'I was a victim of abuse. This is what the Pope must do to stop it'

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It was not being raped by a priest at the age of 14 that shattered my faith; it was the horrifying realisation that the Catholic Church had wilfully, knowingly abandoned me to it, the knowledge that they had ordained the priest who abused me despite knowing he was a paedophile and set him free to abuse with near impunity, ignoring all complaints.

And so it is difficult not to be cynical about the likely merit of the pastoral letter that Pope Benedict XVI will publish today.

For a start the letter is intended for the "Irish faithful". The Pope will write not to those who have left or fled his Church traumatised or outraged by acts of depravity and cover-up, but to those who somehow hold faith despite it.

For my part I know what fractured my faith in the institutions of the Roman Catholic Church. I was a faithful Catholic, born into a society where to be Irish meant being Catholic. As a child, I knelt with my family in the evenings to say the rosary and I became an altar boy, finding great meaning as a child in the idea of serving the God my elders spoke of. My faith mattered to me; it had come to me across the generations and gave me a powerful sense of myself and my place in the world.

That faith was strong enough not to be shattered by the abuse. Father Sean Fortune used my fidelity to lure me to his rural parish and sexually assault me. But my faith was so strong, and my need to believe in the goodness of the Church and its priests so powerful, that I blamed myself for his crimes, turning my hatred of the act of his abuse inwards where, for decades, it poisoned my sense of myself. My faith in myself was gone, but not my faith in my church. Over the years I drifted from regular Mass attendance, but I still held the Church in esteem – until that painful realisation of the extent of the cover-up, of my abuse and that of countless others.

If today's letter is to represent a real and meaningful change in how the Vatican deals with abuse, it will have to be a radical departure from previous papal statements.

Firstly, it must not make any attempt to blame anyone else for Church failures. Pope Benedict must not suggest the revelations of clerical crime and cover-up are part of a global media conspiracy as he has previously done. He must not seek to blame the decadence of Western society, the sexual revolution, gays, secularisation or even the Devil, as senior church leaders have asserted over the years.

He must also move beyond bland statements expressing his shock and dismay at the revelations of recent years. As head of the Congregation of the Doctrine of the Faith, he was the man charged with the management of cases of child sexual abuse on a global scale for more than two decades. He, more than anyone, knows about the scale of abuse across the Catholic Church.

He must not patronise us by telling us what any person with basic reason knows, that child abuse is a "heinous crime". He must not express his regret at the actions of some, or a few, or even many priests. Neither he, nor his institution, can be held responsible for the actions of any individual priest, which has never been the charge levelled against him.

He must end the denial and deceit typified by his constant refusal to properly engage with the charge of cover-up, never mind admit it. In the face of findings of fact in Ireland, the US, Australia and Canada which have detailed the institutional corruption at the heart of these scandals, to do otherwise would be to continue to cover up by a wilful denial to address the issue.

He must take responsibility for the cover-up, and apologise for it. As supreme head of the Catholic Church he must use his power to enforce proper child protection across the global Church. He must also make it clear that those who fail to act to protect children will be properly held to account.

When I was a child I was taught truth and justice mattered. I was taught that I should have the courage to take responsibility for any wrong that I might do others. I was taught that the first step in doing so was to confess my failings. I expect no less from the head of the Church that preached those values to me.



The writer campaigns for justice for clerical sexual abuse victims and is the author of 'Beyond Belief', the story of the boy who sued the Pope ( www.colmogorman.com)

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