Saturday, 29 August 2015

Monsignor Michael Regan 1955-2015 RIP

Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh's photo.
REST IN PEACE: Archbishop Leo Cushley has paid tribute to Monsignor Michael Regan, the former Administrator of St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, who died yesterday aged 59-years-old. He had been ill for some time.

“Monsignor Regan was a man of great prayer who had a great devotion to the sacraments, something I was privileged to witness at his hospital bedside in recent days and weeks while administering those very sacraments to him,” said Archbishop Leo Cushley, 28 August.

“All those around about him – family, friends and staff -- were struck by the devoted way he would compose himself to receive the Sacrament of the Sick and Holy Communion.”

Monsignor Michael Regan grew up in London and came to Scotland to study at the University of Stirling where he graduated in 1977 with a Batchelor of Arts degree followed by an M.Litt in Modern French Literature. It was also there he discerned a calling to the priesthood.

He attended seminary at St Andrew’s College at Drygrange in the Scottish Borders before being ordained for the Archdiocese of St Andrews & Edinburgh on 23 April 1982. During his 33 years of active ministry he served in Livingston, Dunfermline, Cowie and numerous parishes in Edinburgh including, until this year, seven years as Administrator of St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral.

“Monsignor Regan was someone who had a great sense of duty and who, when asked to do something, would always do it to the best of his ability, cheerfully and willingly,” said the Archbishop.

“Indeed, he was one of those people who had never learned to say “no” and so gave all his energy to the service of the many parishes he worked in especially within the city of Edinburgh. That’s why there will be many people in this city -- not just Catholics – who today will be regretting and mourning his passing.”

Academic studies were also an important part of Monsignor Regan’s life. Between 1985 and 1988 he attended the University of Paris and the Institut Catholique in the same city where he gained a Masters in Theology. He then joined the seminary staff at Scotus College in Bearsden, East Dunbartonshire, in 1993 spending eight years teaching there.

“I actually first got to know Monsignor Regan through our common interest in liturgy,” Archbishop Cushley recalled.

“We trained at about the same time in liturgy and from the first time I can remember meeting him, we always had wonderful, friendly discussions on the subject”.

The two men also worked together in the preparations for Pope Benedict XVI’s visit to Scotland in 2010 when Monsignor Regan helped co-ordinate events in Edinburgh.

“Monsignor Regan was a larger than life character and could be great fun as I found out on that day of the Papal Visit to Edinburgh,” said the Archbishop who, as a Vatican diplomat, was part of the Papal entourage.

“The Holy Father had just made his way through crowds of over 125,000 in Edinburgh and we paused for lunch at the Archbishop’s residence where I spent a very enjoyable, very happy few hours in the company of Monsignor Regan who was in a celebratory mood following the success of that first morning of the Papal Visit to Scotland.”

They then combined efforts again when Archbishop Cushley was appointed to the See of St Andrews & Edinburgh in 2013.

“Monsignor Regan was both Administrator of St Mary’s Cathedral and Archdiocesan Master of Ceremonies, posts where he did excellent work for many years and continued to do so in spite of the gathering clouds of his last illness. May he rest in peace.”

The Very Reverend Monsignor Michael Brian Regan 1955-2015. Parishes served;

St Andrew’s, Livingston, 1982-82
St Margaret’s, Dunfermline, 1982-85
St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh, 1988-91
Sacred Heart, Cowie, 1991-93
Scotus College, Bearsden, 1993-2001
St Andrew’s, Edinburgh, 2001-08
St John the Baptist, Edinburgh, 2001-08
Our Lady, Mother of the Church/St Joseph’s, Currie/Balerno, 2004-08
St Kentigern’s, Edinburgh, 2006-08
St Mary’s Metropolitan Cathedral, Edinburgh, 2008-15

[From Diocesan Facebook Page]

Thursday, 27 August 2015

Final thoughts on McLennan and safeguarding...

Having posted twice in quick succession on the McLennan report, I think I will now give it a rest and give us all some time to think over precisely what this all means for the Church in Scotland.

