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There is a tendency for some church commentators to rant and gnash their teeth when the Church is criticised unfairly, even if the main thrust of the complaint is perfectly valid.
That’s what happened after the UN Committee on the Rights on the Child delivered its report on 5 February and catalogued the Church’s lamentable record on abuse. The committee appeared to ignore the Holy See’s instruction to bishops’ conferences to report allegations to the civil authorities. Even worse, it strayed into areas of doctrine and criticised the Church’s teaching on contraception, abortion and homosexuality.
In television and radio discussions the Church’s staunchest defenders complained only that the committee was woefully ignorant of the facts. It did not pause to consider the suffering of abuse victims, suffering that is in now way alleviated by such aggressive defensiveness.
How heartening then to see Fr Thomas Rosica on BBC2’s Newsnight on 5 February. Speaking via satellite link from Toronto, Canada, Fr Rosica, the head of the Catholic Salt + Light Television and an English language assistant to the Holy See Press Office, did not shrink from citing the “lacunae” in the UN’s report but he also readily acknowledged the “egregious sins” committed by abusive priests.
Even more laudable, when Jeremy Paxman told the priest that there was a victim of clerical sexual abuse in the studio Fr Rosica immediately went into pastoral mode and asked the man his name.
He then said this: “First of all, I want to apologise to you for what you have endured on behalf of the Church and on behalf of me as a priest. It is disgusting, it is criminal, it is sinful, it is evil and you have borne this and you have suffered from it and I am very, very sorry. That being said, we are doing our absolute best to make sure that no more young people endure what you, Miguel, have endured.”
It was the first time anyone in the Church had apologised to Miguel Hurtado in the 16 years since he had been abused as a teenager by a priest in his home city of Barcelona. He was visibly moved by Fr Rosica’s words and told me later that he had appreciated the gesture.
Miguel Hurtado is a member of the survivors’ network, SNAP, which has campaigned vigorously for the Church to laicise abusers and dismiss bishops who protect them. Fr Rosica’s apology has not deflected Mr Hurtado from his campaign. He told me that the best apology the Church could make would be to fire bishops who cover up for abusers.
But Fr Rosica articulated his sorrow and humility in the face of a dreadful wrong. This is the first Christian response to a person who has suffered as a consequence. If only other clergy would do the same.
You can read more from Mr Hurtado in this week’s Tablet.
Above: Mr Hurtado appreciated Fr Tom Rosica's spontaneous apology on BBC's Newsnight