The Roman Catholic Church in Ireland may just now be beginning to understand how much it relies on trust - now that it has so little of it. Yesterday’s publication of the truly shocking 2,600-page report by Ireland's Commission to Inquire Into Child Abuse found that rape was "endemic" in more than 250 Irish Catholic care institutions from the 1930s to the 1990s, and that the church in Ireland protected paedophiles in its ranks from arrest. Trust is a social practice. Humans are social beings who swim in an ocean of trust. What happens when this ocean begins to drain away - as is the case with the Catholic Church in Ireland - is that we become sceptical, often cynical and perhaps even a little paranoid. The Ryan Commission has once again highlighted the failure of Church leaders to act. Some of the more disturbing aspects yesterday’s report were the attempts by the Catholic Church to control information, prevent public disclosure and silence dissent, even when it heard the anguished cries of abused children and their families – and not for the first time.
The reality that is dawning on some for the very first time is that the Church is a human institution; it is managed by and led humans with all their failings, including susceptibility to the corruptions of power and mistaken judgment. Many mistakes and cover-ups, involving the abuse of children by priests and brothers, have been made by bishops. What is clear is that the responsibility for resolving or moving beyond the present crisis of trust lies primarily with the bishops themselves. The problem is that the Catholic Church appears to be suffering from a form of paralysis. The people who can do something (the conference of Catholic bishops) have apparently done all they want to do or think they can do as a group. Yet those who want to do something to help to move things on, namely the laity and some clergy, have no real vehicle for doing so. Despite the long-ingrained tendency of lay men and women to defer to the hierarchy, many are only now waking up to the fact that they have both the right and the responsibility to make their voices heard. Many of us are now only too tragically aware of the consequences that follow from the concentration and misuse of power and lay deference to hierarchical authority.
For too long the Roman Catholic Church in Ireland has, for whatever reason, refused to talk openly, candidly and even compassionately about the crisis of trust that clearly now exists. It will be difficult to regain that trust but without it there can be no growth or development and no justice for those who suffered the terrible abuse by those who preached a message of love, fidelity and mercy.