As a set of final remarks, let me throw in the following:

a) Too much of the commentary about 'safeguarding' in the Catholic Church is grandstanding. The aim must be to deal precisely with the problems in each specific area. For example, the conditions in Scotland are simply not the same as the conditions in Ireland. Only by looking specifically at what went wrong in Scotland do we have a chance of getting it right.

b) All of us need to be careful about hijacking fairly straightforward cases of human wickedness and suffering for the sake of an agenda. A particularly poor example of this is here. Stopping someone from promoting non-Catholic positions under the banner of Catholicism is one thing; protecting criminals is another.

c) There has been much talk in Catholic circles of the Benedict option. To the extent that this means the Church separating itself from wider society, this would seem to make responses to safeguarding children such as the McLennan report less possible. I have made clear in the past that I'm highly suspicious of the Benedict option as a global solution. The issue of the protection of the vulnerable is something of a test case. Despite what I've posted critically about the report, on the whole I welcome it and the element of outside scrutiny it brings. Part of the reason for this is precisely what opponents of the Church would deny: child abuse and abuse of power is not simply a Catholic matter and all of us can therefore learn from each other on what has gone wrong and what to do about it. But to do that properly means Catholics being both willing to listen to outside and internal criticism and also to engage with it critically. There is a difficult path to tread between defensive rejection of all criticism and credulous acceptance of all criticism: both extremes are examples of failing to exercise due care and attention to the genuine problems at stake.

The difficulty with (eg) criticisms such as Catherine Deveney's is that at times she is right. I don't think the case of Cardinal O'Brien has been dealt with well: more transparency would have been good here as I've previously argued. I suspect that Archbishop Scicluna should probably have spoken to her. But there is no future in which an international body of 1 billion people will be able to guarantee that every phone call from every journalist will be answered or every employment dispute resolved to the satisfaction of every party. The inability of UK politics -a comparatively straightforward world in comparison- to deal satisfactorily with similar but simpler circumstances has been evidenced by Harvey Proctor's case.

There is a rich tradition of finding sexual scandal in the Catholic Church. Some of it is simply false. Some of it is true. The people who really have a stake in this are those parents whose children might be affected in the future. When I converted to Catholicism and brought my children into the Church, I did so with the whispers of those relatives who viewed the Church as a paedophile ring buzzing in my ears. Nor to be frank did I dismiss those worries: I didn't have much of a sense of how to negotiate the institution and I'm fairly cynical about human behaviour. But having thought about it as carefully as I could, I didn't draw a line between Catholic 'occasions' and secular ones, precisely because I thought it was dangerous to do so. (Most of the situations in which I suspected my children would be at risk from secret abuse by adults had nothing to do with priests or religious and it would have been imprudent to give them a false sense of security in non-Catholic occasions.) Others must make their own judgments. But if you think (for example) that your children would be safer in a non-Catholic boarding school rather than a Catholic one, I think you're a fool. And I think you'd also be foolish to think that the danger of a cover up would be any less in a non-Catholic institution than a Catholic one.  That doesn't exculpate those Catholics who have either committed the abuse or covered it up. But it is precisely because it is a widespread problem across society that the Church needs to open itself up to engage critically with those who might have something to teach it.

Tuesday, 25 August 2015

More on McLennan and safeguarding

                                                             The culture of secrecy

Ttony of The Muniment Room asked a really good question in the combox of my previous post which has kept me reflecting over the past few days:

I was struck by the Japanese PM last weekend saying that Japan is reaching the point at which it should stop having to say sorry for WWII. Leaving that question aside, what point would our Church have reached for us to be able to say that it could stop apologising? Obviously there's no answer, but charting the course that gets us from here to there at least involves facing up to the enormity of what this means for us all. 

As he notes, it's a good question which obviously has no answer. And yet, why does it not have an answer?

In turning this over again and again in my mind, I was reminded of a bit in Sean O'Casey's Autobiographies where he basically tells a survivor of Stalin's gulags that he doesn't believe his story of suffering because of his loyalty to Communism. (So my memory tells me. But I've flipped through the indexless volumes and can't find it. It was many, many years ago since I last read them. Did I dream it? Anyway...) When I read that as a teenager, it struck me as utterly appalling. And it is that danger that Catholics must avoid. I love the Church. I will die a Catholic. And yet none of that, indeed because of that, nothing must stand in the way of hearing and recognising the truth.

Yet. Yet. One reads Catherine Deveney's piece in the Guardian. The apology 'rings hollow to me' she says. I sympathise. I'm not a great fan of institutional apologies: I'm not quite sure what they are, what language game they're part of. Normally, one expects agency and a resolve to change. I did something. I will not do it again. In the case of Japan, the narrative goes something like this. My nation deliberately inflicted harm on others as a result of a militaristic culture. We are sorry for having done this and we have changed. We are resolved never to do it again.

