Monday, July 21, 2008

Substance Must Follow Symbolism

EDITORIAL MONDAY 21.07.08. I cannot begin to understand the pain of Anthony Foster, the man who flew back from Scotland to seek a meeting with the Pope. Both of his daughters were raped by a Catholic priest when they were children. One of them has more recently committed suicide, while the other has become permanently disabled after being hit by a car. The darkness that has overwhelmed this family is enormous, and beyond the understanding of most of us who have been more fortunate.

For that reason, it is no surprise that Mr. Foster is disappointed at not being included at the private meeting with representatives of abuse victims before the Pope left the country. He has described that meeting as a “sneaky, underhanded and disappointing” PR stunt. He said "I'm happy for the people who did meet him, if it helped them. But I think [the church] has lost an opportunity to speak to people like us and Broken Rites who truly represent the needs of all victims."

As disappointing as it might be, I have to wonder how much more could have been expected from the Pope. An apology was expected, it was delivered. A meeting with victims was suggested, it was arranged. It would be impossible for the Pope to meet with every victim of abuse, there are so many of them. Whether Mr. Foster should have been singled out above others is not for me to say, but if it had been my decision, I would have included him.

Of course, the meeting is a symbolic gesture, not a practical one. Ultimately, it isn’t how many abuse victims the Pope chooses to meet that will be important. What is important is how the Church chooses to deal with these difficult issues into the future. What is important is the acceptance of responsibilty, the willingness to embrace transparency, and the preparedness to pursue justice. This means no more silence, no more secrecy, no more sheltering the guilty as has happened in the past. This means taking every step possible to prevent clergy abusing their positions of trust in such a way ever again.

Of course the steps taken by the Pope have been a PR exercise. But they still carry great significance from an institution which has had difficulty confronting these issues. What remains is for the words of the Pope to be followed by the actions of the clergy.

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