Seanad debates

Thursday, 17 November 2005

Ferns Report: Statements (Resumed).


12:00 pm

Photo of Brian HayesBrian Hayes (Fine Gael)

Yes. I support the offence of reckless endangerment which has been outlined and prioritised in the report. We need legislation in that area.

As a lay member of the Catholic Church I would like to touch on issues affecting the church. Senator Hanafin said that while the church must respond in a legal and public way, it must also respond in a penitential way. In any of the responses I have heard from the bishops or senior members of the Catholic clergy since the publication of the report, I have not heard the church respond spiritually to the issues raised. If one is a Catholic, the question of seeking forgiveness is an important aspect of the faith. However, it is not enough to ask for forgiveness. One must also, through actions and observance, show one is serious about it and do penance.

I suggest the church needs to do more than simply ask for forgiveness from victims. For example the 28th December, the feast of the Holy Innocents, would seem to be the perfect opportunity for the Catholic Church to fast en masse. Fasting is an historic way in which the church seeks forgiveness, personal and collective. I urge the clergy to consider doing more than just expressing, albeit in a heartfelt manner, sorrow for the circumstances that arose in Ferns and other dioceses. It should do something more and respond in a spiritual way to this catastrophe that has affected the church and society at large. A public penitential request on a day of significance to children, might be a way for the church to get this view across.

The church must reconsider the issues of celibacy and a married clergy. I wonder whether the abuse would have occurred if priests were married and had children and worked with them or whether, in circumstances where they understood the appropriateness of certain behaviour, all of this would have emerged. The House is well aware that St. Patrick's father was a deacon and his grandfather was a priest. If married clergy were good enough for St. Patrick in the fifth century, I do not know why the issue of celibacy causes such difficulty to Catholic clergy today or why it cannot be addressed. Formation for the priesthood is an important issue. It is unnatural that men should commit themselves to a life of celibacy and a life where they do not have a close family connection in the same way as others. Many of the problems we are discussing relate to the formation of priests over the past 30 or 40 years and to the lifestyle they lead. I urge the Catholic church to have another look at this issue.

It is important in this debate to recognise the scale of abuse of children in the country. The majority of abuse is domestic, but that should not in any way cause us to underestimate the scale of the problem in the church, where it is systemic and must be addressed. The one positive from this report must be that we create a new environment and culture in which the position of children in society and how the State deals with children will be completely transformed. If that can be achieved by the publication of this report and the putting in place of the recommendations, it will give some measure of comfort to the victims who have so bravely and openly highlighted this dark secret of the State and the church within it.


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