A discussion series on the American blog by author Rachel Held Evans in 2013 (here's the first in the series) raised important issues for us in Ireland. While we may not be familiar with American abuse scandals and their fallout, we've seen the devastating consequences of cover ups in this country.
Whether confronted by sexual abuse, domestic abuse or spiritual abuse, churches of many different denominations and streams in Ireland have struggled for a just response. Too often, protecting the reputation of the church and even defending or caring for the abuser, is seen as more important than protecting the victim of abuse. Terrified of damaging the faith, leaders have chosen to sacrifice the abuse victims rather than deal openly and properly with the reality of abuse in all its forms.
We live in a moral universe. What's right matters. What's wrong matters.
There can be a simplistic and unhelpful application of scripture that demands immediate forgiveness, avoidance of gossip, restoration for the abuser and love to cover a "multitude of sins". Sadly, this can do immense damage to the one who has suffered abuse. Struggling to express my own thoughts on this, I stumbled across an article by Archbishop Desmond Tutu, addressing the abuses under Apartheid. Here's what he had to say:
"As a victim of injustice and oppression, you lose your sense of worth as a person, your dignity. Restorative justice is focused on restoring the personhood that is damaged or lost. But restoring that sense of self means restoring memory - a recognition that what happened to you happened. You are not crazy. Something seriously evil happened to you. And the nation believes you. That acknowledgement is crucial if healing is to go on and if the undercurrents of conflict are not to be left simmering as they have been so many times in so many parts of the world.
"Denial doesn’t work. It can never lead to forgiveness and reconciliation. Amnesia is no solution. If a nation is going to be healed, it has to come to grips with the past. We live in a moral universe. What’s right matters. What’s wrong matters. You may keep things hidden but they don’t disappear into the ether. They impregnate the atmosphere"Quoted from Parade Magazine (by Colin Greer) January 1998
We watched as the women from the Magdalene Laundries responded so graciously when they finally received an apology from the state. They just needed to hear that what happened, happened. And it was wrong. This same reality has been repeated in so many other situations. It seems so simple. Openly and publicly, acknowledge what was wrong. Apologise for failures. Pursue justice. So why is it so hard for both church and state to do that? Why is cover up and denial and excuse the default position?