The most compassionate words I have heard in Ireland on the Catholic Church child sex abuse scandal came from the Rev. Ian Paisley.
That may sound utterly absurd, given Paisley's history of anti-Catholic fulminating, but while in Ireland I listened to an interview he gave on Newstalk radio last night, and it left me with an entirely new opinion of the man.
In Ireland, the Church abuse scandal has been reduced to legalistic maneuvers and predictable moral outrage comments. The children who were most affected seem strangely absent from the debate.
It is as if the argument has moved beyond the debate about the thousands of individual destroyed lives and identities shattered by the pedophiles who preyed on them.
All the speculation is about whether one bishop or another will resign, what legal maneuvering going on, were the bishops treated properly.
With all due respect to the bishops, they are not the issue here at all. The best that can be said about the whole bunch of them, with a few honorable exceptions, is that they overlooked evil when it was very evident in their ranks.
They can dance on as many pinheads as they want, but it will not excuse that fact.
Paisley instead went to the heart of the matter.
When he was asked about the Irish incidents he did not embark on a rant about the Catholic Church, which I had fully expected.
Rather, he said, and I paraphrase, that he put aside a quiet moment to pray for all those children whose lives were destroyed, who were unable to understand what had happened to them and to pray for their eventual recovery from their horrific mistreatment.
It was in no way an anti-Catholic statement, or a rant from a man once considered the greatest demagogue in Northern Irish history.
Instead, they were words of sheer wisdom from a man who went straight to the heart of the issue, the young children who faced years of official silence about the abuse that will have ruined many of their lives.
Later on in the same interview, when asked about the importance of the border in Irish life, Paisley was very frank, admitting his stance had changed on the Irish Republic but equally, the Irish Republic stance on Northern Ireland had also changed.
It was the kind of simple but direct analysis that has endeared me to the man.
At the last stage of his life, Ian Paisley saw the light and worked to bring peace to his troubled land.
The fact that he broke with the past and the old hatreds is a measure of the man.
He is an example to all in the Catholic Church who would prefer to sweep the current scandals under the carpet and pretend they never happened.
Ian Paisley spoke up and spoke truth to power when it came to Northern Ireland.
The Catholic Church needs to do likewise.
He should be an inspiration to them, strange and all as that might seem.
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