In my brief time at Maryvale there were several ‘one liners’ that seeped into my limited intellect and stayed with me. One of those lines, quoted by Fr Robert Letellier is “the problem with facts is that they are stubborn”. I remember in that lecture how this line was developed as we were reminded that even though they are true, facts often, particularly in a pastoral sphere, need to be handled with sensitively. Blaise Pascal was also quoted in the same lecture; “it is as much a crime to disturb the peace when truth prevails as it is a crime to keep the peace when truth is violated” again reflecting Fr Letellier’s words on handling stubborn facts sensitively, and in doing so, acknowledging the dignity of those who might be effected emotionally by the matter. In the words of the great philosophers Fun Boy Three and Bananarama ‘It ain’t what you say it’s the way that you say it’.
When the news broke of the mass grave at The Home in Tuam, many of us knew that the Church, the Bride of Christ, would come in for a metaphorical kicking. Being second generation Irish I’ve heard the stories and seen the hurt caused by unacceptable treatment when people were younger. I had been a little on edge worrying that some people on our side might let us down by steaming in like a bull in a china shop to defend the Church but end up making matters worse. It would be all very well dealing with facts and presenting them in a matter of fact way, but no one will want to hear a doctor say “It’s cancer Mr Smith, you’ve got about three months at the most, we’ll give you palliative care, but that’s the facts”, or “your child is deaf, learn sign language and get on with it”. No professional would act in this way and all the while I was praying that those who might feel the need to give us the benefit of their opinion might leave it to be handled aptly, by the correct channels.
Well needless to say the inevitable happened. I’m saddened by how bad a light has been shone on us by those who should be ‘on our side’. I can cope to an extent with the comments coming from Ireland, or made by Irish folk who, like me are aware of the raw feeling which is still so easily stirred in people; but the pundits had to pundit and it has not helped.
One comment made to me was “I am not just talking about child abuse but all sorts of cruelty etc including young people who joined religious congregations but were still made to suffer, all extremely painful. Just annoying that they jump on the bandwagon of people’s pain and misery to get exposure”
“I cannot say if that is down to the nuns or the workmen who were working on site or whatever. All I know is that people are extremely distressed, memories are being stirred, consciences being pricked.”
Most touchingly: –
“analysis of some research is lacking in compassion. We cannot shy away from unpleasantness. We must face it head on. Of course we do not know all the facts. However we do know that many many women and children had miserable lives and we must learn from that. They were the lepers of their day.”
And most upsettingly: –
“These are the sort of people who want their own way all the time, the sort who cry for tolerance but do not tolerate, the sort who exploit their personal misfortune as justification for a weak position”
As I said earlier, I am second generation Irish but I would not presume to use my heritage as any form of expertise or a licence to opine on the issue. What I will call on my heritage for is to listen to those who hurt because of the past, who are angry and to empathise with them as best I can. I will call on my faith to have faith in those the Holy Spirit has sent us to handle this as it should be, and keep us informed of what there is to know.
And also to pray, has anyone mentioned prayer?