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Day of Atonement Call for Abuse Against the Innocent

The Irish Times - Monday, August 24, 2009 by  Patsy McGarry

SUNDAY SEPTEMBER 27th should be designated as a day of atonement by the Catholic Church in Ireland for abuse committed against the innocent, the Humbert School was told at the weekend.

Drogheda-based Augustinian priest Fr Iggy O’Donovan noted that celebrations were being planned for that day to mark the 30th anniversary of the arrival in Ireland of the late pope John Paul II.

“Is it not more appropriate that we designate that Sunday as a day of atonement,” he asked. “Surely it would make more sense than engaging in a triumphalist nostalgic exercise commemorating what has turned out to be the last sting of a dying wasp,” he said.

Endorsing suggestions that there be a national day of atonement or reconciliation, Sr Marianne O’Connor, director general of the Conference of Religious of Ireland (Cori), spoke of “a service where a public ritual of reconciliation could occur between representatives of the survivors, the State, the religious and the church”. But, she commented, “maybe that is a step too far at this time”.

Noting that her attendance at Humbert was “the first public forum to which religious have been invited since Ryan [report]”, she continued that “I am here, first and foremost, to apologise . . . to do whatever we can to make reparation.”

She continued: “We religious are asking for forgiveness . . . Without forgiveness one is stuck, unable to move forward.”

Survivors “had the huge challenge, and the huge power, of forgiving . . . But forgiveness, like mercy, blesses the giver and the receiver,” she said.

The congregations would “provide money for reparation. But we must do much more than provide money. We must listen and learn, to the degree survivors will permit us, to journey with them as they discover what they need”, she said.

Fr O’Donovan explained that he belonged to a church that as an institution “rarely if ever admits to having been wrong or to having inflicted harm on people”.

He wondered “how can you reform an institution which, though it constantly speaks of personal sin, cannot bring itself to admit, and repent of institutional sin?”

Fr Kevin Hegarty, former editor of the Catholic bishops’ Intercom magazine, recalled how when he raised the issue of clerical child sex abuse in Intercom during 1993 and 1994, he was told by “several bishops it was none of my business and/or I was damaging the morale of the clergy”.

Following publication of the Ryan report, and as he watched “a parade of bishops and other religious leaders express their sorrow” he had reflected ruefully “that now there was a traffic jam on the road to Damascus”.