Two enormous and meticulous reports have emerged detailing what happened and all the circumstances. There is no way of calculating the harm done to the children and there is a great deal of anger amongst ordinary people especially towards the church authorities. It is good to reflect for a moment on what such crimes mean. We might say they happened in another country far away and far from our experience. I used to think that about the terrible extermination of the Jews in the Second World War. How could they have done it? We would never do something like that? We would never have joined in shedding the blood of the prophets had we lived in our fathers day. – (Matt 23:30).
Well, maybe we wouldnt. But unspeakable things have been done in Rwanda, Darfur, the Eastern Congo and even in our own land. No country on earth can say we would never do such things. Our ability to be unbelievably cruel to each other is quite near the surface of our humanity. We know perfectly well that a lot of abuse has been happening here and continues to happen here. The value of the revelations, if we reflect on them, in Ireland, in Germany, in Rwanda or here is that they touch us. We cannot say we have nothing to do with them. It is not my fault. If we manage to be caring, loving and just in our dealings with others, thank God. But it is a delicate claim. We can easily fall into injustice and even cruelty. People may start off shining bright but something happens and they turn nasty and brutish. The revelations show just how fragile we are. Many of the people involved are kind and charming people. Yet they are capable of despicable things.
We are all responsible for our world. (One of the most heartening things about the Hatian earthquake is the huge international effort to help. President Obama at one point explicitly said the US was deeply involved because of our common humanity.) The terrible lesson from the events I have mentioned is how easy it is to be cruel. You can see it among school children. They can turn on some unfortunate child and give them a terrible time and it takes extraordinary courage to stand up to the mob. You can see it too in adults.
We simply dont understand how human beings could turn on others and exterminate them, or how some religious people could take advantage of weak children. The awful truth is that the darkness within us is very real and it does not take a lot of outside propaganda to drive us to actions that later haunt us. I recently heard of an initiative at reconciliation in Zimbabwe. A victim and the perpetrator of the violence against him were in the same room. When the former recounted his story the latter buried his head in his hands. All he could say was we were used. He never thought he was capable of such cruelty until he found himself doing it.
There is a painful process going on in Ireland at the moment concerning the abuse of children. Attention focuses on events in the past 50 years when some religious priests, brothers and sisters physically and sexually abused the children in their care.