The old clergyman was remembered as frail and gentle soul. He must have been a man who struggled with the realities of the late 20th Century for it seemed that he did not see the activities of paedophile in his parish, or was it that he saw and did not speak? Seeing a photograph of the old clergyman brought memories of not speaking.
When I was a curate, we would have a staff meeting once a week. There were four of us, my excellent rector, a retired priest and a lay assistant. My rector adhered to the highest possible levels of confidentiality, information about pastoral care was only ever to be shared on a need to know basis. At one meeting our lay assistant commented, “While we keep things secret, everyone in the street knows about them!”
It seemed a very offhand comment at the time, and I probably leapt to the defence of the rector for whom I had the highest regard. There are things I have heard that I will take to the grave with me, it being no-one else’s business what I have been told or what I have learned. But the man had a point, it was our culture of secrecy in Ireland that allowed space for for paedophiles; it was our culture of secrecy that allowed women to suffer years of domestic violence.
Sometimes the church intervened. I heard a story of one country rector, a mountain of a man who had been a keen rugby player in his younger days. Calling at a house one day, he met a woman cut and bruised from the thumping her husband had given her. He warned the husband that if it happened again the husband would be on the end of a beating. The rector called one Friday evening to find the woman had again been assaulted, her husband had gone to a bar in the village to drink with his friends. The clergyman went to the bar and a few moments later the husband was lying in the street outside. Humiliated in front of his friends and fearing further retribution, the husband kept his fists to himself afterwards.
Most times, the church kept silent about bad things going on, and too often was itself responsible for evil deeds. The movement of paedophile clergy from one parish to another, allowing them a new set of victims, leaves an indelible blemish upon our church history. The old clergyman’s ministry is overshadowed by memories of what happened in his time.
Words have to be better than silence.