I am devastated by the report published today into the extent of child abuse by French Catholic priests from the 1950s to the present day, as I am by the sins of my own Church of England. The headlines are truly horrific.
According to the authors of the report, the only context in France where a child is in greater danger of abuse than in the Church is within their own family and circle of family friends. This, too, is salutary.
Like police officers who sexually abuse women (in England and Wales there were 1,500 accusations of sexual misconduct against police officers between 2012 and 2018, and this is undoubtedly the tip of the iceberg, for not only are such assaults under-reported, but who is going to trust the police to police themselves?) these priests are not the exceptional ‘one bad apple,’ but evidence of a far wider problem. Human beings are not, as we want to believe, fundamentally good. Human beings—priests, family and friends, police officers, everybody, every body—are fundamentally capable of great good and great evil, of moral courage and moral cowardice.
These are not monsters, to reassure ourselves of our moral superiority; nor a cancer that can be removed by violence without perpetuating more violence, including sexual violence. They are devastating examples of what happens when we turn away from the light. All the more devastating when they hold any office that purports to represent light. And in response, we should lament the state in which we find ourselves, and repent of our complicity.
Both actions, lamentation and repentance, presuppose a centre of the moral universe outside of ourselves, before whom we are accountable, by whom we might be saved from ourselves, through whom that which is good within us might draw strength, might even be raised from the dead.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.
Lord, have mercy.