The Irish Bishops are meeting Pope Benedict in Rome today. In their coverage of this, Drivetime (RTE Radio 1) spoke to Colm O’Gorman (abuse survivor and founder of One In Four). Mary Wilson introduced his input by referring to the “carefully choreographed series of photo opportunities, a controlling, as you’d expect, of the message that’s coming out” and asked O’Gorman “what, if any expectations, you have arising from this series of meetings?”
Responding to the question (that hardly seemed designed to highlight any positives that might be seen in this event!) O’Gorman mentioned similar meetings between Pope John Paul II and American bishops in 2002 and told listeners that he has “very low expectations of the outcome of any meeting at the Vatican” and went on to focus on what he says is “a level of dishonesty” in the Vatican in speaking about the problem in relation to the Irish Church. He talked about “failure of the Vatican” and “complete undermining of credibility” that he said is shown by their failure to acknowledge that there is no national Church but that the power rests in Rome.
He goes on to suggest that abuse survivors would find little comfort from what’s happening in Rome and spoke about child abuse as “a problem that’s replicated across the Catholic Church”, mentioning a very serious case in Brazil.‡ He referred to what he described as “mealy-mouthed attempts to blame somebody else” and told listeners that the Church is “still trying to put its own wealth, its own privilege, its own position and its own survival ahead of the protection of children.”
It’s important that O’Gorman’s voice is heard. For too long survivors had no voice and were not heard. After what he has been through it is not surprising that O’Gorman is never likely to look favourably on the Church. However, is it good that his voice, or that of one or two others who share his perspective are the only voices heard in the public discussion of this topic, and in particular, in the discussion of the Church’s current initiatives to address the wrongs of the past?
Another voice might have looked more favourably on what seem to me to be genuine efforts to learn from what has happened, genuine efforts to try to address the issues at the highest level in the Church. A speaker from another perspective might have pointed out that O’Gorman has misunderstood how the Church operates – and that each bishop is responsible for ensuring proper child protection policies are in place in his own diocese.
There might have been some mention of the huge amount of progress that had been made across the Irish dioceses in achieving this and of the need to look at which State body is responsible for ensuring the Church and all other bodies in the country, continue keep such policies in place. This might even have led to some discussion about the references in the Murphy Report to the weaknesses in the HSE’s ability to fulfil this role on behalf of the State. We might even have heard a call for the Government to address these weaknesses as a matter of urgency.
Without undermining O’Gorman’s perspective, wouldn’t the inclusion of a speaker from another viewpoint have given a more complete exploration of the events in Rome?
‡ While parents should have been able to expect the highest standards of behaviour from men who claimed to represent Christ, it is also important to remember that clerical/religious ministers or clerical/religious teachers constituting only 3.2% of abusers. (Report into Sexual Abuse and Violence in Ireland, 2002)