A sickness has infected the Catholic church in Scotland by Kevin McKenna
Not an ounce of compassion has been shown to survivors of sex abuse; if the hierarchy doesn’t wake up the church will not survive in the 21st century
The dawn of the new year brought with it an old tale with some familiar themes for the Catholic church in Scotland. These included an attitude towards some of its most vulnerable and damaged members that bordered on callous.
It was revealed that more than two years after the conclusion of the McLellan report into historical sex abuse in the church no contact has been made with victims’ groups. The report was compiled and delivered by the Very Reverend Dr Andrew McLellan, a former moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland. He expressed astonishment at the Catholic hierarchy’s conduct.
McLellan’s report reviewed child protection and safeguarding policies and the church’s leaders greeted it with apparent humility and honeyed phrases. The archbishop of Glasgow, Philip Tartaglia, issued what sounded like a genuine and heartfelt apology. Two years on, his contrite tone rings hollow in the ears of many survivors of sex abuse in the Catholic church.
The Catholic church’s response is pitiless: why are you making trouble now, so long after the event?
The clumsy attempt by the church to ridicule McLellan’s claims was chillingly familiar to those who have found themselves on its wrong side in recent years. A spokesperson said this: “Crucially, no individual or organisation has a monopoly on survivor representation or interaction. Contact with survivors, by its nature confidential, is taking place across the church. Many survivors do not identify with or join national groups and such groups should not presume to speak for them.”
Essentially, we are being told that we must trust in the integrity of the Catholic church in Scotland to do the right thing and not ask any questions. The statement possessed not an ounce of compassion and was vaguely threatening. Why on earth would anyone ever trust this outfit?
The survivors’ groups do speak for many who have suffered sexual abuse within the Catholic church. I have met several of these people and listened to their stories. The raw pain of their abuse at a time in their lives when they were at their most vulnerable and most trusting of the church is indescribable. It is a blend of hurt, fury and sadness beyond any I have ever encountered. It comes from being grievously hurt by someone you love dearly and finding deep down, after all that has happened, there is still love there and that it is still being abused.
The response is pitiless: why are you making trouble now, so long after the event? Why are you being so disloyal? Why are you questioning our authority? The lickspittles who refuse to see any evil in their beloved church will try to insist there have been very few reported cases of abuse. There are also very few reported cases of rape in this country and this is due to a sense of shame, the continuing trauma of the attack and a fear of being treated badly by the police and the courts. These same reasons have stopped some victims of Catholic sex abuse coming forward.
A sickness has infected the Catholic church in Scotland which has left it vulnerable to the predations of a loud and implacable anti-Christian body in government and on Holyrood’s most influential committees. Those who insist on upholding the teachings of the church are set upon and wrongly accused of sexism and homophobia. We are one nation and many cultures apparently, but not if your culture is a traditionally Christian one. The absence of strong leadership in the Scottish church and its behaviour over the scandal of sex abuse fuels the hostility of its opponents. It gives them hope that they are one step closer to their goal of creating an atheist totalitarian state.
The signs of decay in the church are not difficult to detect. This year is the centenary of the 1918 Education Act which saw the birth of Catholic schools in Scotland. If the Scottish Catholic hierarchy doesn’t wake up soon there will be no such thing as a Catholic education to celebrate for much longer. Last year the Scottish Catholic Education Service (SCES) failed to lift a finger to save the 140-year-old St Joseph’s primary school near Glasgow. After numerous entreaties for assistance it became clear to school campaigners that the SCES was just another indolent Catholic lay body that exists to provide its bosses with a seat near the top table at Glasgow’s annual archbishop’s ball. The phrase “chocolate teapot” is never far away when assessing the use of this outfit.
In its traditional heartlands, dozens of once vibrant old churches are shutting their doors. They have been rendered obsolete by a crisis of faith among its young people and by the few priests available. The profound sense of betrayal over the conduct of the church in first attempting to cover up its crimes and misdemeanours, followed by its heartless response, has contributed to the falling numbers. In one case a few weeks ago, a trusted and loyal church helper received a visit from two retired cops now running “a security business” after she’d had the temerity to question the new and very well-connected priest’s methods.
Such tactics will be familiar to the journalist Catherine Deveney who broke the story about Cardinal Keith O’Brien’s sexual misconduct five years ago. Deveney subsequently received a slew of deeply unpleasant communications from senior church officials for having done so. She had come up against “the Scottish inquisition”, a small cadre of hard-right and ultra-traditional lay officers who now wield disproportionate influence at all levels of the church in the absence of anything resembling proper leadership. They are encouraged by a vindictive group of reactionaries and ultramontanes who rail against Pope Francis’s compassion and understanding for gay Catholics and divorcees. Instead they would rather intimidate pregnant women seeking an abortion with all-night vigils outside hospitals, the Catholic equivalent of a picket line.
The Catholic church in Scotland is in deep, deep crisis. The Protestant reformation in Scotland more than 450 years ago helped the old church to break free from corruption and superstition. A second one is now sorely needed if the Catholic church in Scotland is to survive in any meaningful way in the 21st century