With power comes responsibility, and the head that wears the crown should always be attached to a sturdy backbone.
A true leader must place his followers’ welfare above his own.
Unfortunately for its faithful footsoldiers, however, the Catholic church is run by bishops rather than leaders, and few of these empurpled princes seem eager to stand up for anything other than the ritual kissing of their rings.
As if the church didn’t have enough trouble selling its message, its once-a-year best shot at securing a receptive audience was all but destroyed this Christmas by the dogged refusal of the Most Reverend John Magee, Bishop of Cloyne, to face the inevitable and resign.
Since the publication on December 12 of a damning report by the church’s own child-protection watchdog, chronicling his diabolical mishandling of two cases of alleged child sexual abuse linked to priests in his diocese, Magee’s position has been untenable.
But, rather than do the decent thing swiftly and contritely, he opted to brazen it out, apparently seeking cover amid the bustle and sentimentality of the season of goodwill.
His obduracy undoubtedly cast a shadow over the religious celebrations of many devout Catholics. Even for the rest of us, there was something distasteful about hearing Christmas Eve mass-goers in Cloyne being quizzed by journalists about their reaction to the church’s latest heaping of insult upon injury to abuse complainants.
Yet this is inevitably what happens when a discredited bigwig such as Magee acts as though he has divine authority to stay in office. Civil society is entitled to ask whether those from whom he claims allegiance endorse his position.
For the record, the majority of the worshippers interviewed by RTE Radio were incensed both by Magee’s conduct and refusal to stand down. Amid the anger, there was obvious hurt in the voices of many who had believed bishops were now operating to higher standards.
After a decade-and-a-half of sickening revelations about the violation and torture of children by paedophile clerics, the church had almost succeeded in convincing its followers that it had belatedly grasped the gravity of child abuse. Catholics have been told a thousand times the lessons have been learnt.
The catalogue of failures chronicled by the Cloyne report demonstrates that, in that diocese at least, nothing has changed: Magee’s evident priority throughout was the protection of errant priests.
In one case he did not notify gardai of multiple allegations of sexual abuse by a priest until eight years after receiving the first allegation.
Meantime, the priest still wore his clerical garb, an access-all-areas pass to homes and schools.
It should go without saying that the primary culprits in clerical-abuse outrages are the clerics who’ve raped or molested children.
However, these degenerates are run a close second by the delinquent bishops who averted their eyes or concentrated more on the needs of the abuser than the abused. They too should be rooted out of the church alongside the rapists and paedophiles.
Diarmuid Martin, the archbishop of Dublin and one of the few senior churchmen to confront clerical abuse with anything approaching seriousness, hinted at exasperation with many of his fellow bishops last week when he said he was “extremely concerned” about the viability of a unified church approach to child protection given the wide diversity that exists in the interpretation and application of agreed procedures. As usual, he’s putting it mildly.
The imperious disregard for rank-and-file Catholics displayed by Magee is not simply a sideshow to this whole sorry saga but rather a symptom of its deep-seated cause.
While posing as defenders of the faith and the faithful, some of the church’s top guns are actually a danger to public safety.
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