News Views

Repentance and Penance

The long-awaited report on the abuse of children in Irish schools and homes by Roman Catholic nuns, priest and lay staff has at last been published, and reports indicate that the commission did its work thoroughly, documenting the abuse in detail. If so, there is at least a platform of acknowledged fact on which to base the next steps. The abuse cannot be undone, but the victims know that they have been heard and taken seriously.While the abuse is terrible, the Roman Catholic Church’s response has been dismaying. Apologetic words are now being said, but the impression given is that the Church as a whole is still defensive, upset at being caught out, rather than truly penitent for the evil which their own people have caused to vulnerable children entrusted to their care.

The Church has the solution within its power. Its own processes acknowledge that humans are fallible, that they sin, that they need to confess, and that they can be absolved and be forgiven, to start again. It is not just a theological process; it is one of the ways in which humans behave. After doing terrible things we can change and renew our lives.

But if we are to change in this way, we need to accept that we have done wrong, we need to be truly sorry (not just annoyed at being caught) and we need to want to make amends to those whom we have wronged, in the sight of the whole community. This applies both to the individuals who abused the children and to those who have excused, condoned, covered up or defended the abusers’ conduct.

What is more, the reputation of the Roman Catholic Church as a whole is now seriously tarnished. The Church as a whole needs to reflect on its organisational failings, that have permitted the abuse of children entrusted to their care in one country after another.

It may be argued that this is not a fair reflection on the many first-rate child care workers who are Catholics. We would not want any of the tarnish to adhere to any of them individually, but they are members of a Church which needs to acknowledge its systemic failures and address them. Part of the Church’s teaching is that humans are liable to sin; this applies to the clergy as much as the laity, and maybe it is the unquestioned power of the clergy which has corrupted some of their number. If the Roman Catholic Church learns its lesson, it could be a stronger, more open community, more suited to the twenty-first century. But to achieve this, it has to repent and to do penance, to indicate that it is truly sorry, and that it wishes to change and start afresh.

This is not easy, but it is necessary. Any failure to do so, for example by continuing to act defensively, will blunt the moral sensibilities of the Church, when it should be among the leaders in speaking as the nation’s conscience, and it will fail to regain the respect of the community as a whole. The Roman Catholic Church has an important role to play in child welfare and education, and the wider community needs the Church to be credible.


This month we are printing the third and final part of Elaine’s journey in bringing up Aleesha – final in the sense that it brings us up to date. We have found it a moving story for two main reasons.

The first is that it is a story of an ordinary family where one of their number has an extraordinary range of disabilities. The parents were not professionals who chose to work with people with disabilities; it was not until Aleesha was born that the range of her problems began to unfold. They were not trained or qualified in care or education. But they have battled to understand her disabilities and to get the best for Aleesha, while trying to ensure that the other children did not lose out. The battle has been difficult, but they are still there, and still fighting. Elaine’s commitment is impressive. Every child needs that level of commitment from their parents, but in cases such as Aleesha’s the demand placed upon the parents, and indeed the whole family, is considerable.

The second message which struck us was that Aleesha’s story had a ‘cast of thousands’. Maybe not thousands, but the range of specialist professional services provided throughout Aleesha’s life by the National Health Service and the Local Authority is really impressive. Aleesha got the best of advice and treatment for her range of disabilities, and Elaine has recorded the real steps forward made by Aleesha as a result – developments which enable her and the rest of the family to achieve more and have a happier life.

We may be too conditioned to news stories in the media about people who are not getting the services they require or want, and we do not hear from the millions who are satisfied. A child like Aleesha does need a strong advocate to demand the right services, but the services were provided, and credit is due both to the authorities and to the many individual professionals who helped.

From a Report

There was internicene war between different approaches to diet.

A complex theological matter – something to do with Worms perhaps?

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