On us thy dear children ... St Patick's Day 2010

Singing 'Hail, glorious St Patrick' always brings a tear to my eyes, especially the verse about the exiles keeping alive the fire lit by the man at Tara, now spread throughout the world. In our own school we have the relics of a 7th century Irish missionary saint in our altar, one of the early spiritual sons of St Patrick.

This year my Irish sentimentalism was tinged with a dose of collective shame about the whole saga unfolding in Ireland regarding child abuse. It is just all so horrible.

But, let's get one thing straight: to pretend that priestly celibacy is the problem is a very myopic idea. How many women do you know who would have liked to marry one of these men? It is blindingly obvious that in the case of sexual abuse, we are concerned with men who enter the priesthood for false motives. In the famous case of Father Sean Fortune, and in almost all the others, the abuse starts as soon as the priest has the chance, shortly after ordination. The issue for ths Church is that such men should never have been allowed through to ordination in the first place, not that the priestly life has corrupted them. Suspension, imprisonment, even excommunication is what should happen here.

On occasion, and I guess this is in the minority of cases, a good priest (or doctor, or teacher, or parent, or whatever) can be uncharacteristically weak and silly with someone in his care. In such cases, usually, things do not go too far, but are a great source of embarassment and shame. For men in this situation, it could well be the loneliness of celibacy which is the proximate cause, or at least the trigger. In that kind of situation, perhaps the advice of Jose Maria Escriva is pertinent: act like Noah's good sons confronted with their father's drunkeness and be forgiving and compassionate. And yet, even for them, the Church needs to learn the lesson that 'no-one is above the law.' Still, if Catholics made sure to love their priests, and pray for them, it would help ...

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