Does this pattern fit the Catholic Church? Deveney clearly thinks so. For her, the Catholic Church is a baroque, Protestant nightmare, full of flickering shadows and whispered corruptions:

They process slowly to the altar, Scotland’s Catholic bishops, their elaborate robes and red zucchettos symbols of their power and status. Around them, the light, honey-coloured stone arches of St Andrew’s cathedral in Glasgow soar, Italian-style embellishment spiralling up the slender columns in Madonna-blue paint and gold leaf...I am struck – not for the first time since the resignation of Cardinal Keith O’Brien two years ago – by the way opulence sits cheek by jowl with ugliness inside the Catholic church.
The Catholic church had shaped my childhood. Flickering candles and the heavy scent of incense. Shadowy statues in dimly lit churches, the crucified Christ crowned with thorns and stained with blood. For me, those candles now flickered precariously and the bleeding figure of Christ took on the shape of abused children.

Deveney's Church is one that needs as much of a complete change of culture as did militaristic Japan. (One imagines that the flickering candles and talk of mysteries would have to go just as certainly as did Emperor worship and subuku.) It is frankly an impossible change. All one can do is to walk away from the shadows into the light (as one assumes Deveney has done).

Apologies are made for something to someone. If the 'someone' here is Deveney or Gerry Hassan with his glib talk of 'systemic' cover up, then the something is really beyond repair: it must simply be done away with. And that I guess for the majority of Protestant or secularised Scotland is straightforwardly the case. If we sweep away the candles, and the priests, and the doctrine, then and only then might we be in the position of the New Japan. In this narrative, a Japan-like apology does make sense and, even if at some distant point in the future, the need for apology might stop when we are completely new, a completely different Church.

But for Catholics -us- that sort of apology is impossible. The candles will not go. The whispered shame of the confessional will not go. The oddity of priestcraft (and indeed, it is odd) will not go. And we are left in the uncomfortable position of not being able blithely to damn the lot, but of sifting, with care. What (precisely) went wrong? What (precisely) can be done to prevent it in the future? What (precisely) can be done to repair the wrongs done? And here there are, I suspect, absolutely no solutions, but only ameliorations.

Deveney says:

For too long the Catholic church had been allowed to be lawmaker, judge, jury and hangman in its own world. 

Which world is this? In Ireland, much of the evil done was a result of the interpenetration of state and Church. But Scotland? There is a police force. There are courts. There are industrial tribunals. None of these are controlled by the Church. Any organisation, academic, industrial, governmental, professional, tends to the protection of its own, to its secrecies. Certainly there must be a willingness on the part of citizens to co-operate with law, but it is in the nature of criminal law that it must push against the reluctance of criminals and those around them  to be discovered. And as far as concrete evidence is concerned, the McLennan report states:

2.41 A senior social worker told the Commission that the Catholic Church was no worse than other big institutions in its reluctance to engage with the authorities. 

This has been a rambling post simply because I do not have a solution. To try to answer Ttony's question, there is no point at which we could stop apologising. Personally, I dislike institutional apologies: I'd much rather see concrete work done on the three questions.

What (precisely) went wrong?
What (precisely) can be done to prevent it in the future?
What (precisely) can be done to repair the wrongs done?

Perhaps real advance here would make the apology sound less hollow. But an apology made to those who think the Church should simply disappear will never suffice. Fair enough. In the end, I care less about what people think about the Church than that it does the right thing.

Wednesday, 19 August 2015

Safeguarding in Scotland: McLellan Commission Report

My knee jerk reaction to the McLellan report (Full report PDF here; summary from Law and Religion UK blog here) is that it's far too important a topic to have a knee jerk reaction on. Judging from the highly negative story in The National, it's likely to have a rocky reception from at least some abuse victims.

Although I have read the full report, it's too long to have engaged with it fully yet, and moreover it's the sort of thing that needs to be lived with for a while and reflected on to do it justice. That said, as contribution to the discussion which must ensue, the following are my initial thoughts. I make no claim as to their finality: one must simply start somewhere.

