The Wounded Irish Church

Deal W. Hudson
Published December 3, 2009

The responsory at today’s Mass was especially appropriate: “The Lord is coming and will not delay; He will bring every hidden thing to light and reveal himself to every nation.”

Sadness and anger pervades Ireland this first week of Advent. The release of the massive Murphy Report revealed more details about the three decades of abuse of minors by priests. But it was the evidence of a widespread and deliberate cover-up by Church officials and police that many found “impossible to imagine,” as Emma McDermott told me.

Emma is 24 years old, a former Montessori teacher and Bailieborough native, who rediscovered her faith several years ago when her mother gave her one of the books published by lay apostolate Direction for Our Times (DFOT). “This makes me want to cry – I was raised to have the highest regard for priests.”

Sitting next to Emma in the kitchen of DFOT’s office in Bailieborough were an older couple, Catherine and Victor Spillane, raised in Dublin and Kilarney, respectively. “I remember as a young girl walking to Church, and if a priest walked by, my mother would say, ‘Get on your knees, children!,”‘ Catherine recalled. Then she told me of a priest being spat upon in Dublin over the past weekend. “Now there’s so much disrespect.”

Rev. Darragh Connolly, chaplain of the apostolate, nodded in agreement. “I don’t know if it would be safe to wear my collar in downtown Dublin right now,” he said. A priest for nearly eight years, Father Darragh recalled being in seminary at Maynooth when the Ferns Report came out, which first chronicled the sexual abuse by priests. “There’s a huge amount of pain out there right now about the lack of response by Church leaders to the abuse.”

Also at the table was Keith Wagner, a young American man from Chicago who, after a year of discernment, is entering Maynooth in September. Keith will be the third man to enter the seminary through DFOT’s apostolate. When Keith is ordained, he will be a priest in the Diocese of Kilmore, led by Bishop Leo O’Reilly. “People will let you down,” he mused. “I went through this in the U.S. – the abuse scandal shattered my image of the priesthood. Now I’m forced to relive it.”

When I asked Keith if he’s discouraged, he said, “No, the Church needs to be in the light of truth.” Catherine agreed: “That’s right, this is a purification, only good will come out of it.” She added, “I don’t know where I’d be in my response without this apostolate,” referring to DFOT.

Victor was dismissive of any predictions about the demise of the Church in Ireland. “I remember when Cardinal Cushing came to Cork from Boston. He said, ‘Men of Cork, remember you are the Church.”‘

His sentiments had been echoed earlier in the day by Anne, founder of DFOT, who said to me and five other American visitors that the outrage stirred up by the report should be a reminder of “our need for greater humility.”

Emma, who is now working with DFOT’s youth division, Re-Charge, has an attitude that evinces hope for the future of the Church in Ireland. During this past year with DFOT, Emma says she has received the “grace of clarity, seeing that any vocation she receives would present challenges,” but most importantly, “an opportunity to serve Jesus.”

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