In an interview with the Sunday Herald, to accompany an exclusive article on the scandals, Devine said sectarianism was “constant” for most Catholics in Scotland, adding: “The proper name for it is anti-Catholicism.”
In his article, Devine describes some commentators as “hell-bent on depicting the Catholic Church as the paedophile empire of sexual abuse against children”. He also attacks “scurrilous” attempts to smear the Pope with the ongoing scandals. The bishop also told the Sunday Herald he wants to lay the issue of sex abuse to rest in Scotland ahead of the visit of Benedict XVI to Scotland in September.
Devine accepts some failings in the way the Catholic Church has dealt with abuse in the past, and says it is important to confront and atone for sins and betrayals. The Church should compensate victims of abuse financially, and perpetrators should be prosecuted, he adds.
However, he also points to the family as the source of the majority of abuse, and claims that fewer than half of one per cent of the clergy had any sexual allegations made against them.
“Statistics reveal that more than 75% of all sexual abuse of minors happens in the family, perpetrated by family members, mostly those who are married, and by others known to the victims,” he writes. “Sexual abuse of minors is not a ‘Catholic Church’ problem.”
Devine also says ongoing scandals have overshadowed good works by the church throughout the world to relieve poverty and suffering.
Claiming he is not attempting to downplay the suffering of victims who have experienced “grievous sins and perversions” at the hands of paedophile priests, Devine told the Sunday Herald that while there is “a certain amount of truth” in the allegations of a cover-up within the Church of sexual abuse, that is not the whole story.
“Thirty years ago, no-one spoke about this,” he said. “A friend of mine, a Jewish doctor, said to me in 1985 that he understood the difficulty faced by priests. That was because doctors were also struggling with this.
“When they saw babies who were black and blue, their response was to open the textbooks and look for the disease which had those symptoms. They knew fine well it wasn’t a disease, but they couldn’t bring themselves to believe that a parent would hurt their child like this.
“The Catholic Church used to have places we sent people when things went wrong -- places where priests who had problems with things such as alcohol or depression could go to be treated. But abusers could not be treated in the same way. We found out to our regret they are incurable. They need to be removed from the community and layified. They cannot be changed.”
The Catholic Church in the UK is now one of the safest places on earth for a child to be, Devine believes. He points to increased vetting at all levels in the Church, with a coordinator dedicated to this task in every parish.
While Bishop Devine claims Scotland has been “luckier” than Ireland and America in terms of abuse levels, the Church in Scotland has been found guilty by association. “People know abuse did happen. It happened all over in Ireland and America,” he said. “They say if it was happening there, it must be here to the same extent. That is not true.”
With one in 200 of the clergy in Scotland having faced allegations of sexual abuse in the last 40 years, critics of the Church have “taken something minimal and made it look maximal,” he adds.
He believes this is partially malicious. “Sectarianism is far from dead in this land. The Government calls it that, but it is wrong. The proper name is anti-Catholicism. It is constant all the time, and a thing like this is grist to the mill.”
Survivors of clerical abuse reacted angrily to the bishop’s comments. Helen Holland, who experienced physical and sexual abuse in Nazareth House in Kilmarnock, dismissed the comments as a stunt.
“They’ve had plenty of opportunities to meet survivors of abuse and listen over the last 10 years. Why are they only talking about it now?” she said.
Referring to Devine’s comments that most abuse occurred within the family, Holland said: “It is a social problem, and in any other part of society it is dealt with by alerting the police. The Church’s response was to move priests from one place to another.”
Holland said many survivors wished to see the Church taking part in the independent forum for survivors. Bishop Devine said the Church had been unable to engage with that forum due to insurance issues.