In this week’s blog Fr Paddy reflects that it is only by facing the truth of recent scandals that the church can move towards a better future.Fr_Paddy_Byrne2

Fr Paddy Byrne has a weekly column in the Nationalist Papers.

This column appeared in the edition published 25th November 2009

I am thankfully a very happy and fulfilled man. I love being a priest. I enjoy the diversity of ministry that is contained within every parish. I am most grateful for the opportunity given to me by the Lord, to live a life of service as a priest in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin.

These are dark and difficult days for the victims of clerical child sexual abuse. The long awaited Dublin Report is due to be released in the coming week. Victims have with great courage and deep pain revealed a terrible truth that is most shocking. In this article I would like to share personally on priesthood in a time of great scandal at this time when so many are overwhelmed and disillusioned.

I am thankfully a very happy and fulfilled man. I love being a priest. I enjoy the diversity of ministry that is contained within every parish. I am most grateful for the opportunity given to me by the Lord, to live a life of service as a priest in the Diocese of Kildare and Leighlin. I am deeply privileged in the many key moments of life that connect me so intimately to peoples lives. Priesthood connects to so many lives in times of birth and death, joy and sorrow, health and sickness, despair and hope. I have many opportunities to be creative, be involved in new initiatives in building a sense of community in the work of the Lords service. My life is nourished by Gods presence in the generosity of parents who selflessly nurture their family, sick people who live with great suffering and the many personal testimonies of hope I encounter daily. I am also humbled and in great appreciation, for the wonderful people young and old, healthy and sick who give great support and warm hospitality and friendship to me in my ministry and Im sure this is also true for the vast majority of all priests.

I felt called to this way of life from a young age greatly influenced by the good example of the many priests who I knew growing up in Carlow Cathedral Parish. Priesthood is a way of life. Priesthood is a most relevant and necessary sacrament in the life and mission of the Church. As a young Twenty year old studying in university I felt that this was the way of life where I was being called to follow Christ. For me Priesthood is a gift from the Lord that I continue each day in fact every hour to respond to the Lords goodness in my life.

When I consider my formation and priestly life it has been in the context of Priesthood in scandal that is the true and shocking reality regarding Clerical Child Sexual abuse. The first time that I ever herd the word Pedophile was in seminary. I remember one of the first meetings I attended in Seminary was a Diocesan Clerical gathering where the issue of Clerical child sexual abuse was highlighted and discussed. Now all of us have become aware that Abuse particularly sexual abuse is a real and frightening reality. It is a societal problem. However shamefully those who often once held sacred positions of trust, in the name of the Church abused children.

This is a shameful, true and dark reality that has been brought to public awareness, as a result of great courage and determination by victims of such abuse. Shamefully, their deep anguish and story was silenced by a culture within Church and family who did not believe or tried to sweep such awful truth under the carpet. The truth is that this is a dreadful time in the life of these and indeed all victims of abuse. Old wounds are once again reopened; the pain of such brutality always accompanies such victims into their adult lives.

Recent reports highlight a scandalous and dark chapter to the history of all our Church. What magnifies such darkness is that those who engaged in such evil were ordained and professed to live lives to bring others to the light and goodness which flows freely from the heart of our God. One of the positive effects of the recent Ryan, Ferns and soon to be published Dublin report is that it is a categorical truth that this shameful chapter in the Irish Church did take place. No longer can others including those in Church leadership doubt or hide this reality. Victims of such abuse because of their heroic courage in telling the truth have challenged us all in making sure that proper child protection procedure is happening in all our parishes. As we respond to the needs of victims perhaps our best response is in safeguarding all children with best child protection practice, in all our parishes.

One truth I believe is that we are only as sick as out best kept secret. A culture of hierarchy and power governed our church in a very unhealthy and unaccountable manner to a people who once held very sacred the relationship between priest and people. In the midst of such tragic and frightening statistics, are lives that will never recover, and will always carry the painful memory of not just the act of abuse, but the fear of not being believed. These lives must be a living sign not just of the darkness that they had to endure but of hope, because of their courage to tell the truth.

Because of these Reports our Church has responded to Safeguarding children with an accountable and proper child protection in place in all parishes. Bishop Jim Moriarty, in a recent document outlines Kildare and Leighlin’s policy and procedure in relation to child protection.

The deep wrong of child abuse which has scandalized and shamed the Irish Church in our times must remain a caution to us. To honor the suffering and courage of survivors we must take in the words of Pope Benedict XVI, whatever steps are necessary from ever allowing it to happen again The publication of this policy and procedure document is an important step. It is a memorial to the terrible truth of recent years and a signpost to a better future.

Because of all these dreadful and sickening acts of abuse in the past it is fundamental that child protection and best practice procedures are in all our parishes. The Priesthood I live and give witness too has been blemished and lost so much credibility because of this shameful history that is now ours. Many people question our moral authority in light of all these scandals. The priesthood in Ireland no longer holds the bond and sacred trust that was once an integral part of Irish culture.

Priesthood in a time of scandal is a very challenging one but also offers immense opportunity and exiting new possibilities. A more inclusive, representative and collaborative model of Church connects with the reality of peoples lives in a more real way. Leadership in the Church of Today and in the future must be shared by all its members; in this regard the clerical, hierarchical Church is dying. We are in the springtime of a new beginning, informed on a theology where all Gods people are called to share our gifts in the Lords service. This brings renewal and great life to our church. Huge numbers of people are studying theology; this will bring great fruits and blessings to all our parishes.

This is the model and image of Church that our young people live with and thankfully have no memory of anything else. Recent pilgrimages to world Youth Day celebrations and a local parish youth pilgrimage to Santiago highlights to me the life and energy and rich faith that is contained within the living faith young people give witness to. Much of the anger and perhaps disillusionment that is felt by so many people who continue to be active members of the Church is directed to the Church leadership and governance. In many ways in my experience as a priest in Ireland we have two churches. The church which is often referred to as out of date, not in touch and irrelevant, in great contrast to the local Church where we associate as our parish. I believe that the priesthood continues to be most relevant as in my experience of ministry in the Church. There continues to be a great openness to the spiritual in all our lives and this is certainly true when we look beyond the now and cling to the Lords presence for hope and healing in our Church at this time.

These are difficult times for all who hold dear the light and hope that comes from Jesus Christ. Many are overwhelmed and in deep anguish by the truth that has been revealed. However the truth is that precisely what sets us free. A more accountable, humble and relevant church where all its members are equal and children our greatest gift are safe and protected is perhaps our hope, in the midst of this dark truth, told by all courageous people who have suffered terrible abuse.

Hans Kung, a theologian, speaks beautifully about Gods kingdom, which continues in the midst of scandal as priest and people to be a source of inspiration and great hope.

A kingdom where in accordance with Jesus promises, the poor, the hungry, those who weep and those that are downtrodden will finally come into their own: where pain suffering and death will have an end. It will be a Kingdom of absolute righteousness, of unspeakable freedom, of dauntless love, of universal reconciliation and everlasting peace.

In this time of scandal and opportunity, I Hope in the words of the poet

When winter comes. Can spring be far behind?