Irish Catholics must pay for Irish Church's sins

There's a lot of hand-wringing and gnashing of teeth here in Ireland today thanks to the announcement by Bishop Brennan of Ferns that he would be asking Catholics in the diocese to help pay compensation and legal costs arising out of sex abuse scandals. {Read more here.}

Thus far, the Diocese of Ferns has paid out $10.9m in compensation on 48 cases with a further 13 actions pending. The diocese's insurance covered only about $1.5m of these claims, which means the diocese to raise money to meet these obligations.

A column by documentary producer Mary Raftery in today's Irish Times captures the mood of those who are outraged by the bishop's request. Rafferty says the parishioners of the Ferns diocese should not be asked to pay because the "parishioners damaged no child, transferred no pedophiles from parish to parish, covered up no abuse, hid no shameful secrets." That's all true, but if the money doesn't come voluntarily from Catholics in the diocese of Ferns, where will it come from?

The general answer to this question is 'the Vatican.' This answer misses the point: the Catholic Church - whether at diocesan level or at the Vatican level - exists on contributions from its members.

If the people of Ferns balk at subscribing the needed $80,000 per year for 20 years - and I suspect the bishop will be sorely disappointed - then where will the money come from? Sure the Vatican could pay, but then all that would mean is that Catholics in America, Canada, India, Nigeria, Brazil, etc. will be paying for the problems in the Diocese of Ferns. Is that more just?

Of course not and in fairness that's not what Rafferty and others want. They want the Vatican to pay out of its 'vast wealth.' What exactly that wealth is does not feature in their arguments, but I doubt if the people who throw their money in the basket each week and annually subscribe to Peter's Pence really want the Church to call in Christie's to help it off-load a Michaelangelo or two.

So one way or another the money will come from the members of the Church. The only question is which members. Although I don't blame Ireland's Catholics for being angry, there's no denying that we subscribe to an organization from which we accept(ed) too little accountability. In many ways we're not much different than the shareholders in the banks: we didn't sufficiently care about what the management was doing until it was too late.

Now we're faced with the choice of either paying for that 'sin of omission' or telling the Church to dispose of assets - schools, for example - to cover the bills, which will be a sure sign of the Church's decline. For some of those who have left the Church this will be more than satisfactory, but for many Irish Catholics the idea that we could soon have no Catholic schools is unthinkable.

Somehow the disconnect between the members' reluctance to pay the sex abuse bill and their desire to keep the Church functioning, including Catholic schools, has to be overcome. Given the Church's decline a disposal of some assets is inevitable. There are too many half empty churches and too few priests, many of whom don't want to be involved in running schools.

Ireland's Catholics are going to have to accept that for some the church where they made their 1st Holy Communion, were married, had their children baptized and buried their parents is going to be sold and used for a different purpose or demolished. Even some of those who have left the Church might shed a tear at that development.

But there's no escaping the problem. One way or another Irish Catholics are going to have to pay for the sins of the Irish Catholic Church. Simply calling on the Vatican to pay up is nothing more than an attempt to push the problem onto others.

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