It has been abundantly clear for a long time that the only way the Catholic Church can rebuild trust after the damage caused by allegations of child sex abuse going back decades is to act robustly to investigate those claims and be prepared to take action against priests where necessary.
In the past, this has not happened often enough, with church authorities sometimes having seemed paralysed by indecision and split loyalties. So it is very encouraging indeed to see yet more strong indications from the Church of a new resolve to address abuse cases directly and decisively.
It has emerged that a Dunfermline priest, Father Thomas Mullen, has been dismissed by the Church following a trial in the Vatican at which he was found guilty of canonical offences. Fr Mullen had previously been investigated by police after two men alleged they had been sexually abused by him historically but the Crown Office decided they could not to proceed with the case because of the time lapse between the alleged offences.
The Catholic Church effectively suspended the priest anyway and he has now been dismissed.
It is sadly the nature of historical sex abuse cases that they frequently never make it to a criminal court because of the difficultly in overcoming the necessary legal hurdles. That means that the victims are left without the opportunity for justice and the accused has no chance to clear their name. However, in this case, the Church has chosen not to let it rest with the Crown Office's decision not to proceed, but to apply its own procedures. This helps to dispel any impression of complacency.
There are heartening suggestions that, with a new generation of young bishops in their 40s and early 50s coming to the fore in Scotland, there is a determination in the Church to do things differently to how they were done in the past. There appears to be a recognition that there is no room any more for defensiveness and that, to bring some semblance of justice to victims and restore faith in the Church itself, these allegations must be faced, difficult though that may be for all concerned. Last year, the new Archbishop of St Andrews and Edinburgh, Leo Cushley, fully endorsed plans by the rest of Scotland's bishops to open files on abuse within the Church dating back 60 years, to independent examiners. Cardinal Keith O'Brien, who resigned as archbishop in disgrace last year, later admitting to inappropriate sexual conduct, had previously blocked the inquiry.
In his letter to the parishioners of Our Lady of Lourdes, the Most Rev Cushley made the point that priests "ought to be an unequalled example of goodness and purity in our midst". He asks God to "help us draw the grace of humility from this very unhappy episode and to foster the determination to uproot such behaviour wherever it exists in society". It is to be hoped that, difficult as it may be, facing these distressing allegations will not only benefit the abused but ultimately bring this chapter in the Catholic Church's history to a close.
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