If it's possible to step back from the Somme like battles of Catholics and 'Others', the sheer disgust at the abuse within the Church and (perhaps more importantly) the appalling treatment of cases of abuse by the hierarchy shouldn't be underestimated. I haven't abused a child. I haven't covered up the abuse of a child. I wouldn't want to do those things or support anyone who does. I would welcome the full force of the Scottish criminal law being applied to those who have done so. And those attitudes are going to hold for most Catholics in Scotland. I see (particularly) the sexual abuse of children as something that society as a whole has not been able to deal with well. I see the Catholic Church's cases of abuse as part of a wider pattern. the Church having particular circumstances (widespread contact with children; dispersed patterns of authority; various national cultures; simply massive numbers of members of the Church etc etc) which alter the details, but do not change that fundamental pattern. To see the existence of abuse as just or even especially  a Catholic problem is dangerous because it underrates the persistence and universality of the issue. On the other hand, the Church is my patch and I would like to see as much done within it as possible. (I confess I find it odd to read the report with its emphasis solely on the Catholic Church when in the UK, we seem to be going through a period where it seems (likely? possible?) the systematic abuse of children and perversion of justice within the political class has been widespread. That of course doesn't mean that a report on what the Catholic Church can do isn't needed. But the corruption within the Church is not separate from that of wider society and any solutions equally cannot be completely separated.)

As far as the very concrete proposals of the report go (eg strengthening the role and powers of safeguarding co-ordinators), so far as I can tell, they seem thoroughly sensible. Where I found myself feeling less sure was in respect to the 'softer' suggestions about a change in culture and attitude. Here, what may be an admirably cut and dried approach with regard to structural changes can very easily slide into the banality of the quick fix. For example,

5.12 A Church cannot be controlled by fear. A Church must be controlled by love. That is not an optional extra it is of the essence of the Church’s being. If the Catholic Church in Scotland is to fulfil the promise of Bishop Toal “that the priority principle must be assistance to the victims of abuse”, it will need to discover the perfect love which casts out fear.

So far as I can make sense of this, it seems to be in the context of a) not fearing the anger of survivors when engaging with them; and b) not fearing the financial consequences of lawsuits. I'm not sure a) is exactly 'fear' although I suppose individuals might well fear the unpleasantness of sitting down with someone who, as a result of abuse, hates you and the institution you stand for. (But here, there has to be a realistic assessment of how great a role such individual encounters can play. One of the awful things about wrongs is that they are not always able to be put right by well intentioned individuals. Such a 'fear' does not strike me as completely misplaced.) b) strikes me as completely rational. Any organisation (eg the NHS) which has to exist to deliver a service cannot but fear legal measures which frustrate that purpose. I suspect many survivors would (understandably) not object to shutting down the Church completely. But for those of us who do want the Church to go on functioning, a certain fear about practical consequences seems entirely appropriate.

To take this further:

3.87 A Catholic, scriptural, Scottish, fresh theological understanding of safeguarding might bear fruit. It is likely that the new, clear insights it will bring will make their way into the prayer and worship life of the Church. A Safeguarding Prayer appears on the website of the Scottish Catholic Safeguarding Service: 

Lord Jesus we praise you for calling us to the service of others.
We pray for a generosity of spirit to ensure the vulnerable are protected.
We pray for a compassionate heart so that we will reach out to those who are wounded by abuse.
We pray for courage and determination as we seek the safety of everyone in our parish communities. We dedicate ourselves to this work of service and pray that you will help us to do your will at all times and in all places.

3.88 No doubt many of those involved in safeguarding use this prayer. This prayer could be the beginning of a new treasury of prayer as new theological insights illuminate and encourage the Church. Prayers for survivors and their families, prayers for Advisers and Coordinators, prayers for priests and bishops and congregational leaders, prayers of repentance, prayers for hope, prayers for understanding, prayers for the Church. To set safeguarding in the context of the whole worship of the Church is, in itself, a real and necessary theological insight.

[My emphasis.]

My gut reaction to this is that it's typical of a sort of woolly minded liberal Protestant theologising that the Church would do well to avoid. Most of the egregious abuse within the Church does not require any theology to recognise. Raping children and passing the perpetrators onto to fresh parishes to rape again is clearly and simply morally wrong. Concealing crimes from the police in a well run jurisdiction like Scotland is also morally wrong. There is absolutely nothing subtle about the wrongs here and many of the measures to prevent them in the future are also not terribly sophisticated. Where things do get more problematic is in the essentialising of the practice of 'Safeguarding' and its placing unproblematically at the heart of the Church's actions. Whatever merits or demerits this sort of attitude may have can only be chewed over. And that involves debate and the possibility of criticism and rejection. (Compare, for example, the claim that 'Safeguarding' should be placed at the heart of education. How is this related to the common-or-garden 'keeping children safe'? (It's not at all obvious that the professionalised practice of 'Safeguarding' is identical to keeping children safe.) And even if they are identical, should 'keeping children safe' be at the heart of education?)

