To the Editor of The Tablet
‘In his article, ‘A Boat In Search Of A Safe Harbour’ (The Tablet: 11 October 2018), the Cardinal Archbishop of Westminster, Vincent Nichols, presented a personal reflection of the comments of young Catholics participating in the Synod at the Vatican.
In doing so he painfully acknowledged the disjunction between the Catholic Hierarchy’s historic management of clerical child sexual abuse and the expectations of the laity. He was effusive, quite rightly, of the generosity and hopefulness of spirit that those young people had demonstrated. He then hoisted his pennant to the Vatican mast with the words, ‘The hounding of sex offenders does not heal the hurt of those who have been abused’.
This was an unfortunate choice of words as ‘hounding’ does not just convey the sense of ‘tracking down’, but also of ‘tearing apart’.
I asked myself instinctively, being a victim of clerical CSA myself by a Comboni Missionary, was Cardinal Nichols subtly justifying, therefore, the ‘age old’ protection from civil justice procedures that the Catholic Hierarchy has almost universally afforded to clerics accused of child sexual abuse. I hope not, but let us be clear on this matter. The Catholic Church refers to ‘sins’ that can be forgiven – and not ‘crimes’ that require earthly ‘justice.
Jesus Christ was clearer on this matter than the Church that he founded. He said “Give unto Caesar what is Caesar’s” – thereby justifying the rights of the Civil State to bring criminals to justice and reparations to be afforded to an aggrieved party.
St Augustine of Hippo, an illustrious Doctor of the Catholic Church, went further when he pronounced that when a sinner confessed a sin that was also an injustice to another person – and such an injustice was also a civil crime – then the crime should also be reported to State authorities – provided that the statute of the State was not immoral ‘per se’.
Clerical child sexual abuse may well be a ‘sin’, but it is also a ‘crime’ that requires the utilisation of the full processes of the Civil Law.
Brian Mark Hennessy
The letter has been published in the latest edition of The Tablet.