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Commentary » International

Contrition trumps apologies in Scotland's Catholic Church

It must cease to exist if it continues to cherish abusers over victims

Contrition trumps apologies in Scotland's Catholic Church

Bishop Hugh Gilbert of Aberdeen, who recently apologized publicly over a sexual abuse scandal at Fort Augustus Abbey School

Kevin McKenna, The Observer International

August 12, 2013

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So the downfall of the Catholic church in Scotland didn't occur at the hands of the Orangemen or the secular humanists of the church's vivid imagination. All of the most grievous wounds it has suffered have turned out to be self-inflicted.

The catalogue of sexual abuse by hundreds of priests stretching back decades; the sexual bullying of priests by its own cardinal; the cover-ups and intimidation of witnesses and victims – it didn't need the assistance of any external agency to bring about the moral catastrophe that currently engulfs it.

The single beacon in this, the Scottish church's darkest period, was provided by the most unlikely source. One of the victims of the sex abuse by priests at Fort Augustus Abbey School broke his anonymity last Sunday night and agreed to be interviewed on television.

His words gave us a sense of the anger and humiliation he still felt more than 40 years after his torment. Yet he also possessed a dignity, courage and wisdom that has been entirely missing from the Scottish Catholic church and from Rome since the lid began to be lifted on this cesspit earlier this year.

This man was not impressed by the apology offered by the bishop of Aberdeen, Hugh Gilbert, pointing out, correctly, that public opinion and widespread revulsion following BBC Scotland's excellent investigation into abuse at Fort Augustus the previous week had dragged it from the church.

For any confession to be considered sincere and authentic, this brave man also pointed out, it has to be accompanied by "a firm purpose of amendment". Nothing, though, in any of what has passed for a response from the church, has contained anything remotely like "a firm purpose of amendment".

For this to happen, either the pope or the Scottish hierarchy first have to answer the following questions: which bishops and archbishops knew about some of this and allowed it to continue unchecked; how does an obviously flawed and sexually aggressive individual such as Keith Patrick O'Brien get to become cardinal, and precisely how do you intend to reform the behavior and attitudes of the clergy and hierarchy in the wake of these scandals?

There are still Catholics out there, some of whom the media like to call "influential", who remain in denial about what this all means. They think that this will all simply evaporate. So let me spell it out for them. The Catholic church in Scotland has, by its behavior and absence of leadership in these matters, renounced all right to comment on matters of ethics and morals in the wider community.

For how long that remains the case will rest on how quickly a proper inquiry into the running of the church over the past 50 years is instituted, and what material and practical steps will be taken in its wake. It will also rest on the length and sincerity of the period of repentance that the church needs to undertake for its failures and errors.

Full story: The Scottish Catholic Church must be contrite or cease to exist

Source: The Observer

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