In the wake of the Pope’s Pastoral Letter to the Catholics of Ireland, Leanne Waters examines the strength of her own faith in the Roman Catholic Church
From biblical stories to white Communion robes, and even wondering how much money we’ll get on our Confirmation, I was a typically reared child of Catholicism. Like most, when I was apparently old enough to “make my own decisions” as regards my faith, I abandoned it completely. Uninterested in weekly mass attendance, rosary beads and the good book itself, it seemed easier to choose a life without this supposed God. It soon became apparent, however, that this aforementioned faith would prove difficult to shake off. And as fate, I suppose, would have it, I re-entered a system that I once thought of as strict and – quite simply – painfully dull. In doing so, I found a surprising comfort and eventually, even a home.
So let us begin this with the clarification that I would greatly be a person of unwavering spirituality. Moreover, these religious endeavours fall under the guidance of the Roman Catholic Church; partly by choice but mostly by chance of upbringing. Like many of the Catholic community, however, this very idea of faith is being called more and more into question. With the ongoing eruption of sexual abuse cases coming to light, it seems the Church is beginning to show a number of cracks in its interior. And with so many holes to be found, the question remains, can this religious flock still trust in this long-standing shepherd?
Recently, there have been an overwhelming series of media reports as regards our current Pope Benedict XVI. Allegedly before his ascension to pontiff, Benedict may have overlooked the evidence that a fellow man of cloth abused a staggering figure of some 200 deaf boys. The man in question was reportedly not defrocked despite warnings forwarded to the Vatican and, more notably, to Cardinal Joseph Alois Ratzinger (Pope Benedict). The Vatican has denied any cover-up in the abuses executed by Reverend Lawrence Murphy in Wisconsin.
Whether religious, atheist or otherwise, response to the bombardment of disturbing allegations seems complicated and contentious among the general public. “I think Pope Benedict needs to commit to the twenty-first century. The only way of doing this is by treating the perpetrators like men and like the criminals they are. Children are innocent and need all the protection they can get. It doesn’t matter if the abuse was carried out decades ago; justice still needs to be served. God help the victims.”
Another individual had the following to say on the matter: “My only feeling about what’s going on in the Church is that it’s very sad. But it seems the entire clergy is being tarred with the one brush as a result of what individuals have done. It’s a shame. There are a lot of people losing their faith because of it. You start to wonder – as someone said recently on television – is it a case of priests becoming pedophiles or a case of pedophiles becoming priests? I’m just wondering was the decision to enter such a position of power to lead? Or was it a result of sick calculation? ”
The controversy has particularly hit home with many here in Ireland. With scandals emerging such as that of Irish Bishop John Magee, who stepped down from his post a year ago after it came to light that he kept crucial information regarding two paedophile priests in his diocese of Cloyne from the police. It was discovered that Magee, who had been aware of the complaints against the two priests since 1995, did not come forward with this information until 2003. Bishop Magee reportedly offered his “sincere apologies” for his actions for so many years and had asked for forgiveness from the abuse victims. This provided little reassurance and only proved to further damage the moral credibility of the Vatican itself, to which Bishop Magee had been strongly linked for many years.
With so much confusion and utter deception to be found within the institution itself, it seems only natural that young adults, like all other facets of our society, would also be greatly affected by the horrific revelations and accusations. It appears to be the general consensus that the Church has lost touch with the youth of today: “Young people just can’t relate to the Church. The same rules just don’t apply in society anymore. People do have sex before marriage and people do use contraception. To be honest, I reckon they just need to realise that times have changed and unless they modernize their teachings a bit, people just won’t be able to incorporate religion into their lifestyles.
“When you consider that and then the fact that there have been so many cover-ups, how do they expect people to follow them? The people involved in all the abuse scandals need to be brought forward and punished as anyone else would be. But the Church seems too old-fashioned to even do that by modern standards. ”
Despite opinions such as that of a UCD student above, it seems not all youths have yet strayed from the establishment. With countless youth groups and choirs around the country, a ray of hope is yet to be seen for the future of the Catholic Church. In saying this, it is also important to perhaps note the many positive outlets which the institution caters for and works with. From missionary volunteer work abroad to the setting up of numerous youth groups, it remains to be said that the Church still plays a vital role within society. Even here in UCD, we have the opportunity to avail of our own chaplaincy if support is needed. This is coupled with the on-campus Church, which has a number of wonderful services that act as a crucial part of student life for many UCD alumni.
Though these are indeed challenging times in the history of this 2000-year-old establishment, there still lies a foundation of hope amidst the rubble. The real question is how is this international scandal affecting the devoted followers of the Church? I believe it true to say that “every man has rights that are neither conferred by, nor derived from the State–they are God-given”. And by this statement, we must forcefully advocate the upholding of these rights. Namely, in the case of the countless victims, the right to be safe and the right have justice carried out to its full extent on their behalf. What many – myself included – struggle to come to grips with is the reality that such aptly-named God-given rights have been abused by a number of the very people whose vocation it was to carry out the word of God.
Thus, it can become all too easy for a wary mistrust of the entire establishment to arise. In my opinion – feeling as powerless as I’m sure most do – the real conflict we all must face is that between our internalized faith and the religious institution which claims its properties. It is an impossible task for any individual to give answers on such sensitive matters and so, I apologise for a seemingly would-be righteous feature. However, given the personal nature of spirituality, I feel it just barely acceptable to voice my own opinion in saying that any institution, religious or otherwise, is man-made. And within any man-made organisation we will always find corruption. Divinity and righteousness cannot be found in any creation made by man. To believe such, is to misplace our faith.
What I have found to be the most important aspect in such a menacing scandal is to bear in mind that though cracks can be found in this man-made order, the foundation behind it is built on something much stronger. In personal faith versus the institution, faith will continually win out. And perhaps it is this faith that will ease many through what has become a worldwide controversy. In such a horrific chapter that has deeply affected so many, “let us have faith that right makes might and in that faith let us; to the end, dare to do our duty as we understand it.”