Friday, November 27, 2009

And Now, Ireland: More News of Sexual Abuse in the Church

Living in Boston when news of the Catholic abuse scandals was on every day, one wonders how news of Ireland’s Murphy Commission Report could make it sound worse.

Here’s how: Not only did the Archdiocese of Dublin continually cover up reports of abuse, but Irish police and prosecutors were also complicit in those actions.

Fortunately, Ireland's government and national police force are already responding to these reports, promising swift action. And from the news reports I'm hearing and reading, it sounds like Irish voters will not soon forget those promises by the time elections roll around again.

Unfortunately, I’m sure we’ll also see so-called “Catholic loyalists” complaining that media reports of this are signs of “anti-Catholic bigotry” by the secular media. Yes, they will say, sexual abuse of children is horrible, but why single out the Catholic church?

First: Yes, other groups have sexual predators in their midst. Even my own Unitarian Universalist Association has seen such cases. But the question is how such institutions respond to reports and evidence of such abuse. Do you cover it up, or find the truth? Do you shuffle the abusers around, or remove them permanently? Do you try to silence the victims, or help them to heal? And, most important, do you merely hope that it doesn’t happen again, or take respond with proactive measures to protect those under your care?

Second: Yes, other groups have done atrocious jobs of handling sexual abuse allegations. Two which I can think of are the Jehovah’s Witnesses and the Boy Scouts. But when this happens with an institution as large and influential as the Roman Catholic Church, how can you expect the media to cover it any differently? It’s like having two companies going under due to fraudulent practices – a local business worth a hundred thousand dollars, and an international powerhouse with political connections worth a hundred billion – and the bigger company complains that the media is paying too much attention to them.

This brings me to my final point, directed at those within the church who complain about the media: If you are truly loyal to the church – to all of its people, not just those at the top, and to its essential core values as expressed in the Gospels – then why don’t you hold your leaders accountable, just as Jesus did to the religious leaders of his day? Yes, they have called conferences and put forward documents outlining changes. But it would help if you joined those who keep at the bishops to make sure they follow through. So, instead of complaining about the media for holding the church hierarchy accountable, I suggest that you focus your energies on taking on that job yourself.


  1. Well since you asked Desmond. . .

    The UUA and individual U*U churches do try to cover up and hide clergy misconduct of all kinds, including clergy sexual misconduct.

    The UUA does in fact "shuffle around" some U*U clergy who have been accused of clergy sexual misconduct of various kinds. It is actually quite rare for the UUA to permanently remove U*U clergy who have been found guilty of lergy sexual misconduct to say nothing of other forms of clergy misconduct.

    The UUA and individual U*U churches do try to silence victims of clergy misconduct, and does little or nothing to help them to heal. I recently asked a prominent U*U advocate for clergy misconduct victims how much restorative justice the UUA has actually provided to victims of clergy misconduct over the last decade or so and the four letter word answer I received was -


    On paper the UUA has responded with some "proactive measures" to protect congregants but I am not convinced that these proactive measures are actually put into practical use.

    So what exactly are you doing about holding U*U religious leaders accountable for their negligent and complicit responses to all forms of clergy misconduct Desmond? I expect that the answer is *love* as in nothing. . .

    In fact I wouldn't be the least bit surprised if you censored and suppressed this critical comment yourself. . .

  2. Why not provide people with specific evidence to back your accusations? This is the major reason the Roman Catholic hierarchy had to stop sweeping this problem under the rug.

    Likewise I encourage leaders of the UUA to respond to these allegations - and to any evidence produced to support them.

  3. Dear readers:

    R.E. has responded not with specific evidence, but by directing people to refer to his own blog. Unfortunately, he has decided to include malicious vitriol in his remarks, hence my decision not to permit it in this forum. Likely, he will accuse me of "memory hole-ing" him, as he does with anyone who declines to publish his attacks. Comments are like letters to the editor, and just as a newspaper or magazine editor is not obligated to publish every letter, so we in the blogosphere are not required to post every comment without screening it first.

    The Unitarian Universalist Association, and its member congregations, are certainly not perfect. But they have in fact addressed this issue through education and policies, and the UUA website outlines these. Anyone wishing to learn more can contact the UUA at with any relevant questions.

  4. As a UU who is also a survivor of sex abuse by clergy, I thought I would offer a first hand perspective. A major factor is the autonomy of UU congregations. In my case, my church board was very responsive to the complaint I filed, and went to the district and national leaders for guidance. Congregational autonomy means the UUA and other groups has more of a mixed record. Desmond is right though that the national ofice does offer great resources and guidance, altho there could be better response and the Ministerial Fellowship Comittee could be more open about their decsions on disciplinary action.

    I have mixed feelings about Robin Edgar promoting awareness on this problem. I wonder if he is exploiting us for his crusade against UUs as a whole. He makes such sweeping statements with such anger, I worry that he has hurt our efforts more than helped them.

    The best cure is prevention. For the UUs reading this, please do not wait until something happens. Speak up in your local churches now. Urge your leaders to go thru the Safe Congregations program. Find every resorce you can. Know who to turn to in your district and 25 Beacon for guidance. Do not be complacent, and do not be silent.

  5. Dear A:

    Thank you very much for sharing your experience and insights.

    Regarding the issue of local autonomy, I do think that the UUA could and should hold accountable those member congregations which fail to respond to complaints of professional misconduct - not just ministers but other staff. And how about the UUA setting a goal of every congregation implementing protocols on safety and right relations within two or three years.

    Yes, we still have a ways to go. The practical question we need to address - all of us - is how we get there. Being proactive, vigilant and vocal are essential to that, and I appreciate the reminder.

    P.S.: Please contact me so that I can share some information with you in confidence. You can do so as a post which I can read and then delete without publishing. Thank you again.

  6. Two questions come to mind:
    1. This is a matter of seperation of church and state. What would've happened if this was a Rabbi in Ireleand who was doing this? He or She would've been taken care of appropriately. This is the problem when you have checks and balances break down. (Government on private citizens, citizens on government, regulators on companies, etc.) The Catholic Church could have left this to the state and cooperated as any other employer should have, but they didn't.

    2. I wonder if this is a matter of how people of different faiths approach authority in their religion. In the UU tradition, I give you authority, adn therefore I have the ability to take it away. AFAIK, in the Catholic tradition the authority comes from god via the Pope, thus they're infallable.