Thursday, May 6, 2010

Abused, but still loves priests

So there we were, two priests, invited to join two women in Derry's City Hotel foyer as we had a late night drink before retiring.

The ladies, from Belfast, had come to Derry for a shopping trip. They remarked on the number of priests and sisters they had noticed in the hotel and we explained we were here for the Canon Law Society of Great Britain and Ireland annual conference. We talked about their love for Padre Pio, their interest in Medjugorje, their doubts about Charismatic Renewal, their respective families and, in my case, our mutual Irish origins.

After a while, I asked them how they were finding things in the current climate of the clerical abuse scandal. One of them replied: "I was a victim of abuse." Well, you can imagine how that reply hit me! And yet she loves the Church. They both said that God meant them to meet us last night. They asked us to pray for them - I said I'd offer Mass for them the following day - and we asked them to pray for us and all priests.

I was touched and humbled by the faith of these good Irish Catholics who continue to believe in God and the Church, continuing to ensure their children prepare for First Communion etc. And yet this has been my constant experience - that Catholics love and pray for their priests, especially when they are in trouble.

The mass media are not reporting the faithfulness of loyal Catholics and the love they have for their priests. Of course, the abuse of priests (a very small number of them) is a terrible thing. But the witness of these two women testifies to faith and grace and to light (without which there would be no shadows).

I should also add that I had an interesting conversation with a Methodist gentleman on the flight from London to Belfast. As I was clearly identifiable as a priest in my clerical collar, it didn't take long for the conversation to come round to the current troubles. This man was full of admiration for us as priests, remarking on the challenging mission we have, and the privilege also of sharing in people's lives and therefore the terrible effects when that trust is betrayed. I was very able to assure him, as he questioned me, that I have never had any doubt about my calling to the priesthood.

I would encourage every priest never to seek to hide his priestly identity. People need to witness this certainty and absence of ambiguity in our calling. Being identified as a  priest marks one out as a servant, available for the people at all times, even if, sometimes, one may become the subject of abusive comments. (Maybe some people have just cause to vent their anger at Christ's representatives just now, who knows?) I have no problem in priests dressing down, having some 'time off' as it were retreating from the crowd by sometimes being one of the crowd. I do so myself. But we should never set out to conceal our identity day to day, whether we are travelling, shopping or just taking a walk.


  1. That is an excellent antidote to the item this evening on BBC1’s “The One Show”. For the benefit of anyone who did not see it it can be seen at

    The clerical abuse item is the first story. It contains the usual misleading statements such as implying that the Church is only now beginning to deal with the problem, implying that it is a current problem and that people are leaving the Church in large numbers because of the abuse.

  2. On the question of how Catholics have responded to the clerical abuse situation see:

    It’s a pity though that “44% of practising Catholics, and 73% of the total population, believe that child sexual abuse by priests is still a problem today” but that’s probably because of the way that many parts of the media imply that it is still a problem today.

  3. Nice reflection and experience, Father. It also gives the lie to the dire predictions in the media – Irish and otherwise – of the imminent demise of the Faith in Ireland. If one were to believe only what one sees in the media one would assume that the Church in Ireland is on the ropes and the Faith is in danger of being snuffed out. But that is far from the case.

    But just as here in the US a decade ago, the Irish Church is being buffeted by the revelations and cowed by the onslaughts in the media. And while the outrage is justified and the shame and remorse deeply felt, people of strong faith know how to distinguish between the sinfulness of the members and the sinlessness of the Church Herself.

    Contrary to what I read in the papers, I hear from my relatives in Ireland that attendance at Mass and the Sacraments is actually on the increase. This may be due in part to the economic climate there - as elsewhere – serving as a ‘reality check’ in terms of what is really important in this life and where our true priorities should lie. So all is not lost and God always knows how to draw good from evil.

  4. My PP faced some tough abuse when he went home to Ireland recently and walked around in his dog collar. I am grateful to him that he is still willing to be a priest in public.
    We need that.
    Thank you to you too Father.
    This was a powerful story.
    God does work in mysterious ways.


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