The recent revelations concerning the Tuam Babies have left me stunned. It is difficult to find words to express the horror and revulsion felt at the treatment of these innocent children in death not to mention consideration of what they may have undergone in their short lives.
This horror story is one which would shock and dismay the listener if it related to some events occurring in the dark ages. It is beyond belief that the dreadful discovery now made public relates to events that have taken place in the lifetimes of so many people living.
The Tuam Babies revelations are only the latest in a series of disclosures which must have shaken to the bone the many people (religious as well as laity) who in good faith and to the best of their ability have tried to follow the rules of ethical conduct as laid down by the Roman Catholic Church.
Following an apparently endless series of accounts of abuse it is difficult to see when, if ever, the Roman
Catholic Church might recover any shred of moral authority here or indeed anywhere else. Some people may see this as a good thing. For too long the church exercised power in this country which was quite inappropriate for a faith based upon the wise teachings of a kindly loving humble itinerant carpenter’s son from Nazareth. But there is a huge danger for our society in the vacuum created by the loss of what was for almost all of us in the Republic of Ireland the chief basis of moral authority. You only have to look at the levels of crime and the growing disparity between the impossibly rich and the unimaginably poor here to see that as a society we are finding it difficult to tell right from wrong.
It seems to me that as Roman Catholics we were never encouraged to exercise our own moral judgment. The church taught what was right or wrong and the exercise of your conscience consisted of paying attention to what the church taught and then obeying. This was known as an “informed conscience”.
People of other faiths (and none) had to exercise their own moral judgment in the differing circumstances of life and so are better equipped to retain a reasonably exercised ethical and moral sense independent of outside authority whether religious or not.
And we cannot look at these series of horrors without realising that they came from institutions run by celibates under the absolute authority of a celibate male clergy. It seems absurd to me that the ability to act as a mediator between God and His people depends upon the celibate state or the gender of the cleric. Many people over the years may have opted for a celibate life and happily undertaken the sacrifices and challenges that such a life involves. It is not for any of us to criticise their decision or to minimise their sacrifice of normal family relationships. But clearly the church has had an obsession with the sixth commandment as evidenced by its treatment of people, particularly women, who have had difficulty in always obeying it.
This dreadful discovery of a septic tank in Tuam containing the remains of some 800 dumped babies and children is appalling beyond imagination. The loss of faith and trust and the disheartenment which will undoubtedly result from it, calls upon all people of goodwill to redouble our efforts to live, as best we can, lives of truth, compassion, generosity, virtue, patience and goodwill based on a moral authority that we will have to work out mindfully for ourselves.