May 21, 2018
By Francis Phillips
If Humanae Vitae was a 20th Century watershed moment in the Catholic laity’s response towards unchanging Church teaching on contraception, the sex abuse scandals which have battered the institution in recent decades have been an occasion for painful self-examination within it. They have brought about heart-searching, shame and humiliation. News that Cardinal George Pell, the most senior member of the hierarchy in Australia, is to stand trial for alleged sex abuse or that the entire Chilean episcopacy has offered its resignation to the Pope over scandals involving the church in Chile indicates that cover-ups and accusations still continue in this long-running explosive area.
I have just been reading The Burden of Betrayal: Non-Offending Priests and the Clergy Child Sexual Abuse Scandals by Barry O’Sullivan, published by Gracewing, a book that reveals another aspect to this painful saga: how the fall-out from the scandals has affected innocent members of the clergy. Ever since the news first broke of criminality and concealment in the Church, my thoughts and sympathy have gone not only to the young victims but to those affected by the collateral damage: all those conscientious, loyal, faithful men who have given their lives to their vocation only to see the priesthood torn to shreds by the media and in the eyes of the public.
Fr O’Sullivan, a priest in the Salford diocese, with long experience as the Salford diocesan child protection coordinator as well as ministering to priests in prison for sexual offences, has tried to address this aspect. Starting in 2012 he conducted lengthy interviews with six randomly selected priests, asking questions such as “Can you tell me about the experience of being a priest in the shadow of the child abuse scandal? And “How do you think the hierarchy dealt with this issue?”