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'The fire rages on'

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Below are the prepared opening remarks Barbara Thorp gave at the "Safeguarding Children and Vulnerable Adults" panel that took place in Dublin Aug. 24 during the World Meeting of Families.

This is my first time returning to Dublin after participating with Cardinal Seán as part of the Apostolic Visitation Team in 2010/2011. During that time I met Marie Collins and her husband Ray and over sixty survivors of clerical abuse, family members, faith-filled Catholics, Archbishop Diarmuid Martin and many members of the clergy as well as the dedicated Child Safeguarding staff led by Andrew Fagan for the Archdiocese of Dublin.

Ten years ago, in April 2008, Pope Benedict visited the United States. The Catholic Church was reeling from the cascading revelations of clergy sexual abuse that erupted in the Archdiocese of Boston on the Feast of the Epiphany in January 2002 through the publication of a story in the Boston Globe. Pope Benedict met with five survivors of clergy sexual abuse. During that meeting Cardinal Seán presented him with a hand-crafted book containing the first names of 1,476 survivors of clergy abuse that had been identified from the Archdiocese of Boston. Over fifty of those names were marked in the book by a small gold cross as a memorial remembrance of their deaths, most tragically by suicide or drug overdose. During our visit to Dublin a copy of this precious book was placed on the altar as we began the day, led in prayer by Cardinal Seán celebrating morning Mass. The terrible and cruel truth of the survivors stories and the stories of family members have a special claim on the hearts of those of us who have had the privilege to meet and to listen to these courageous brothers and sisters in Christ.

For over thirty years the clergy sexual abuse crisis in the Catholic Church has had particular flash points, notably in the United States, Australia, Germany, Chile, Great Britain, India and here in Ireland as well as the notorious crimes of Marcial Maciel founder of the Legion of Christ. The recent report of the grand jury proceedings in Pennsylvania, details degrading sexual assaults and rapes that pierce the hearts of every mother and father at the failure of the Church to protect their children. Archbishop Theodore McCarrick recently resigned as cardinal. He abused children and seminarians for decades with impunity including the first baby he baptized, who he would later abuse for years beginning when the boy was eleven years old.

In the current crisis, still unfolding in Chile, Archbishop Charles Scicluna was delegated by Pope Francis to investigate and he returned from Chile with a 2300 page report detailing clergy sexual abuse and the culpability of bishops who enabled it. The searing truth is that if Archbishop Scicluna investigated around the world he would return with the same shame filled stories of sexual assault of children by clergy and betrayed trust by the bishops.

Each time a local Church or religious order has found itself facing the scandal of clergy who have sexually violated children or vulnerable adults it is as if the Church must start all over again to understand the depths of the heart of darkness of such depraved abuse of children and to address it with boldness and urgency. We have a raging fire within the Church. Inexplicably Church leaders have shown callous indifference to the suffering of children and the vulnerable and the fire rages on.

Earlier this summer we were witness to the remarkable story from Thailand of the twelve boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded cave. The whole world was joined in vigil praying that the boys would be found and rescued.

Nothing mattered except the knowledge that children were lost and in danger.

The Thai government welcomed help that streamed in from around the world. No expense was spared. Time was of the essence and a sense of urgency and the knowledge that the lives of these children depended on them drove the rescuers. Differences in culture and language were not obstacles to the teamwork that was essential to their efforts.

The only thing that mattered was finding and rescuing the children.

Even the dangers of the undertaking did not stop those who entered the treacherous waters of the cave. Saman Kunan, a former Thai Seal, volunteered to help and tragically suffered the loss of his own life for the sake of the children.

It is reported that when the two British divers found the boys huddled on a ledge deep in the cave they called out asking how many are you? The reply came back from one boy, "We are 13." And the British diver replied, "Brilliant!" It is such a wonderful word, "Brilliant," and evokes in this dark cave a resplendent light for all the boys and their coach were found safe and ultimately rescued.

In the dark and terror-filled places, where children and vulnerable adults are preyed upon by sexual predators, some in the guise of trusted members of the clergy, we as mothers and fathers and grandparents, aunts and uncles and family long to cry out "Brilliant," our children are safe. Urgency and bold resolve, regardless of language, culture, even to the point of risk to one's own life, must be the laser-like determination that drives the Church to finally implement a global plan of survivor outreach and child safeguarding for the sake of children and vulnerable adults.

We know what to do. It is not a mystery.

Over the centuries the Irish people and the great saints of Ireland have carried the Light of Christ with missionary zeal to peoples of every continent. With the immense suffering borne by the people of Ireland through the violations and betrayals at the Magdalene Laundries, the Industrial Schools, the Mother and Baby Homes and children raped and abused by clergy in parishes and schools may this holy ground be again the source of a revolution that puts into action all that is necessary to protect children and the vulnerable.

Our hope is in the God of all creation whom made us in His image and likeness.

Jesus the Good Shepherd is seeking the lost sheep and he will not stop until everyone is found safe.

BARBARA THORP IS A SOCIAL WORKER AND FORMER HEAD OF THE OFFICE FOR PASTORAL SUPPORT AND CHILD PROTECTION OF THE ARCHDIOCESE OF BOSTON.

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