What Homer Simpson can teach the Catholic Church in Ireland about truth
The Irish bishops have returned home after last month’s meeting with Pope Benedict in the Vatican, where they discussed what Cardinal Hummes has described as “the painful Irish happenings.”
We were warned that it would shock us, and it did. I remember the day it was released: I sat watching the news reports with my newborn son asleep in my arms. I became so upset that I had to turn the TV off, though I could hardly see the screen by then.
The question asked constantly in the Irish media has been: what should the Bishops now do? But an equally important question is: what should ordinary lay Catholic people now do? A few weeks after the report, I happened to see a re-run of The Simpsons that, oddly enough, answered that very question. It captured perfectly a common reaction amongst some Catholic laity: there is an unfortunate tendency to sweep the abuse scandal under the carpet, or to only mention it in veiled terms.
In this episode of the cartoon, Bart and Homer convert to Catholicism. Marge abducts Bart and takes him back to her Protestant church. Liam Neeson plays Fr. Sean, a trendy Catholic priest. He says to Homer:
"If I don't get Bart back to the Church, I'll be the worst priest ever! Well, except, you know . . ."
There follows a silence, broken by Homer's cough. After a further silence, Fr. Sean coughs: “ahem.” Cut to the next scene.
The Dublin diocese report meant that we could no longer cut to the next scene. We had to look at child abuse in stark terms: priests took small boys and girls and repeatedly raped and beat them. This happened again and again. Bishops were informed of this and some did nothing, or just moved the priest to a different parish, causing the terror to spread. They also failed to tell the police. Even when informed, some senior police officers just looked the other way.
Since the report, the Irish police have launched a massive investigation. Some of its own senior officers may yet go to jail along with some former clergy. In Ireland, there is public fury and disbelief: some people want revenge against the Church, or even its utter destruction. Many want all church schools to be brought under state control. A lot of people speak like Homer Simpson did when he said to Father Sean: "I'm sick of you teaching my son your timeless values."
But, despite it all, most people in Ireland do want the church to teach their children its timeless values. Despite the horrors uncovered in recent years, the Catholic Church has done many wonderful things in Ireland, and still has a lot to offer us in the 21st century.
The cover up happened because powerful people in Irish society put the welfare of the Catholic Church ahead of the welfare of children. The Archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, has now pledged to put the victims first. Irish bishops have accepted the report’s core finding: Child abuse was covered up by the church.