February 26, 2019
By Joe McDonald
The day the priest who abused me was buried, the official papers removing him from the priesthood arrived from Rome.
When I was informed of this and sought clarification it was explained to me that technically he died a priest. My reaction to this news was to murmur, ‘thank God’, which surprised not only his confrère sitting in front of me but, to some degree, myself. This response has come back to me in these days as I attempt to reflect prayerfully on the work of the Vatican Summit on Clerical Abuse in Rome, which has just concluded.
Already there has been much comment on this summit. Before it was even finished the debate was framed along the lines: ‘is this the long awaited line in the sand or just the latest cosmetic exercise’? The analysis no doubt will continue. In this short contribution I do not purport to engage in any serious evaluation of its work except to address one aspect that has emerged. That is the tension between those who would argue that the priest who has abused must be removed from ministry and those who agree but also argue we should stop short of dismissing him from priesthood. I belong to the latter.
I am conscious this position may well be unpopular and I care very much that I do not add to the hurt of those already hurt. However it is important to address the issue at hand. There is, in my view, no debate around issues such as taking responsibility, our duty with regard to reporting, right through to full cooperation with civil law which will invariably be accompanied by punishment. At this point, if it is not in place beforehand, there must be clear arrangements to ensure that the priest who has been found guilty has no further unsupervised access to children or vulnerable adults. The National Conference for Safeguarding has done excellent work in this regard.
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