As a consultant psychologist, I am stunned to see the Holy Father Pope Francis asking for God’s forgiveness for the atrocities that the Catholic Church has carried out through countless decades.
Forgiveness comes, so religious scripture tells us, from repentance. Repentance is about making good the harm that has been done. More important repentance means ensuring this harm never ever happens again.
It is hard to see how any making good has occurred or, moreover, how that harm will never happen again. Harm still continues. Our clients’ anguished stories tell it all – the abuse still goes on.
As a young teenager, I can clearly remember visiting the Magdalene Laundry in Waterford with my long-deceased mother, a devout but good and honest Catholic. We were, for some reason, taking laundry to be washed after an elderly relative had died. I knew nothing at the time about the infamous Magdalene Laundries, nor of the trauma the nuns had inflicted on women of all ages. However, I was struck by the austere, gut-wrenching oppressiveness of the place; the omnipresent nastiness of the building. Words failed me then and words, they fail me now.
A few years later, in 1979, I was a young married mother having her first child in Ireland. The young woman in the next bed was also 19 but unmarried. I witnessed the nuns come into the ward and try to persuade her forcefully to give up her son. She was told she couldn’t give him a good life without a husband. I spent the night consoling her and telling her to go home to England and seek out her family and not to give up her son.
Fast forward 40 years and now, more recently, we have the scandal at Tuam and the ritual silencing of it.
Breaking the Cycle of Clerical Abuse
Surely it’s not sufficient for His Holiness to pray for God’s forgiveness; dedicated reparative action is needed. Abuse and brutality have to be rooted out and eradicated once and for all.
When we consider the cycle of change, it is accepted that lasting change only occurs when we fully acknowledge and contemplate our past wrongful behaviours. It is impossible to move towards change without this. Praying for forgiveness without contemplative action can’t lead to new ways and change. It is merely pre-contemplation or a flight of fantasy.
It is time to for the church to compensate these victims and their families. It is clear to say that the abuse carried out by priests and nuns doesn’t stop with or die with the victim. Clerical abuse continues to be an awful blight on the church and has in many cases caused a trans-generational pattern of misery. Its time for the church to acknowledge this and then, perhaps, it can move forward.
Written by Dr Chrissie Tizzard, Chartered Consultant Psychologist, PsychD, BSc, MSc, C.Psychol, C.Sci, AFBPS. Dr Tizzard is the Clinical Director of Christine Tizzard Psychology (ctpsy.co.uk).