I was in at the BBC breezy if not bright this morning. The occasion was a discussion organized for the Radio Ulster religious programme ‘Sunday Sequence’, involving some twenty-five people. Bishop Noel Treanor was the main figure present, closely followed by (Baroness) Nuala O’Loan (yes, she of the nemesis-of-Ronnie-Flanagan fame) and a range of other informed and notable Catholics. ‘Whither the Catholic Church?’ was the ostensible title of the discussion but since it had abuse victim Marie Collins among those attending, and the twenty-four Irish bishops were just back from their confab in Rome with the Pope, it focused largely on the Ryan and Murphy Reports about sex-abuse in the Catholic Church.
We were asked to have ready thoughts on what we’d say to the Pope if we were given just two minutes with him. I’d planned to ask Karl if he was aware the Catholic Church was leaking young people at an alarming rate, and did he think that the news clip showing elderly men in full regalia kissing the Pope’s hand was likely to convince many young people that they were missing out on a new and exciting way of looking at the world. Somehow the two minutes with His Holiness didn’t emerge and I opted instead for wondering aloud why the words ‘Sexual abuse’ and ‘cover-up’ produce a reflex ‘Irish Catholic clergy’ response in the public mind, given that the problem of abuse is one shared by other churches and society in general. Our presenter William Crawley declared abuse knew no boundaries, then moved smartly away from my point. Maybe he was fearful that people such as the Ian Paisleys (Senior and Junior) would get annoyed, given that they, as in days of yore, like to present the problem in Catholic-clergy-corrupt-Church-of-Rome terms.
Child sexual abuse is indeed a problem within the Catholic Church. But to focus on that sin alone or to pretend that it’s confined to the Catholic Church is to become obsessed with sexual sin. Which, oddly, is what many of us thought the Catholic Church did throughout the 1950s and after.