Prelate suggests abusers were let down by church

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PATSY McGARRY, Religious Affairs Correspondent

IT MUST be asked how a culture “inspired by a punitive, judgmental God” had emerged in church-run institutions for children, the Catholic Archbishop of Dublin, Most Rev Diarmuid Martin, has said.

Speaking in light of the Ryan report on child abuse, Archbishop Martin also suggested that perhaps many perpetrators of abuse in those institutions were themselves “victims of a form of Catholicism which never allowed them to experience being loved”.

He was speaking in Dublin at the launch of Who is My Neighbour?, a book edited by Fr Eoin Cassidy, head of the philosophy department at Dublin’s Mater Dei Institute. It is a collection of papers delivered at a conference in Dublin in February 2008, and organised by the Irish Commission for Justice and Social Affairs.

Following publication of the Ryan report, “there are questions to be asked regarding how much Irish devotional practice in general had drifted away from the fundamental fact that God is love”, the archbishop said.

“We have to ask to what extent the punitive and humiliating culture which seems to have developed in some such institutions was due to the fact that we had drifted away from the God who is love into one inspired by a punitive, judgmental God; a God whose love was the love of harsh parents, where punishment became the primary instrument of love.”

He continued that “the path to goodness cannot be beaten into you; conversion can only be solicited from the goodness that is within people through allowing them experience the gift of love. Perhaps some of those who now stand judged for having failed in love were victims of a form of Catholicism which never allowed them themselves to experience being loved.”

He said: “The challenge for the church in Ireland now is to begin a process of self-examination and discernment about how far our style of Christian living as a community really witnesses to that sense of God being love, a process of repentance, conversion and renewal.

“That will not be the task of facilitated group meetings and analysis alone, but will come through ourselves opening our minds and our hearts to that great joy that comes when we experience what God’s liberating love brings to our lives and witnessing how the power of God’s self-giving love can change lives into being radically self-giving, selfless, free persons who can embrace neighbour in whatever form we encounter it.”

Concluding, he said “That process of conversion means changing our whole vision of what it is to be a Christian. We need to recall what is said in one of the most quoted phrases of Deus Caritas Est [Pope Benedict’s first encyclical]: ‘Being Christian is not the result of an ethical choice or a lofty idea, but the encounter with an event, a person, (Jesus Christ) which gives life a new horizon and a decisive direction.’ If we don’t give society a new horizon . . . we will have failed again,” he said.

This article appears in the print edition of the Irish Times

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