic Church has taken steps to prevent and deal with child abuse since the revelations in 2003. Since 2003, over 848 priests have been defrocked. Over $2.6 billion was spent in civil lawsuits in the US alone. There have been safeguarding procedures put in place in countries such as the UK, the USA and Canada. Pope Francis also set up a tribunal to investigate cover ups. However, many victims still believe more needs to be done. When I see what is going on, this is something I agree with too. If child abuse and cover ups is truly to be a thing of the past in the Church, then Bishops and Cardinals who cover up must be punished as well as priests who abuse children.
I decided to look up what happened to the Cardinal who covered up at the focus of Spotlight, Bernard Law. Following the child abuse revelations he submitted his resignation to the Vatican, to which Pope John Paul II accepted in 2002. In 2004, John Paul II appointed him as Archpriest to the Santa Maria Maggiore church and he was priest there until 2011. A scary thing was that I went on a music trip to Rome in 2009, and we sung at that church, whilst he was the priest there. Fortunately, we did not see him.
The fact that he is still a Cardinal in the safety of the Vatican influencing major decisions left me surprised. He was also allowed to keep his seat in the College of Cardinals, and took part in the conclave to elect Pope Benedict XVI in 2005. Despite covering up for several paedophile priests, not only is he still a priest, but he has not even been stripped of his title as Cardinal. The fact Pope John Paul II waited for him to hand his resignation rather than sack him on the spot speaks volumes too. Due to the way he handled child abuse, I do not think Pope John Paul II is a Saint as it is simply a slap in the face to the victims and their families. There are also priests who feel he should have done more too.
The reality is that Catholic Bishops and Cardinals who have covered up are not being held accountable. To date, only one Bishop has been criminally convicted for covering up. Some of the statements from leading Catholic figures do not offer much optimism either. When questioned in 2014, Archbishop Carlson, (who is known to refuse communion to pro-choice politicians) said he was ‘not sure whether it was a crime’ for an adult to have sex with a child, or for a priest to have sex with a child. Looking at this logically, he teaches people pre-marital sex is wrong, and he knows if a priest has sex, he breaks the vow of celibacy. He was clearly lying; else what would have made him believe it was okay for a priest to have sex with a child?
Earlier this year, Cardinal George Pell was questioned by Australian investigators. At the same time, Spotlight won an Oscar for ‘Best Picture’, and Producer, Michael Sugar said in his speech ‘Pope Francis, it’s time to protect the children and restore the faith.’. It is moments like these which make me believe in God. Meanwhile, George Pell told investigators his knowledge of an abusive priest was ‘a sad story and it wasn’t of much interest to me.’
Even over here, Cardinal Cormac Murphy O’Connor admitted he was ashamed of sending a priest in the 1980s who he knew abused children to become chaplain of Gatwick Airport instead of sending him to the police. In the end, this priest abused again. I have altar served for Cardinal O’Connor, and we had a family photo with him. It now feels like I have woken up only to realise my life is a lie.
There are all sorts of reasons and all sorts of excuses Archbishops and Cardinals will come up with for their actions. There will also be Catholic apologists who will say statements that will in effect sweep this issue under the rug. I have heard statements in the past from people such as ‘It was only 1% of priests’, ‘The Catholic Church is not the only institution to have had such a scandal’, ‘They are only human, humans make mistakes too’, or ‘Secular institutions have a higher percentage of abuse.’.
Well the reality is in the U.S. alone, 16,787 people have come forward to say that they were abused by priests as children between 1950 and 2012, with over 4,000 priests accused. 1% is may seem a small amount, but 4,000 priests is not. This was also in the U.S. alone, so figures worldwide are much higher. Yes, it is not the only institution to have had such a scandal either, but no institution has had such a scandal that has affected them on a worldwide scale like the Catholic Church. The cover up has come right from the top too; major Cardinals such as Law and Pell to Popes such as John Paul II. The fact they are still not being held accountable only adds to the frustration. These are our religious leaders, our representatives on Earth, and the faces behind our Catholic faith. Coming up with statements to defend the Church’s actions on this is simply a refusal to acknowledge that what is happening is simply not right and that refusal becomes a huge part of the problem. Nor does it serve justice to the thousands of abuse victims and their families.
In a situation like this, we must look at the Gospel and ask ourselves ‘What would Jesus have made of all of this?’
In his words (Matthew 18: 6-7): ‘6 If anyone should cause one of these little ones to lose his faith in me, it would be better for that person to have a large millstone tied around his neck and be drowned in the deep sea. 7 How terrible for the world that there are things that make people lose their faith! Such things will always happen—but how terrible for the one who causes them!’
I am not saying we should tie our Bishops and Cardinals in a millstone and drown them. However, surely, the moving of abusive priests to different parishes instead of handing them over to police should be considered child endangerment. At the very minimum, they should be stripped of their positions as Bishops or Cardinals. If divorced or remarried people and pro-choice politicians can be refused communion, I can not see why Archbishops and Cardinals who protected paedophiles should still be priests and have the right to say who can and can’t have communion.
Many victims of abuse have committed suicide too. Research also suggests that those who have been sexually abused as a child are more likely to commit suicide than those who haven’t. So this is not only a Catholic issue, it is also a pro-life issue. If it is not, then what is the point of spending all that time talking about defending the unborn if you cannot protect them once they are born? Victims may not fully heal from the trauma of abuse, but serving justice to the perpetrators will certainly help that process of healing.
Since watching Spotlight, I am no longer an altar server, and I question whether I should still go to Catholic Mass on Sundays. I’d say the only reason that keeps me going is receiving the Eucharist. Yet even when I go to receive the Eucharist, I have my doubts, and feel as if it has been tainted.
The worst thing about this is that it undermines the hundreds of thousands of priests and nuns who do not abuse children, and do good work to their parishes and local communities across the world. Some of my family members in Sri Lanka are priests and nuns too. It undermines the many well intentioned and loving Catholic people I know who devote their lives to their Catholic faith, which inspires them to be good people. It also undermines the beauty of the spiritual side of Catholicism, such as the rosary, devotion to Mary, the Saints, the Eucharist, and other Sacraments.
I just pray that Pope Francis and those at the top will do the will of Christ and bring ALL those who abused and covered up on child abuse to justice, and that it will be done before people like me decide enough is enough and leave the Church for good.
At the end of the day, faith is such a personal thing. God made each of us in his own image and likeness, and likewise, our own personal journeys of faith will be different. There will be moments where you will face personal challenges and battles; sometimes when you least expect it, and you ask yourself ‘Why did God put this there?’ Personally, I feel that as long as I put my trust in God, he will help me find the right way to get the most out of that faith, whether it’d be via the Catholic Church, or through some other means. Who knows… What is even life any more?!
Useful links: Survivors Network of those Abused by Priests (SNAP)