Archbishop Neary, Bishop Jones, Bishop Drennan, Bishop Fleming, Bishop Kelly & Bishop Kirby, Rev. Fathers, Sisters, Brothers, Ladies and Gentlemen. It is a great honour and a privilege for me to be here this evening to speak at the launch of Towards Peace. Over the last six years in my role as Director of Safeguarding Children for the Diocese of Elphin I have witnessed immense progress in terms of the development of best practice in safeguarding. Despite this however I have always felt that there was a need to try and address the loss of faith that many survivors experience as a result of the abuse they have suffered at the hands of perpetrators of abuse.
In the Gospel of John Jesus says to his disciples and to us “Peace I leave you, my own peace I give you, A peace which the world cannot give, this is my gift to you.” All of us have experienced times in our lives when our peace was taken away; taken away by difficulties, events, other people, our own sinfulness, and so on. Once one’s peace is gone, it can be very difficult to get it back. In fact peace is something we take for granted and don’t really notice too much until it’s no longer there. For survivors of abuse this lack of peace is quite often their everyday experience. Their lives are fraught with anxiety, distress, worry, sadness, fear, depression, despair, anger, hurt, pain and resentment.
The Church has always being considered a place of healing, welcome, and support for those whom the world has rejected, hurt and discarded. The Church in fact is mandated by Christ himself to be the instrument through which His grace, mercy, love, healing and above all peace flow and therefore must respond with unlimited generosity to those who suffer, those who are sick in body or mind, those who are poor and especially those who have suffered grievously at the hands of those who claim to work for His Church.
It needs to be stated that those who perpetrate abuse and those who in anyway facilitate it through their inaction, regardless what their position in the Church, do not represent Christ or His Church and inflict grievous harm not only on their victims but on the entire body of Christ. Tragically there are always those who commit atrocities such as these but when a person who claims to serve Christ and His Church, exploits those around him/her, especially children, the wounds go very deep indeed. It is never the will of God that such abuse takes place, for God can only will the good. Rather this abuse takes place because people abuse the gift of free will that they have being given and follow the path of evil and self-will instead.
I know I speak for everyone here and all people of good will when I say we are deeply ashamed and saddened by what has happened to victims of abuse at the hands of representatives of our Church. Through our Safeguarding Policies, Procedures, Personnel and Structures we are continuing to do everything in our power to ensure that such atrocities will not happen again, while making available every means possible to help those who have suffered, to receive the support, healing and wholeness that they long for and are entitled to.
It is impossible to measure the difficulty that a survivor of abuse experiences when he or she comes forward to report what happened to them. Equally we must not underestimate the difficulty a survivor faces when he or she begins the journey towards spiritual healing and peace. Many survivors speak about their deep resentment towards God for allowing such terrible things to happen to them.
One such victim, who suffered abuse, published her story in a book called Grace Outpouring after she visited a Christian retreat centre in Wales and received deep healing from God. I think it’s worth sharing in this context as it both reflects the deep pain and hurt carried by survivors and also the heart of God who wants to heal. Just to describe the scene. Outside the retreat centre, on a height there is a wooden cross which is anchored deep in the bedrock. The lady describes her experience:
“I walked up to the cross and spat on it and said ‘God, I have never, ever believed in you, and if you were alive I would spit on you because that’s all you’re worth. If you were real and you allowed me to go through the abuse I’ve been through, then you are no God that anybody should bother with.’
I spat on it again, kicked it and then I burst into tears and started hitting it, first with my hands and then with a piece of fallen wood from a nearby hedge. Then I shouted ‘if you were alive you wouldn’t be able to contain or handle my hatred but you’re not alive.’
Eventually, my anger, pain and tears subsided and I stood there sobbing. Then an inner voice spoke to me which said, ‘Take hold of the cross’. I nearly jumped out of my skin, because I hadn’t heard anyone come up behind me and I had been careful to ensure that no one was around to see what I was doing. I turned but there was nobody there. I thought it was weird and then I heard the inner voice again and again a third time ‘take hold of the Cross’. Checking around and feeling foolish I took hold of the Cross.
The same voice said to me ‘move the Cross’ but as hard as I tried I couldn’t. Then the voice said ‘you cannot move it, because it’s immovable. My love for you is immovable. I’ve been with you through your pain and through your abuse and I hate what you’ve been through. I’m not for the abuse, I’m for you. I’m standing here so that you can pour out your anger, pain, hurt and frustration onto me. I will carry it on the cross. My cross is immovable, just as my love is immovable. When you’ve poured out all your anger and hatred on me, I will just say to you that I love you.’
The lady continues: “Within moments I found myself kneeling and weeping in front of the Cross, crying out in a prayer of acceptance to a God I had never understood to be a God a love, healing and peace.”
My friends God wants to heal us all and especially those who have suffered so terribly through abuse. It is the heartfelt hope of the Catholic Church in Ireland that survivors of abuse will not lose faith in God despite the horrific things that have happened to them. Towards Peace is one more service that will hopefully help individual survivors of abuse towards spiritual renewal, reconciliation and healing from God. In many respects its job is to facilitate, guide and then get out of the way so that, like in the lady’s testimony, God himself can repair, heal and bring peace, the peace that he promises in the Gospel to each individual who starts out on this journey towards peace.
It is my own heartfelt prayer that Towards Peace will be a service that will open up the mercy, healing and love of God to many survivors and their families and I entrust its work to the intercession of Lady of Knock, Queen of Ireland and Queen of Peace.
Frank McGuinness is Director of Safeguarding Children in the Diocese of Elphin.
The launch of Towards Peace took place in Knock, Co Mayo in the Archdiocese of Tuam on 3 June 2014.