In today’s Belfast Telegraph, (the largest selling daily newspaper in Northern Ireland), a stark interview with one of Ireland’s best known priests covers a double page spread near the centre of the newspaper.
As is often my daily habit, with a cup of tea to hand, I sat down to read some of this particular newspaper’s content. Unlike most days, today I felt compelled to write about one of the main contents of the main feature interview, the horrendous ongoing issue of abuse that has been exposed in recent years, as the scourge of the Irish Catholic church, but I would also argue, ‘the Church’ here as a whole, (whether Protestant’s care to admit this or not).
Father Brian D’Arcy is known for his outspoken frankness and appeals to many across the island because of this very trait.
In today’s honest interview with the Telegraph reporter, Adrian Rutherford, he openly admits to being abused as a child, and adds to the growing horror of facts stacked up against the Catholic Church as a whole (thought Protestant churches are far from being unscathed by involvement in dark abuse too).
Father D’Arcy said of the abuse, “I was abused when I was 10 and at school in Omagh,” adding, “I didn’t know what was happening at the time, but I still knew it was wrong. It had a great effect on me. It made me very nervous and insecure, unsure of what religion was, or wasn’t, because it was a religious brother who abused me for almost a year.”
The Sunday World columnist went on to say, again very frankly, “As a teenager, after I entered the priesthood, a priest tried to involve me in abuse as well. I had more sense at that age and was able to get out of the situation much quicker. I hadn’t the wit to tell my superiors because he told me that if I ever told anyone I would never be ordained.
“It was only 35 years or so afterwards that I was even able to think about it.”
So is it any wonder many people outside of ‘the Church’ (all active Christian denominational worship) want nothing to do with today’s church or Western version of Christianity in general?
Do you really find good news in the fact a church preaches holiness, yet lives by double standards, covering up its filthy stains in self-righteousness, as the Catholic Church in Ireland often did until recent times?
Purity and the holiness are so far from many people’s reality and understanding of today’s 21st century Churches and gatherings in this land, for many they are difficult concepts to even view as possible, let alone attainable.
Yet just because humans who call themselves Christians dont do well at representing God’s holiness and purity, doesn’t mean God himself isn’t holy or pure, (or therefore fully attractive with these existent qualities).
Many people outside of ‘the Church’ (whatever denomination, or otherwise) know nothing of the differences between denominations, and perhaps even you reading this, see little or no distinction between the Catholic Church, and all the many splintered Protestant denominations which would argue are totally different, such as, for example, the Presbyterian, Baptist or Methodist church denominations.
How can any confidence be restored sufficiently to draw others to Jesus, and the gospel these various churches seek to proclaim across Ireland (both Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland), when Jesus’ Church which he’s coming back for and is meant to be, “pure and spotless” according to the book of Revelation, yet remains so blood stained and dirty?
A very great need for humility and true repentence needs to be ongoingly outworked.
I am deeply concious, though, even in writing this article, or indeed reading it, one must remain mindful of Jesus’ words, that ‘he who is without sin may cast the first stone.’
It’s easy to sit in the seat of judgement yet retain little of the necessary mercy or compassion needed to ultimately contribute to the restoration and restitution which eventually we all may desire for those who have fallen, according the actual good news of the gospel we say we proclaim.
Abuse has been, and perhaps in some corners continues to be, rife within certain pockets of the Catholic church in Ireland. That is undoubted, but abuse alone does not negate the very real and dynamic power of the gospel, it simply highlights the needs for all Christians, Catholic and Protestant alike, who are true followers of Jesus Christ, seeking to be in true relationship with the Trinitarian God, to come humble themselves before him, and seek to penitently search their hearts and seek God’s power in our very weakness. Religion kills, whilst it is true relationship with God, through Jesus Christ which saves. Nothing more and nothing less.
After all, only the Holy Spirit can offer true power to help us live with the fruit of “self-control” which God offers, and all humans need.
Only the power of God can keep any one of us who follow Christ and walk in step with the Spirit from stumbling, in any sin, not just sexual abuse scandals, but all sin, which is all equally detestable and hurtful to God. So easy to forget. The old AA phrase springs to mind,” There but for the grace of God go I.”
Father D’Arcy’s words remind us that abuse can be very prevalent even (and indeed because of) leaders in the Christian Church. These atrocities and all victims need to continue to be supported through the ongoing horrors of their lives being shattered by the very people who should have been protecting and serving them, representing Jesus’ healing and wholeness to them, not shattering their very inward beings for many years to come.
Only the power of the living God can help people to stop abusing, and help others be set free from the horrific and often life-devastating effects of abuse.
Such healing and freedom IS attainable, though, and should not be left merely to remain in the the hopes of a counsellee in the hands of a psychotherapist or counsellor. That’s another article, though, for another day. For now, I can head on to read the sports pages of the newspaper. Perhaps I am safer there, in the world of the Commonwealth games.