When Words Are not Enough
by Tom Hannon and Noreen Spain (as published in The Furow)
How one parish tried to respond to Clerical and institutional Sexual Abuse
Cloughjordan is a small rural village in North Tipperary, becoming better known at the moment as “ The ECO village”. Cloughjordan is also a rural parish, made up of the three worshiping communities of Cloughjordan, Kilruane and Ardcroney, with a combined population of approximately two thousand people. We have a large and active Parish Pastoral Council in the parish, drawn from these three local communities. At Parish Pastoral Council meetings over the years, the topic of abuse had come up for discussion from time to time, and it had also been addressed on a number of occasions at weekend Masses.
Following the publication of the Ryan Report on abuse in Institutions there was a huge sense of shock, disbelief and helplessness felt right through the whole community. The Parish Pastoral Council in an attempt to see could we respond in a meaningful and representative way, decided to consult with all parishioners to seek suggestions, comments and observations on all aspects of abuse in society. Notices were placed in the newsletter for some weeks and a letter was sent to every household in the parish in June’09, explaining that Response/Suggestion boxes were in place in all three churches in the parish and inviting people to respond with their own views and comments, anonymously if they so wished, to all aspects of abuse. The feedback from this exercise was excellent with many very practical suggestions put forward. All these responses were included in an insert in the newsletter and made available to everyone.
The Parish Pastoral Council decided that the Steering Committee of the P.P.C should consider all these responses/suggestions further and from the combined feedback draw up an appropriate, meaningful and practical response for our parish. .
The Steering Committee in considering the results drew up five main areas of response from these findings
1) A Letter of Apology to be sent to every household in the parish.
2) A Financial contribution to be made to support charitable agencies, who are working to help children/people affected by abuse.
3) A Walk of Atonement and Solidarity to take place.
4) A Monument in remembrance of those who were abused to be erected. This would also incorporate a Positive Pledge to do everything possible in our parish to ensure the future protection of children and the most vulnerable.
5) ‘Healing the Hurt’ Service to take place.
A Letter of Apology
An explanatory letter outlining the feed back from parishioners and detailing how the parish was going to respond was delivered to every household. Accompanying this explanatory letter was a letter of apology which was signed by me as parish priest of the parish. This letter dealt with two main issues.
The first was with a priest who served in this parish as a curate in the late 50’s (1955—60), who did abuse children, expressing my heartfelt regret and sadness, to any person abused, especially in this parish. The second issue was the recently published Ryan report, which spelt out the unspeakable crimes against people in ‘The Institutions’, again expressing my deep shame, profound sorrow and heartfelt regret to anyone who suffered in these situations’.
Also included with that letter were contact numbers and help lines for anybody affected to enable them seek help and support.
The Pastoral Council felt that any words of apology should also be supplemented in some way by a financial contribution to professional agencies who work with the survivors of abuse. A donation of €10,000 (€5,000 from the priests’ collection & €5,000 from parish funds) was made to three charities who work with children and adults who have suffered from abuse. (Barnardos, CARI, Faoiseamh.)
Walk of Atonement and Solidarity.
The 14th February 2010 is a date that will be recorded in our parish history forever. This was the day when the walk of Solidarity and Atonement took place. Following the walk, a Monument was unveiled and the day ended with a ‘Heal the Hurt’ service in the main parish church of Cloughjordan.
There were two main starting points for the walk from the two outside churches of Ardcroney and Kilruane with people joining in along the way. In all, well over five hundred people participated.
When all the walkers converged on Cloughjordan from the many different areas of the parish and beyond, and arrived into the grounds of our main parish church, there was a short unveiling ceremony of a model of the Monument. (The real monument is now in place.)
The Monument is in 3 sections, and each section has its own story.
The 1st section reads as follows:
LEST WE FORGET
We remember and pray for all abused:
In our parish
In the family
HEAL THEIR HURT, O LORD.
This section is an acknowledgement that abuse happened and that it has caused grave and serious hurt to people . It also includes a prayer that the hurt which people are carrying will be healed.
The middle section portrays an image of Jesus and the Children, with the inscription
“Theirs is the Kingdom of heaven”.
Marks Gospel Ch. 10. V.14.
It also contains a prayer: ‘Angels of God protect them’.
This image and inscription is the ideal which must inspire and underpin all our interactions with children, young people and indeed each other.
It emphasises for us without question the dignity, preciousness, beauty and simplicity of children and is the reason for our parish promise and our commitment to create an environment in our community which values, respects, and cherishes young people and where they feel safe and happy.
The third section contains our parish promise and reads as follows:
to do all in our power to
ensure the safety of children,
young people and adults in
carrying out their role and
mission in our parish.
Keep us vigilant at all times, Lord.
This is our parish Commitment that we, as a community pledge ourselves to developing and promoting a community where our children will feel safe, valued, respected and included among us.
‘Heal the hurt’ Service.
Following the unveiling ceremony, the crowds packed the church for a very moving” Heal The Hurt Service.” praying for the healing of hurt of the abused and the healing of the personal hurt of all present. This service was facilitated totally by ‘Lay People’. As part of the ceremony, people carried in procession the small stones they had brought with them from their own places and placed them in the very reflective “Sacred Space” in the sanctuary. This Sacred Space in the church reflected different forms of hurt and pain and the light of hope and healing that we can receive when we bring our burdens to Christ. These stones have now been incorporated into the Sacred Space in front of the ‘Monument’ in the church grounds depicting ‘A dove of freedom’.
This has been our humble effort to respond as a parish community to what has been an unbelievable litany of abuse and hurt suffered by the most vulnerable in our society.
It was felt that the time for talking was over, and that something more than words was needed at this point, hence we embarked on the process just outlined. Because the process was basically lay driven and was rooted in the responses given by the people of the parish following consultation with them, there was a real grounded-ness and reality about it. It facilitated people to come together and respond in very simple and practical ways. It also facilitated survivors who were abused to feel believed. A survivor said to me ‘After fifty years I feel believed at last.” That comment alone was worth all the work and effort, which had gone into the process. There was much feed back that was very positive.
We, as the Parish Pastoral Council are very conscious of the deep hurt and enormous pain caused to the survivors of abuse and their families. We are also conscious that there is no quick fix solution and no immediate healing for such traumatic hurt and pain. As Church however, we must always be sensitive to the hurt and pain of the survivors and their families and be open to where the Spirit calls us to enable greater healing to come about. This is an ongoing journey. However when good people get their heads and hearts and minds together, the Holy Spirit can facilitate wonderful processes to emerge. Ours was just a humble response and maybe in some small way, it hopefully maybe a first step, to enable the process of healing to begin for some, or continue for others.