Canada and the Vatican; God and priests
Easter, 2010. I sometimes entertain notions of similarity between Canada, my home country, and another place for which I have much affection, Ireland. Despite differences in size, culture and demographics, history and language, we share not just a kind of “commonwealth” connection but also many ties through family, music, and religion.
And it’s that last one, this Easter Saturday, that brings much anger and sorrow: the Catholic church in Ireland and its role in the sexual abuse of children and then the cover-up of that abuse. Always, these two go hand in hand: first the sin, then the denial, a pattern as old as the Easter Story, integral to it. This week, holy to many Christians, Maureen Dowd of the New York Times takes on the Pope, the U.S. Catholic League, and various Cardinals – Dowd suggests a cover up of clerics at the highest level.
That a woman writer can now do this, centuries after such an action would have resulted in a burning, empowers me to ask questions of not just the Pope and his cardinals, but of Christians in Canada. Consider this: “…the primate of All-Ireland, Cardinal Sean Brady, came under pressure to stand down after he admitted being at a meeting where children abused by the convicted paedophile Father Brendan Smyth were forced to take a vow of silence.” It bears repeating.
Children, abused in the care of Christians, were asked to take a vow of silence: Don’t speak, don’t name, don’t implicate. Canadians must immediately think of our Indian Residential Schools. Should Canadian Protestants and Catholics band together and ask for what Dowd calls, “an inquisition for the Pope?” Is that anathema to believers, and sacrilegious?
The novel The Bishop’s Man, a Giller Prize winner (2009), explores the abuse of children by a man of the cloth. The setting is southern Cape Breton Island, but I read the location as a “Canadian Everyplace.” The novel is yet one more reminder that Ireland isn’t the only place where church and state and social organizations, charitable clubs, schools and residences, have been sites of a particular privilege: that of access to children where such access is unquestioned, un-policed, and protected from investigation in the Name of the Father.
Although I might here dare to join with an American female writer in questioning a Pope, my courage fails me at the thought of questioning this Canadian institution, when it comes to the issue of access to young people in organizations. What questions of culture, practice, regulation, policy inquiry, judicial proceeding do we need to examine in order to prevent the abuse of children, of young people, when they are under the care of others?
As unfashionable, as taboo as it might be in “intellectual” circles, I confess to still holding onto my own faith, broken and lapsed though it might be. I was baptised and confirmed in the United Church of Canada, and we United Churchies can’t be too smug reading the news about Father Lawrence Murphy of Wisconsin, abusing as many as 200 deaf children. We have our own terrible legacies, as do other Christian denominations – all of us worshipping our monotheistic male deity. In reading this morning’s U.K. papers, about Ireland, we might think of Canadian history, where the deep influence of the Pope and his cardinals is still felt, particularly in Quebec, in Atlantic Canada, in Manitoba and other towns and cities where the faithful gather. So much good, so much to cherish and so many questions. Should the news of the Vatican’s handling of sex abuse, the news of yet another “Irish question,” what the Archbishop of Canterbury calls a “colossal trauma,” fill us with the fury of a Medusa? Are we asked to contemplate, this Easter, the role of Christian enterprise in the abuse of children in Canada?
I dedicate this post to the memory my father, a United Church Minister, who taught me to ask questions and who believed with all his heart in the promise of redemption.