An essentially bureaucratic report does, as far as I can see, its bureaucratic task well in coming up with immediate concrete suggestions. But when it steps into areas of theology and wider implications, it needs to be criticised and reflected on. Yet the rhetoric of the report is that, should the Church be unwise enough even to pause in its welcome of it in toto, abuse is being perpetuated.

Relatedly, there is the discussion of a 'culture of secrecy' in the report. This phrase has been fairly current in the discussion of the Church in recent years. The journalist, Catherine Deveney, for example, was on Scotland 2015 on the BBC last night talking about it again with respect to whistleblowers. (I think she was implicitly referring to this case which I have discussed before.) This is a phrase which is suffering from mission creep. Certainly, if it means the tendency of (eg) bishops to cover up cases of child abuse, it's fairly straightforwardly wrong. But the idea that any organisation, particularly one with the task of the Church, can become totally transparent is chimerical. For example, let's take the case of Cardinal O'Brien mentioned in the report:

2.37 Some priests in the diocese where Cardinal O’Brien had been Archbishop told the Commission that they had been “left in the dark”. In particular it was argued by them that the whole affair raised two issues for the Commission. One comment was specifically about the commitment of the Catholic Church to safeguarding, in a situation in which power may have been used in an abusive way: “Has the Vatican taken seriously policies about safeguarding in the way it has dealt with Cardinal O’Brien? A priest would have been dealt with differently”. 

2.38 The other issue was of a continuing culture of secrecy: “Our Church is in a state of denial. At no point has there been a narrative given by the Church to tell what has happened”. 

2.39 Having said that, the Bishops maintain that it was not a culture of secrecy that hampered them from making a more open response in this case. The Commission recognises that at that time the Bishops were not in possession of the full facts of the case. Regarding any information that they did possess, they were bound to respect confidentiality, both that of the accusers and that demanded by civil and canonical requirements. Subsequently, they were further hampered by the unique position of a Cardinal in the Catholic Church: a Cardinal can only be judged by the Pope and the investigation into the Cardinal’s behavior was undertaken by Bishop Charles Scicluna, at the behest of Pope Francis.

[My emphasis.]

The bishops' response here is odd. To suggest that institutional structures are per se not part of a culture is bizarre. The obvious reply to their response is that it is precisely those structures which are the culture of secrecy. (And their inability to recognise this is part of the problem.) I actually would agree with the criticism that the Church (as a whole, not just or even especially in Scotland) has not deal with the O'Brien case as transparently as it should (and have blogged in this vein before). But the idea that any organisation let alone a Church dealing with often very intimate matters does not need some culture of secrecy is Pollyanna-ish. If the report is going to be judged (as Deveney seemed to be suggesting) on whether it maintains any secrets, it will certainly fail. Apart from the straightforward cases, there will always be difficult cases where some tension will exist between the need for transparency and the need for secrecy. Pretending otherwise simply sets the Church a task which it will inevitably fail.

I think it was David Walls (who was abused at the prep school for Fort Augustus) whom I heard on Radio Scotland around 5pm last night describing himself as a 'student of history' and asserting that the Catholic Church has a 2000 year history of abuse. Frankly, I'm not surprised he feels like that given what he underwent. But someone with such views is not bothered whether the Church survives or not. For those of us who do care about its survival, there has to be a change in attitude to one (as McLellan puts it) where 'the only credible policy for a church was “no abuse and no cover-up” '. I suspect (as I said) that the very specific concrete proposals put forward in the report should simply be accepted and implemented. I also suspect that most cases of abuse simply require the application of basic morality and integrity. But the change of heart and mind to deal with the recognition that (especially) sexual abuse of children is endemic in human society and the day to day implications of that are not straightforward. To this extent, where the report is right to ask for theological reflection, then that theological reflection and application of practical wisdom is inevitably going to involve debate and messiness. If the Church is going to be judged on how it deals with this end of things, it will inevitably fail. If the 'the public credibility of the Catholic Church' is going to be judged by a public traditionally schooled for the most part in the belief that it is a 'pestilent synagogue' founded by Satan, or, in its modern version, a bunch of gay bashing sky fairy worshippers, again it will fail. That shouldn't stop us from trying to tackle abuse. But to the extent that anyone sees the possibility of a solution, rather than constant uncomfortable vigilance and self-questioning, the Church will inevitably fail to achieve it.